Only the best of the best remain in the homestretch of the UAAP Season 84 men’s basketball tournament, as three-time defending champions Ateneo, University of the Philippines, De La Salle University, and Far Eastern University emerge from the smoke to round out the Final Four and remain in contention.
Ahead of what is expected to be a heated showdown beginning Wednesday, we will explore how these four squads—and those that have been eliminated—have fared through 14 games this tournament and how they have gotten to this point.
8. University of Santo Tomas (3-11)
From losing to Ateneo in the Finals, the Growling Tigers now find themself as one of the two worst teams in the league. Sporting a -21.4 net rating and league’s worst offensive (85.3) and defensive (106.6) ratings, the team is better served reminiscing on the past or looking towards the future as opposed to marinating in the present. The trio of Joshua Fontanilla (11.6 points, 46.3 true shooting percentage or TS%*), Nic Cabanero (12.4 points, 46.1 TS%), and Sherwin Concepcion (10.2 points, 47.2 TS%) formed a potent offensive combination capable of scoring with good volume and decent enough efficiency. However, the firepower is grossly deficient when put alongside their defense.
The most glaring dearth is the lack of any sort of resistance inside. UST allowed teams to shoot at a 54.7 percent rate from inside the arc (by far the highest mark), and they were the second-worst rebounding team in the league. Their historically porous defense allowed all Final Four teams to each score 96 points or more against them in the second round. A lot of work needs to be done in order to restore this squad to its former glory.
* League average is 47 TS%.
7. University of the East (0-14)
Despite going without a win in 14 games, the Red Warriors ended up with a better net rating than UST at -18.5. UE performed well for stretches against great teams (remember their games against La Salle?), but it just couldn’t keep it together to go home with a win after 40 minutes of action. Their offense and their defense were horrendous (seventh in both offensive and defensive ratings); Harvey Pagsanjan (13.4 points on 43.3 TS%, 5.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists) and Clint Escamis (7.6 points, 5.9 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 2.1 steals) did their best despite the odds, but the talent disparity between their team and the rest of the league was clear as day.
The funny thing about this season is that there are only two teams that are below league average on defense: UE and UST. This is because both teams were incredibly bad on defense that they pulled down the league’s average to an insane degree. The difference between UE’s defensive efficiency and FEU’s, the sixth-ranked team, is more than twice as much as the difference between FEU and Ateneo, the top-ranked team.
6. Adamson University (6-8)
I could end this section with just these words: Jerom Lastimosa. He is the heart and soul of this Adamson team and has been the best scorer in the UAAP, averaging 14.7 points on 56.3 TS%, which is 9.3 percent higher than the league average. On top of this, he’s one of the best playmakers, averaging 3.6 assists per game. His game doesn’t end with offensive production; he’s also the best shot-blocking guard with a block percentage of 2.6 percent (for comparison, La Salle big man Justine Baltazar has a 2.9 block percentage this season).
Adamson was a solid defensive team that ranked fourth in defensive efficiency (90.5 defensive rating), but their offense was hard carried by Lastimosa. They were only a bit ahead of the cellar dwellers, UST and UE, with an 86.9 offensive rating, good only for sixth. The defense was buoyed by the strong play of Vince Magbuhos, who averaged 2.4 stocks (steals plus blocks) per game, and rookie Cedrick Manzano, whose per-minute stat line (16.0 points, 15.3 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 3.0 blocks, 1.1 steals per 36) reflected that of a future star in the UAAP.
5. National University (6-8)
The Bulldogs, led by coach Jeff Napa, outperformed their preseason expectations and are the best team to not make it to the Final Four. The team ranked fourth in offensive efficiency (93.8 offensive rating) and fifth in defensive efficiency (91.9 defensive rating), posting the league’s fifth-best net rating (+1.9).
Though their rotation heavily featured veterans like Mike Malonzo, John Lloyd Clemente, and Enzo Joson, the rookies have been the brightest spot for them. Rookies Jake Figueroa, Reyland Torres, and Janjan Felicilda led the team in Box Plus/Minus, an advanced stat aimed to measure a player’s overall impact. Torres (7.9 points on 50.2 TS%, 2.4 rebounds, 1.3 steals; 20.4 points per 36) trailed only Jerom Lastimosa and RJ Abarrientos for the title of the UAAP’s best per minute scorer, while Felicilda (7.0 points on 52.3 TS%, 4.5 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.4 steals) looked like a great lead playmaker from the jump. Meanwhile, Figueroa (6.1 points on 51.8 TS%, 5.6 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.1 steals) provided plus impact in nearly every statistical category when he took the floor. This season is a sign of good things to come for them in the future.
4. La Salle (9-5)
Despite being the third-seeded team, the Archers find themselves as the fourth-best team in terms of net rating at +4.9. This is because even though their defense is second with an 87.7 defensive rating, their offense lags far behind the rest of the contenders at sixth with a 92.6 offensive rating.
La Salle has a wealth of talent featuring names such as Baltazar (12.7 points), Mark Nonoy (6.9 points), Evan Nelle (9.9 points), and Schonny Winston (12.8 points), but they have struggled to score consistently. Among these four names, none of them were able to score at a rate above league average (47 TS%) in terms of shooting efficiency. The only regular members of their rotation that scored efficiently are Kurt Lojera (10.7 points, 50.6 TS%) and CJ Austria (4.3 points, 49.8 TS%). Instead, they managed to win games by being an elite defense centered around the collective length of Baltazar and Mike Phillips and flanking them with the strong defense of Lojera, Winston, and the rest of their perimeter players.
The inability of the team to generate consistent offense has been their undoing in close games. In order to move on to the finals, they need to find a way to get the points to complement their stops. They have the talent to do something, but do they have the time to figure out what exactly needs to be done?
3. Far Eastern University (7-7)
Fitting for a team led by a pair of spitfire guards, the Tamaraws barge into the postseason with the league’s second-best offense (98.6 offensive rating). Their defense is not as strong (92.0 defensive rating, sixth), though they’re not that far off and are just less than two points back of UP, the third-best defensive team.
Outside of Xyrus Torres (10.6 points on 55.3 TS%, 6.0 attempts from deep) and RJ Abarrientos (13.6 points on 48.5 TS%, 7.9 3-point attempts), FEU doesn’t take too many threes, attempting fewer triples than all but two other squads. But when the Tamaraws do fire from deep, they make them at the second-best rate in the league (31.9 percent). Their shooting extends to the free throw line, where they have nicely made 69 percent of their freebies.
LJ Gonzales (12.2 points on 49.4 TS%, 5.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.5 steals) has been outstanding for the Tamaraws so far, as he’s second on the team in points and rebounds and he’s first in assists and steals. Along with Abarrientos, Torres, and Royce Alforque (4.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.9 assists) FEU has a good argument for possessing the best guard rotation in the UAAP.
2. University of the Philippines (12-2)
The Fighting Maroons possess a net rating of +8.2, which is the highest mark a non-Ateneo team has recorded since the Ben Mbala-led Green Archers of Season 80. They gave Ateneo its first loss in the UAAP since 2018 on the back of a strong offense (98.3 offensive rating, third) and a similarly good defense (90.1 defensive rating, third).
The team’s offense is built on ball movement and scoring off of cuts and in transition. Because of this, they rank second in two-point field goal percentage (52.7 percent) and first in assist percentage (64.7 percent) and pace (80.3). No one exemplifies this more than Zav Lucero, who averages a team-leading 13.4 points per game on a ridiculous 63.3 TS%. Their offense runs through the league’s top passer, JD Cagulangan, who averages 5.3 assists per game.
In addition to that pair, Carl Tamayo (13.1 points on 50.1 TS%, 7.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists) and Malick Diouf (9.1 points on 52 TS%, 10.0 rebounds, 1.6 blocks) provide strong presences on offense and defense, respectively. Tamayo is the best stretch four in the league and has made 32.2 percent of his long ball attempts, while Diouf ranks fifth in rebounds and second in blocks despite only playing 20.6 minutes per game.
UP has shown that it can beat Ateneo, a task many perceived to be impossible. But one harder task remains, as it still has to beat La Salle and eke out a pair of victories against the Blue Eagles in the finals if they want to take this season’s crown.
1. Ateneo de Manila University (13-1)
Despite losing the last game of the elimination round, everyone and their mother knows that Ateneo is still THE team to beat. With a net rating of +22.8, a 109.3 offensive rating, and an 86.5 defensive rating, the Blue Eagles are, by far, the best team in the league on both sides of the ball. With the presumptive league MVP Ange Kouame (12.9 points on 59 TS%, 11.0 rebounds, 2.1 blocks) manning the paint, the Eagles have looked dominant and, at times, unfair. Though their defense isn’t as strong as past iterations of the team due to the loss of Thirdy Ravena, Will Navarro, Isaac Go, and the Nieto brothers, they remain strong and sturdy.
Dave Ildefonso (11.5 points on 51.3 TS%, 5.1 rebounds, 3.2 assists) provides them a healthy dose of perimeter scoring and secondary playmaking. Gian Mamuyac (7.3 points on 50.4 TS%, 2.9 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 1.1 steals) came back this season with a shiny new jumper. Honestly, it would take too much time to list down all the weapons they have. Just know that Ateneo has a lot of tools in its utility belt, and it has everything it needs for a four-peat.