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Before the start of the UAAP Season 80 men's basketball tournament, the favorites to cruise down easy street were the Ben Mbala-led De La Salle Green Archers. But after a bumpy first round for La Salle, the one team holding an unblemished win-loss record is their rivals from Katipunan. That’s how unpredictable Season 80 has been so far.
Let’s look back at the things we’ve learned from the first round:
Photo by Arvin Lim
DISCIPLINE IS ATENEO’S GO-TO PLAY
The Ateneo Blue Eagles do not have a superstar player, and that’s not a disrespect to Thirdy Ravena, who is a superstar player both on the court and on Instagram. Ravena is the league’s second-leading MVP candidate at the end of the first round (behind You-Know-Who), but that’s not the only reason why Ateneo is 7-0. The wins have been equally about Anton Asistio’s deadeye shooting, Chiz Ikeh’s towering presence, and Matt Nieto’s mere existence. More importantly, the wins have been about the Tab Baldwin-branded discipline instilled in the team’s offensive and defensive strategies. If they keep this up, Season 80 for Ateneo will be one big sweep.
LA SALLE IS NOT INVINCIBLE
It took a historic, near-perfect game from the UP Fighting Maroons and a blistering start (plus crazy finish) from Ateneo to take down defending champions La Salle, but their wins haven’t been exactly exceptional. With a disappointing 5-2 record to end the first round, the heavily-favored Green Archers will have to recalibrate “Mayhem” if it wishes to successfully defend the crown come December. Ricci Rivero’s breakout game came at the tail end of the first round, and La Salle would need more of those to halt the blue and white train from barging into a potentially historic season.
The best feel-good story in the first round is the one told by UE Red Warrior Alvin Pasaol. That’s what happens when you score 49 points against the defending champs—the most points scored by a player in 15 UAAP years. Pasaol’s heroics have yet to result to more victories (UE is 1-6), but the point has been made: Pasaol is an old school, monster offensive weapon who can score at will. We’ll hear more from him in the future.
Graphic from UAAP Magazine’s Facebook page
NEW BREED OF HEROES
Not counting Ateneo’s decisive, double-digit beatdowns on opposing squads, the first round of UAAP Season 80 delivered mostly highly-competitive games that were decided in the final quarter. Close games are when heroes make an appearance, and this season, players like Paul Desiderio, Sean Manganti, and Matt Nieto made strong cases as the UAAP’s new breed of heroes with big game-winning plays for their respective schools. All these names—as well as future unnamed heroes bound to save their teams—guarantee an exhilarating second round of Season 80. What a time to be a basketball fan.