3-on-3: UAAP Season 77 first round

3-on-3: UAAP Season 77 first round
Rappler's 3-on-3 panel share their thoughts on the first round of the UAAP Season 77 and what they expect to happen in the second round

MANILA, Philippines – The first round had more than its fair share of close games and epic performances – from the Kiefer Ravena-Roi Sumang duel, the always exciting game between the Ateneo Blue Eagles and the De La Salle Green Archers, and of course, the UP Fighting Maroons’ first win in two years arresting a 27-game skid.

Before we enter the second round, we asked our 3-on-3 panel to share their thoughts on the first round of the UAAP Season 77.

Who are your first round standouts?

Jane Bracher: Mac Belo and Troy Rosario. Not really surprising that these two perennial match-up problems are coming out of their respective shells but their performances are definitely worth noting. And I don’t think anybody expected them to rise for their respective teams. Don’t look now but NU and FEU quietly dominated as well and are also in second place.

Enzo Flojo: The duo of Kiefer Ravena & Von Pessumal: These two have been teammates since grade school, and their familiarity with each other’s game has really helped them be very effective wingmen for Ateneo. Kiefer is currently the frontrunner for Season 77 MVP, while Von is enjoying his most productive season yet. Oh, and the Eagles are atop the standings with 6 wins in 7 tries.

Jason Perkins: Jeron Teng is the face of La Salle, but the Archers wouldn’t be sitting where they are (tied for second place) had it not been for Perkins. He had a bit of a slump after a hot start to the season, but he has since bounced back, dropping 15 points and 9 boards as DLSU derailed UST.

Mac Belo. Mac. Belo. Some say he’s the second coming of Arwind Santos. I say he may even be better (not now, but eventually). He scored in double-digits in all but one game in the first round while also leading FEU to a share of second spot. He’ll definitely be in the MVP conversation by the season’s end.

Naveen Ganglani: The biggest standout, without a doubt, is Kiefer Ravena. After an injury-struck season in 2013, Ravena has responded with a vengeance in Season 77, further establishing himself as the best player in college basketball – in both UAAP and NCAA leagues. He has a jumper that’s already made for the pros, plus his ball distribution has improved as well. And when it comes down to crunch time, there’s no one else who I’d rather have control the ball for a potential game-winner. Other guys I’ve been impressed with are Mike Tolomia, Mac Belo, Von Pessumal, Chris Newsome, Arvin Tolentino, Prince Rivero, Jeron Teng, Jason Perkins, Alfred Aroga, Troy Rosario, and Gelo Alonino

Did any team or player surprise you, pleasantly or otherwise?

The easy answer is UST. Their performance is definitely surprising and also definitely not in a good way. These are back-to-back finalists with its lineup practically intact. They still have Aljon Mariano, Kevin Ferrer and Karim Abdul. This team is supposed to contend, not play disorganized, sloppy, subpar basketball. It shouldn’t be this bad.

I was pleasantly surprised at Troy Rosario and the NU Bulldogs. Without Ray Parks and Emmanuel Mbe, the Bulldogs were just supposed to quietly fold, but, man, they were great in the first round, winning five matches. Alfred Aroga has been dominant, Gelo Alolino is the season’s best PG so far, and Rosario is having a career-defining season, leading the team in scoring despite coming off the bench.

I was surprised at how inconsistent UST has been. This is a veteran-laden team loaded with experience, and yet it found a way to notch a losing slate entering round two. Karim Abdul’s production has dipped a bit, there is no bona fide point guard, and the forward duo of Kevin Ferrer and Aljon Mariano has underplayed. Coach Bong Dela Cruz better right the ship soon.

The player I’ve been most surprised with is Belo. After being just a rotation player last year, the FEU big man has improved his game so much that he’s second in the league in scoring and is attaining MVP consideration. But besides his stats, it’s the versatility of his game that’s most eye-catching. He can score inside the paint, he’ll knock in a 3-ball if you dare him to shoot, he can handle the ball if the point guards are being pressed, and he’s actually a pretty respectable defender who fights for position and has good lateral movement. He’s not like Aldrech Ramos yet. But does he have the potential to be as good as the former FEU star? Yes. Does he have the potential to be better? I believe so.

Ateneo, meanwhile, is the team that’s surprised me the most, considering I didn’t think they would make the Final Four in the preseason. With their 6-1 record, quality offense involving off-ball movement to free up shooters, and ability to perform like veterans in the clutch despite being laden with rookies, Coach Bo Perasol deserves a whole lot of credit.

What to expect in second round?

The second round will be full of unlikely upsets and win or losing streaks. So many questions stand at this point: Will La Salle manage a solid second round run with all the injuries plaguing them? Will Ateneo continue their steady climb back to the top? Will UE finally learn to close out strong on a consistent basis? Will UP’s first-win-in-two-years high propel them to another win or two? And which teams will they beat? Will FEU and NU make it far to prove – not that they need to – that teams without superstars are legitimate threats in this league? Will UST pull off another surprise run to the Finals like last year? And will Adamson’s process of learning result to a victory before all is said and done?

Also, will UP regain its cheerdance crown? Or will NU thwart them once again?

Yep, the second round is where it’s at.

Expect DLSU to peak at the right time. Despite being severely undermanned, the defending champs have found a way to beat other solid teams on its way to a tie for second spot. I think coach Juno Sauler has really become a top-tier coach outside of the PBA. He’ll figure out a way for DLSU to solidify a Final Four spot.

Despite being the hosts, having a fearsome frontline (imagine Charles Mammie and Moustapha Arafat charging at you in transition — this cannot happen, of course, because only one import is allowed on the court for either team), and having Roi Sumang, UE finds itself mired in sixth spot ahead of UP. The Warriors could have easily been 5-2 or even 6-1 had some breaks gone their way, but, alas, this has been the hand given to them. Mental toughness is really the key piece missing in UE, and I’m not too keen on the idea of this being a drastically-improved quintet in the next round.

I expect Ateneo to lose more than one game in the second round, because the amount of close games they won in their first seven matches is unsustainable. But I expect them to be a top three seed, at the least. I think FEU will drop down, but still be in the mix for Final Four contention. I see NU being in the same boat as the Tamaraws, clawing for a playoff seed. I expect UE to win more games in the second round, but maybe not enough to get to the playoffs. I see UST doing what they do best – rallying after everyone has counted them out, save for their fan base – and making it to the Final Four as well. I see Adamson and UP being the same teams they were in the first round, though I think the Falcons will win round two of their encounter. And I see La Salle attaining a twice-to-beat seed before eventually defending their championship – against either the Blue Eagles or Growling Tigers.

What are your thoughts on the first round? Let us know in the comments below. – Rappler.com

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