We are a few days away from what could be the most exciting UAAP season in recent years. A few more hours away from ending a nine-month wait that has been both frustrating and excruciating, the thought that we have to toil before seeing our favorite college basketball squads back in action seemingly intolerable for hoops aficionados like us.
Fret no more, though, as Season 75 is just around the corner, with hosts National University pulling all stops to make the Diamond Year a memorable one. Before we delve into action, let us take a peek at what could happen in the men's basketball tournament.
ATENEO DE MANILA UNIVERSITY
Season 75 is the year to Drive for Five for the four-time defending champs. And though they will be missing the services of recent graduates Kirk Long and Emman Monfort, expect the Blue Eagles to come to the tournament prepared, just as what they have been ever since Norman Black took over the coaching cudgels.
Seven-foot Greg Slaughter was a beast in the preseason, posting several 20-10 games as the Katipunan-based squad copped the Father Martin's title while placing third in the FilOil Flying V Preseason Hanes Cup. He forms a potent frontcourt with veterans Nico Salva, Frank Golla and Justin Chua.
Last year's Rookie of the Year Kiefer Ravena continues his development --- and domination --- in his second year in the league and will fully take over the backcourt he will be sharing with Nico Elorde, Juami Tiongson and energy guy Tonino Gonzaga.
Burly point forward Ryan Buenafe will be returning and the Eagles have a few rookies, who are not as hyped as Ravena was coming out of high school, but nevertheless, will be useful in the seasons to come.
Projected record: 10-4 (2nd)
FAR EASTERN UNIVERSITY
The ghosts of their 2011 defeat might be gone for the Tamaraws and they come into Season 75, as expected, ready and loaded. It is up to Coach Bert Flores to perfect an FEU concoction that is easily capable of entering the Final Four and contending for the crown.
The Tamaraws still possess the deadliest 1-2 guard combo in the UAAP with Season 73 MVP Ryan Roose Garcia and Terrence Romeo. This will be Garcia's final year for the Green and Gold and the Zamboanga native is expected to do his best to get his team over the hump.
However, for the first time in recent years, the question mark for FEU will be their frontcourt, what with stalwart Aldrech Ramos eating up his eligibility. High-flying Fil-Am transferee Anthony Hargrove takes over Ramos' slot at the pivot but he still obviously needs more seasoning while the comebacking Arvie Bringas, once touted as the best high school prospect in the country, provides more brawn in the post.
Former NCAA juniors MVP Gino Jumao-as is expected to finally make his debut for the Tamaraws even as Cris Tolomia and Russel Escoto are tipped to improve further as the Morayta-based crew battles to erase the disappointments of seasons past.
Projected record: 8-6 (4th)
If there is one team that underwent a lot of change between Seasons 74 and 75, it has to be the Soaring Falcons.
Gone are the days when Lester Alvarez, Jerick Canada, Janus Lozada and Jan Colina delivered the goods for Adamson. Now, you've got Ryan Monteclaro, Jericho Cruz, Jansen Rios and Allen Etrone, virtually unknowns tasked to bring additional punch to the squad's "Big Two."
Fifth-year slasher Alex Nuyles and senior forward Eric Camson are now officially the Falcons' primary offensive weapons and they will be required to score more than usual because aside from spurts from Roider Cabrera and Rodney Brondial, the San Marcelino five are as offensively challenged as they have never been in the past four years.
Expect Adamson to struggle adjusting to the loss of four rotation players and missing the finals after coming tantalizingly close to the championship round last year is a distinct possibility.
Projected record: 5-9 (6th)
UNIVERSITY OF SANTO TOMAS
The Growling Tigers roared to the Final Four of Season 74 by beating the teams they should have defeated. Playing under the radar for much of the tournament, UST was also able to scalp both Adamson and FEU, which gave them enough victories to qualify for the playoffs.
But come the semifinals, the Tigers were a tough nut to crack for Ateneo, with Karim Abdul, Chris Camus, Jeric Teng, Kevin Ferrer and Jeric Fortuna rising to the occasion as they came really close to upsetting the Blue Eagles in a 69-66 defeat.
Apart from Camus, the core of UST is back for a rerun. In the super-charged Camus' place is Melo Afuang, who is tipped to support Abdul and sophomore Ferrer in tipping the scales for the Espana-based squad up front.
Teng and Fortuna will now get the offensive help they need with the return of sharpshooter Tata Bautista. Do-it-all forward Aljon Mariano is also back and Coach Pido Jarencio can only hope that his youngsters in Ferrer, Abdul and Louie Vigil develop further as they prepare for the departure of Fortuna and Afuang, who will finish their eligibility in Season 75.
Projected record: 9-5 (3rd)
The Season 74 version of the Bulldogs was a fluke, a project that was bound to fail after they leaned on the mercurial Bobby Ray Parks, Jr. too much en route to crashing out of the playoff race.
They have learned their lessons as the NU squad we saw in the FilOil Flying V Preseason Hanes Cup was a group of talented cagers who trust and play off each other. It probably started when the Bulldogs had to play much of the Philippine Collegiate Champions League without Parks, who was with the Sinag Pilipinas national team then.
Emmanuel Mbe, who almost won the MVP award in Season 73, rediscovered his form --- and passion --- and Gelo Alolino, Robin Rono, Jeff Javillonar, Cederick Labing-isa and especially, Kyle Neypes, developed confidence in their games. When you consider the addition of sniper Mark De Guzman and ex-national youth team standout Troy Rosario, you see an NU group ready to stun the world this year.
But still, the Bulldogs will only go to wherever Parks bring them. We all know that he is supremely gifted with basketball skills, but the most important traits that the reigning MVP developed this offseason were leadership and trust of his teammates, two key ingredients that probably spell life and death for the hosts.
Projected record: 11-3 (1st)
DE LA SALLE UNIVERSITY
Pumped up by a new coaching staff and a blue-chip recruit, the Green Archers performed well in the preseason that forced pundits into putting them into their Final Four predictions.
Jeron Teng has lived up to expectations and has given La Salle a versatile scorer who can create for himself and contribute within the flow of their offense. Norbert Torres, formerly known as a jump-shooter, has taken his talents down low and was a double-double machine in the preseason. And LA Revilla has continued to overcome health obstacles and provide leadership, clutch scoring and pesky defense for the Taft five.
They have a solid rotation that includes Almond Vosotros, Joshua Webb and defensive stopper Jed Manguerra while also seeing Yutien Andrada recover well from an ACL tear he suffered in Season 74.
Injuries have hampered the Archers' campaign over the past year but if other injured players like Arnold Van Opstal and Luigi dela Paz get into the pink of health come July, expect La Salle to slug it out for a semifinals seat and turn some heads along the way.
Projected record: 7-7 (5th)
UNIVERSITY OF THE PHILIPPINES
The Fighting Maroons bring back a couple of players who were part of their "historic" 0-14 season two years ago, with the athletic Mark Lopez and the volatile Alvin Padilla in the roster once more.
Gone are the likes of the potential-filled but inconsistent Mark Juruena, bruisers Carlo Gomez, Miggy Maniego and American Moriah Gingerich so the State U cagers are in a bit of a flux coming into the second year of coach Ricky Dandan.
The Fighting Maroons are a bit thin up front, with Juruena and Gomez's departure, but recruits JR Gallarza and Raul Soyud, both standing at six-feet-five-inches, will try to compensate for that by battling with the trees of the UAAP in the paint.
Mike Silungan will have one last chance to the "messiah" hype thrown at him in 2010 and Jett Manuel and Paolo Romero should continue to improve. Veterans Jelo Montecastro and Mike Gamboa are expected to share quarterbacking duties for the Diliman five as they wait another year for ex-La Salle Greenhills hotshot Mikee Reyes to recover from a shoulder injury.
The future doesn't look particularly bright for the Fighting Maroons, but as Dandan put it, "they will be there every game, fighting for the W."
Projected record: 3-11 (7th-8th)
UNIVERSITY OF THE EAST
Looking at the cellar once more, the Red Warriors enter Year 2 of their rebuilding project with coach Jerry Codinera at the helm.
UE is one of the youngest teams in the UAAP as only six of them have more than three years of experience in the league. In his sophomore season, spitfire guard Roi Sumang is expected to take over the mantle of leadership left by Paul Zamar. And the former Letran Squire is primed to break out this year if we base it on his impressive preseason showing.
But if the Red Warriors are to make any mark in Season 75, they would have to hand Sumang some help. Problem is, on paper, UE is so thin that you can only hope they get sizzling hot every game just to challenge stronger and more talented teams.
Chris Javier, Adrian Santos and JR Sumido will deliver in spurts while the towering Sam Razon, who missed 2011 due to an ACL tear he suffered late in Season 73, and Ivan Hernandez provide add a couple of six-foot-five bodies that Warriors fans hope would emulate at least a few of Codinera's moves when he was still playing.
Then again, do not expect too much from UE. A Final Four seat will be next to impossible as the Warriors' youngsters continue to develop.
Projected record: 3-11 (7th-8th)
NU vs ADMU
BALLS SkyCable Channel 34 will air replays of the UAAP Season 75 Men's Srs. Basketball Tournament every Saturday and Sunday at 8 p.m. starting July 14 and every Thursday at 9 p.m. starting July 19.