After 37 days of gruelling competition, eight teams survived the cut to make it to the win-or-go-home rounds of the Filoil Flying V Premier Cup.
Five UAAP and three NCAA squads are left standing out of the 18-team pool that started out the annual summer competition and they will duke it out in the quarterfinals that tips off on Tuesday at the FilOil Flying V Centre in San Juan.
Match 1: University of Perpetual Help Altas (5-2) vs. Ateneo Blue Eagles (4-3) at 11:15 a.m.
The Altas look just fine without former league MVP Scottie Thompson who is now with Ginebra in the PBA. Under first year coach and former player Nosa Omorogbe and assisted by the returning Jimwell Gican, this team will be a contender in the upcoming NCAA Season 92 because there seems to be better balance, better ball movement, and help from up and down the roster.
In the FilOil tourney, they were impressive especially in their take down of a very good Arellano Chiefs side. Perpetual Help raced to a 4-0 record until Bright Akhuetie had to finish his commitments to the PCBL while Prince Eze came down with an illness. The Altas dropped two straight and reversed the tide with Akhuetie’s return in their final elimination round match versus De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde.
Gab Daganon (15.3 points and 5.3 rebounds) has become one of the team’s two go-to players along with Bright Akhuetie (13.0 points and 9.3 rebounds). Back-up center Prinze Eze, despite playing fewer minutes than Akhuetie, has also churned out impressive number (10.0 points and 6.0 rebounds).
The Altas also boast of some steady and solid players in AJ Coronel, John Ylagan, and Daryl Singontiko. Point guards Jon Yuhico has been quietly efficient while Flash Sadiwa, and Keith Pido have had their moments but are inconsistent. Forward Kervin Lucente has been serviceable. For their NCAA season, Omorogbe should ensure that Gerald Dizon and Ric Gallardo find their games because their all-around games are similar to that of Coronel and Daganon especially since they too can play multiple positions.
The Altas will run if they have to but on the half court set, they like to find Akhuetie down the post, have Daganon break down the defense, or whip the ball around until their shooters are open.
The Blue Eagles are clearly groping for form especially in the wake of losing seven players due to academics. They have a lot of players who can score but the concern is scoring consistently. Thirdy Ravena is the only one to average in double digits. While on one hand it is good because the defense doesn’t know who will score on any given day, it is also cause for concern when the shot clock is ticking away because you have no sure ball threat. However, you have to like their willingness to share the ball and move it around to find the open man.
You have to consider that they also beat some good teams — Mapua and Lyceum — although they took them down when their chances of advancing to the next round were all but over. Nevertheless, that says something about this young team. Yet when faced with teams that play with a lot of hustle, heart, and power, that youth, inexperience, and lack of maturity has seen this team wilt.
Their defense is work in progress. They are tied for fifth in the league with 44.4 boards per outing (alongside EAC and Benilde). A note about the rebounding: Ateneo was killed on the glass by UE in the game’s last 10 minutes. In the loses to La Salle and San Beda, they were outrebounded and killed by second chance points. They outrebounded Lyceum yet were also hurt by those second chance points.
Ravena is the only one consistent in getting points inside. Aaron Black, as I predicted last year, will have the makings of Ateneo’s next big time scorer. And he’s on that road this year. The two of them will be the fount of points for Ateneo but that isn’t enough.
This team needs some dependable scoring inside. Chibueze Ikeh can be frustrating to watch for his softness inside. And I feel that GBoy Babilonia and Kris Porter, despite being undersized at the slot, are better. I like their willingness to battle, make the pass and to hit the outside shot. They will have their hands full against Akhuetie although I figure Ateneo to double team his just as well as they did to Mapua’s Allwell Oraeme.
Mike Nieto will most likely be unavailable due to an ankle sprain and that’s a shame because he brings in a lot of hustle and smarts. When he enters the game alongside brother, Matt, and throw in Aaron Black, Adrian Wong, or even Thirdy Ravena, they push their game to another gear.
Except for the loss to La Salle, Ateneo has managed to keep all its games close. It is in the final minutes where they crumble and that’s due to inexperience, being a work in progress, and the lack of players to close it out.
Match #2: National University (6-1) vs. Adamson Falcons (4-3) at 1:30 p.m.
The young Bulldogs have only four players left from their UAAP champion team from two years ago and only Alfred Aroga and Rev Diputado got meaningful playing time. What head coach Eric Altamirano has built here is a young team that is well-trained and disciplined. They are young, talented, and will grow and become solid contenders. In fact, they were very impressive in their win over a veteran-laded Arellano Chiefs team in the last day of the elimination round that saw them vault to the top of their group standings.
What makes the Bulldogs’ feat even more stunning is that no player on the roster averaged in double figures. Even Aroga failed to do so! Yet, this is an even better team than last year’s squad was with Gelo Alolino and Kyle Neypes.
The Bulldogs’ biggest players have all been newcomers -- Matt Salem who leads the team in scoring with 8.4 a game. Chino Mosqueda has been a revelation for them. I thought that he might be too small for the college game playing the three. But no, he’s been solid. He can play defense, shoot, finish the break, and make great passes. And if JJ Alejandro can’t get going, then JV Gallego will be a big scorer for this team.
Salem is a huge pick up. Against Arellano, he kept NU close. When the Chiefs assigned a player to shadow him wherever he went, it was up to the others to step up their game. And step up they did. Matt Aquino has been massive. He can hit from the outside, play defense, and rebound. His putback against Arellano was what stole the ball game.
Dave Yu is like another Mosqueda except the latter has better court vision. Yu though has a better outside shot.
However, if NU wants to go deep in both the Filoil and UAAP tourneys, they will need Aroga, Alejandro, and Rev Diputado to put up good numbers.
The Adamson Falcons have been a revelation. They started the tournament rather slow but turned it around as the players began to get a grasp of what new head coach Franz Pumaren wanted. They don’t have the press down pat yet. But they have been excellent in the half court set. But that is because they too are a young team. Like Ateneo and NU, save for Dawn Ochea no player has been on this team for more than a year. So they will get better and contend for years.
In their early victories, the duo of Papi Sarr (17.1 points, 12.1 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks) and Dawn Ochea (.3 points and 4.1 rebounds) carried the team. The point guard Rob Manalang began to play more consistently and became a reliable player for Pumaren. Along with Jerrick Ahanmisi, Harold Ng, and Terence Mustre, they form Adamson's Bomb Squad. JD Tungcab when he figures things out, will be this team’s version of do-it-all forwards Alex Nuyles and Jericho Cruz. Sean Maganti occasionally looks lost in the offense but he has great upside. Nothing like more seasoning to help this lad with an impressive wingspan.
Even at this early stage of this Falcons’ squad, they have a more dynamic attack than NU. They play at a pace that Franz likes — frenetic and with lots of energy. I said at the end of the last UAAP season that Adamson would be very dangerous in UAAP Season 79. They changed almost the entire squad but their growth is even more impressive.
But if Adamson wants to advance to the next round of the Premier Cup or even play really well in the UAAP, their fate is aligned with Sarr’s ability to stay on the court. He had a penchant for picking up a lot of quick and early fouls. That hurt Adamson last year and in their first two matches of this tournament. Pumaren has tried to get Khristian Bernardo and Cristian Garcia ready and they will be serviceable but not game changers the way Sarr is. If Adamson does go to that small lineup then Ochea, Tungcab, and Maganti must hold the fort for them to have a chance.
Can NU stop Adamson’s Bomb Squad? We’ll find out.
(To be continued.)
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