After two months worth of elimination round games, the UAAP Season 86 Final Four is here at last.
The UP Fighting Maroons, as expected, ended the 14-game double round robin on top. UP closed out the second round with a four-game winning streak as the remnants of their UAAP Season 84 title-winning team led their recovery from a rough patch in the midseason.
Reigning UAAP Most Valuable Player Malick Diouf, JD Cagulangan, CJ Cansino, and Harold Alarcon have provided the Fighting Maroons with stability throughout this campaign and their experience will be crucial for the upcoming Final Four. Newcomers Francis Lopez and Janjan Felicilda have played key roles for UP as well and they must not wilt under the bright lights of the postseason if this team is to live up to the lofty preseason expectations placed upon them.
UP finished the eliminations with a 12-2 win-loss record, but they will have to get past one of the two teams that defeated them, the ADMU Blue Eagles, if they are to qualify for their third consecutive UAAP Finals. These two teams faced one another for the last two UAAP championships and this shared history between them makes this match-up even more riveting.
The Blue Eagles have been flying through unfamiliar territory this season though as they have struggled mightily with consistency. Ateneo’s 7-7 win-loss record is their worst since 2013 and it meant that they had to beat the AdU Soaring Falcons in a playoff just to qualify for these semifinals.
Nonetheless, ADMU is a potent opponent that the Fighting Maroons cannot take for granted. Any team coached by Tab Baldwin is going to be well-prepared and these Blue Eagles have proven that they can hang with the best teams this season when the lights are at their brightest.
The other Final Four match-up features the second place DLSU Green Archers and the NU Bulldogs. La Salle is currently the hottest team in the league as they have won their last eight games, including a sweep of the second round.
DLSU is bannered by this year’s leading UAAP MVP candidate Kevin Quiambao, but this team is far from a one-man show. Evan Nelle, Mike Philips, and Jonnel Policarpio join Quiambao among the top 20 players in the league this year in terms of statistical points while Mark Nonoy and Raven Cortez have also had their fair share of bright moments this season.
The Green Archers are set to battle the third place NU Bulldogs whose back-to-back losses to end the second round cost them a twice-to-beat edge in this match-up. NU will need Kean Baclaan and Jake Figueroa to be at their best if they are to snap their losing streak and force a winner-take-all second game against La Salle.
If both UP and DLSU can overcome their Final Four opponents, they will meet in the UAAP Finals for the first time in history. These two programs are the cream of the crop in today’s Philippine Collegiate Basketball scene, particularly in terms of recruiting blue chip prospects, and a potential best-of-three finals between them will be a must-watch.
They will first have to get past the Blue Eagles and Bulldogs, respectively, though which will be no easy task.