The UAAP men's basketball tournament has unpacked a lot of surprises halfway through Season 82. Fans have been treated to unpredictable competition, featuring seven one-point games, three overtime thrillers, and a few stunning upsets. Before the second round kicks off this Saturday, ESPN5.com listed five takeaways from the league's first month of exciting action.
The bottom teams are better than what their records show
Despite their dismal win-loss cards that placed them at the bottom of the standings, NU and UE have shown flashes of brilliance early in the season.
The Bulldogs, in particular, were a basket or a stop away from winning their first four games, but they found themselves stumbling into a losing streak instead. They vented their frustration by demolishing FEU for their breakthrough win, but fizzled out in their closing game against UE. Dave Ildefonso continues to be NU's go-to guy on offense. Now on his second year, the multi-faceted swingman continues to develop his game, top-scoring for his team with 16.29 points. Aside from Dave, a number of players have taken the lead as well, such as his brother, Shaun, and point guard Enzo Joson.
The Red Warriors, on the other hand, have caught the attention of many because of their revamped roster. The addition of elite scorer Rey Suerte has given UE a potent offensive weapon. The two-time CESAFI MVP can hit an array of shots, find open teammates, and knock down clutch baskets, none more important than the cold-blooded trey that gave UE its first win. Aside from Suerte, the Red Warriors also boast of a definitive presence in the middle in 6-foot-9 center Alex Diakhite. The two can conspire to bring out UE's potential and lift the team out of the cellar.
The logjam in the middle is getting tighter
FEU, La Salle, and Adamson are locked in a fierce battle in the middle of the pack with identical 3-4 slates. They all started on the wrong foot, dropping their opening games to top contenders. They immediately bounced back on their next assignment but have struggled to secure consecutive wins and gain momentum.
The Green Archers have been impressive in their victories against Adamson and UST, both of which are strong playoff contenders. However, their inconsistency has led to heartbreaking losses as well. They are still learning the ropes and adjusting to the coaching change and the integration of new players on the roster.
The Falcons snagged talented recruits in the offseason, but just like La Salle, they are still figuring out how to make their new pieces work well together. The Tamaraws, a Final Four staple in the last few years, have been underwhelming to say the least, especially after receiving a huge beatdown at the hands of NU where they churned out a measly 39 points. These three teams have not had an ideal start but they can still get their acts together and make a strong second round push to break into the top four.
UST has been the most fun team to watch
From exciting finishes, new players rising to the occasion, an MVP contender, and being the only team to push the defending champions to the hilt, UST has been entertaining this Season 82.
The Tigers have unleashed Rhenz Abando, a bonafide star in the making, and Soulemane Chabi Yo, the frontrunner to be the best player in the league. But what makes UST arguably the most exciting team to watch is their style of play. They usually run at breakneck speed, putting up points on the scoreboard as quickly as they can while hounding opponents on the other end. Coach Aldin Ayo, the architect of 'mayhem' for the Letran Knights that won the NCAA title in 2015, has created a modified version that fits perfectly to his personnel.
After the first round, UST emerged as the number one scoring team with 81.0 points per game, followed by Ateneo with 75.71. The Tigers play fast but attack with precision and focus. Their 39.29 perimeter points per game is currently the best in the league and they are second in 3-point shooting at 30.04 percent. Their ability to rack up points in various ways has been a huge headache for all opposing teams.
UP needs to maximize its stars to stay in the hunt
UP continues to make a strong case to be in the finals at the end of the season, despite the ongoing drama with coach Bo Perasol's recent ejection that led to his suspension. The Fighting Maroons' loaded lineup has somewhat lived up to the hype, given their impressive 5-2 record. But they are still far from unlocking their potential, considering the number of close brushes that they've had along the way.
Kobe Paras is UP's leading scorer with 18.6 per outing alongside 5.6 rebounds and 1.4 blocks. Bright Akhuetie, last season's MVP, remains as steady as ever with 14.57 points and 12.0 boards. But for them to be successful, they need more production from other guys such as Juan Gomez de Liaño and Ricci Rivero.
Gomez de Liaño's season has been riddled with injuries and he's mustering just 6.29 points on 27.59 shooting from the field. More than the numbers on offense, the third-year guard's playmaking has been amiss. He doesn't need to put up averages the way he did in his previous seasons given that the Fighting Maroons already have a lot of weapons, but his vision and on-court leadership will be key for his squad. Rivero meanwhile has been having a quiet season so far with his numbers of 6.14 points, 27.14 field goal shooting, and 1.57 assists.
Ateneo remains the league's gold standard
Ateneo has been unstoppable in its three-peat quest. The reigning champions have shown very few weaknesses and vulnerabilities, sweeping the first round which mostly consisted of double-digit victories.
Even if the Blue Eagles can't shoot well consistently, they wear opponents out with their league-best defense. They frustrate teams by forcing them to pick poor shots, often stifling the opposition's best offensive players. And once they get the stops they need, they execute with utmost efficiency on the other end. They relentlessly attack and make smart decisions until they find the best available option on offense.
While Ateneo seems to be on a league of its own, the path to the throne is still open and filled with obstacles. The rest of the teams still have time to make the necessary adjustments and try to catch up as they head into the more crucial part of the season.