By the look of things, the Universities Athletics Association of the Philippines (UAAP) Season 85 semis cast is almost complete with the defending champions University of the Philippines (UP) Fighting Maroons safely securing a Final Four ticket already with their 10-1 win-loss record. Coming at second and third places respectively are the National University (NU) Bulldogs (8-3) and the Ateneo Blue Eagles (7-3). NU and Ateneo are both trying to get to the top two spots, which are blessed with a twice-to-beat edge in the semis. Although mathematically still possible to miss the Final Four if they bungle their remaining games, it’s highly unlikely that any other squad can dislodge the Blue Eagles and Bulldogs. But only one of them will probably snatch the top two spots.
Now, the more interesting battle will be for the fourth and final semis slot, which is currently being contested by four schools namely Adamson University (ADU), De La Salle University (DLSU), Far Eastern University (FEU), and University of the East (UE). In the current standings, the ADU Falcons and DLSU Green Archers are tied at fourth with identical 4-6 cards, followed by the UE Red Warriors and FEU Tamaraws with both 4-7 slates. At the bottom of the team standings is the struggling University of Santo Tomas (UST) Growling Tigers crew with a 1-9 record. Should there be ties in the team standings for the No. 4 slot after the last elims games on November 30, a sudden death playoff match will decide who gets the last semis passport.
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After falling short of expectations in the first round, the Green Archers scored a huge come-from-behind victory over the Falcons on Wednesday, 81-78, after a buzzer-beating trey from CJ Austria. This should inspire them to stage a strong comeback in the tournament especially with the anticipated return of top league scorer Schonny Winston, who was out for a few games due to a calf injury. But it doesn’t get any easier for La Salle as it still has four tough games ahead. Its toughest test is a meeting with the league-leading Maroons this Sunday. It is a very interesting match-up if we look at the past games between these two top dogs. In the first round, UP barely escaped DLSU, 72-69. If not for the late heroics of king Maroon Carl Tamayo, the Archers would have clipped the defending titlists. The first-round encounter was quite similar with their semis showdown in Season 84. After UP, DLSU next tangles with another contender – the NU Bulldogs – on November 23. Then, the Archers will try to avenge their 74-81 setback to the UE Warriors on November 26 before closing out the elimination round with a clash with UST on November 30.
Adamson likewise has four games left in schedule and it’s no walk in the park. The Falcons’ next two assignments are versus fellow Final Four hopefuls UE and FEU, on November 20 and 23 respectively. They upended both teams in the first round but the Warriors and Tams are dangerous opponents for any team right now as they claw hard to stay alive. But even more challenging is ADU’s last two games, which are against NU on November 26 and ADMU on November 30. And so, it seems to me that Adamson has a higher hill to climb than La Salle.
FEU has three matches remaining in the elimination phase – versus Ateneo (November 20), Adamson (November 23), and UST (November 26). Of course, the Tamaraws are the big underdogs versus the Eagles. But they’re the heavy favorites against the Tigers. And so, the crucial game would be the one against Adamson, a team that defeated them in the first round, 65-76. Just like in last season’s crucial match for the semis berth, the Racela brothers Olsen (FEU) and Nash (ADU) will have to outwit each other again for the all-important W when the Falcons and Tamaraws tussle on Wednesday. The Tams may be slightly favored in this contest as the Falcons will still play without their leader and best scorer Jerom Lastimosa.
Like FEU, the UE Warriors have just three games left but they’re all gargantuan assignments. The Warriors battle the Falcons on Sunday, and then the Blue Eagles on November 23 and the Green Archers on November 26. I think the Recto-based squad already outdid itself this season with massive wins over DLSU (81-74) and FEU (76-66) in the first round. However, the Warriors are going to need some luck getting past their remaining opponents, who are all trying to make a strong finish in the tournament.
Looking at the remaining match-ups, I believe DLSU has the strongest chance of catching the last train to the semis. That colossal win over Adamson gave the Archers a great lift as they dealt the Falcons their sixth loss before sending them to a backbreaking schedule ahead. But if DLSU bows to NU (assuming the Archers also lose to UP on Sunday) on Wednesday, there’s a good chance we will see a playoff game between La Salle and either FEU or Adamson, which should be very thrilling.
My forecast for the Final Four – No. 1 UP, No. 2 Ateneo, No. 3 NU, and No. 4 DLSU. If this happens, we can expect fiery semis games to come. Don’t miss the remaining elimination games because all schools are expected to make a flat-out effort to get to the top.