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Preseason grades for all eight teams ahead of UAAP Season 85

Mile Phillips and the La Salle Green Archers have had a fine preseason with a semifinal appearance in the Filoil EcoOil Preseason Cup and a championship triumph in the PBA D-League Aspirants Cup. UAAP Media Bureau

While there's less than a week to go before tip-off, all eight teams have been hard at work for months in preparation for UAAP Season 85.

The goal?

To dethrone confident, capable, and near-complete defending champions UP Fighting Maroons. Or perhaps, just stand alongside playoff squads Ateneo Blue Eagles, La Salle Green Archers, and FEU Tamaraws.

Even the previously-winless UE Red Warriors are adamant about making noise this time around, while the Adamson Soaring Falcons, NU Bulldogs, and UST Growling Tigers are all determined to make waves as well.

How did all eight teams get ready and raring for the oncoming season? We grade their preparations here.

ADAMSON SOARING FALCONS

The Soaring Falcons came so close to advancing to the 2022 Filoil EcoOil Preseason Cup finals, dominating their semifinals matchup against National U through three quarters before running out of gas in overtime.

While Adamson didn't take home any preseason title, they nonetheless proved their continued ascent as a contender. Jerom Lastimosa can still take charge when it matters most -- and he's now even cooler, calmer, and more collected in the clutch.

They also welcomed back onetime promising wing AP Manlapaz, who looked not yet at game shape, but still looked like a contributor who can fortify their forward position.

Grade: B

ATENEO BLUE EAGLES

The Blue Eagles are the only team to opt out of local preseason tournaments. Meaning, the Philippines itself is yet to see how they'd offset the losses of court general SJ Belangel, 3-and-D guard Gian Mamuyac, and veteran wing Raffy Verano, among others.

Instead, the former three-peat champions decided to test their mettle against squads in the World University Basketball Series, which they swept en route to an undisputed title.

So, yeah... Ateneo looked like Ateneo -- only this time, with much younger players such as second-year guard Forthsky Padrigao and first-year wing Kai Ballungay trusted with big roles.

Add a handful of tune-up games against two Israeli teams, which they split, as well as the Bay Area Dragons and Changwon LG Sakers, which they also split, and the Blue Eagles are, scarily enough, out to surprise in the UAAP.

Grade: A

FEU TAMARAWS

Nobody expected the Tamaraws to charge into the Filoil finals -- not even they themselves, as head coach Olsen Racela unfailingly preached that they were using the tournament not for wins, but for improvement and team-building.

But lo and behold, they were battling for the championship, and even made eventual champion NU sweat. Classic green and gold.

Losing RJ Abarrientos, without a doubt, hurts, but it may very well be the wake-up call L-Jay Gonzales needed to finally morph into his final form: the speedster who warps defenses and stuffs the stat sheet like he did with 13 points, nine assists, and nine rebounds in a Filoil semis win against La Salle.

Abarrientos' absence also became a call to arms for the likes of Xyrus Torres, Bryan Sajonia, and Patrick Sleat to step up, which they also did when they saw action in Davao's Kadayawan Cup.

Grade: B

LA SALLE GREEN ARCHERS

The Green Archers were dominating -- just dominating -- the earlygoing of Filoil and the 2022 PBA D-League Aspirants Cup. Obviously still stinging from a sorry loss in last season's UAAP Final Four, Mike Phillips, Evan Nelle, and CJ Austria were bringing the pain.

With the entry of Gilas Pilipinas standout Kevin Quiambao a little later, La Salle looked even more equally dominant and dangerous. Justine Baltazar's departure would've opened up a weakness for just about any other team, but the green and white just plugged in a new inside-outside 1-2 punch in Phillips and Quiambao.

That led to a semifinal finish in Filoil, a championship in the D-League, and competitive tune-up games in Japan.

The Green Archers' quivers are full, their bows are battle-hardened, and they believe their aim will be true in the coming season.

Grade: A

NU BULLDOGS

If there ever was an overall champion in the preseason, it would've been the Bulldogs.

Titles in Filoil and the 2022 Universities and Colleges Basketball League, as well as contention in a handful other minor tournaments turned them into a trendy pick as dark horses for the second straight season.

NU yet again looked like a well-oiled machine that runs on total team effort -- a hallmark of head coach Jeff Napa's philosophy. The closest to a shining star they have would be Steve Nash Enriquez, who took control of the point guard position after the graduation of veteran Enzo Joson and defection of former starter Janjan Felicilda.

Add sparkplug scorer Kean Baclaan, big guard LA Casinillo, and new tower Omar John, and the blue and gold are as deep and balanced as they come, and will have as good a chance as anybody.

Grade: A+

UE RED WARRIORS

A winless season is a low bar to clear. Still, the Red Warriors did that -- and more -- in Filoil, where they finished at 4-4.

After a breakthrough win, their first in almost three years, they won three of their next four, and looked to be much improved behind new top gun Harvey Pagsanjan who was flanked by Paranada brothers Niko and Kyle.

UE wound up outside the playoff picture, as they still seem to be three to four pieces away from legitimate contention, but just being competitive is actually already a welcome development for a side that had an average losing margin of 14.4 as they went 0-14 last season.

Grade: B-

UP FIGHTING MAROONS

After ending a 36-year title drought, the Fighting Maroons were mostly intact and appeared to be dawning a dynasty.

The biggest question for them was how to replace the production of veteran guards Ricci Rivero, who had played out his last year of eligibility, and CJ Cansino, who was ruled out due to an ACL injury.

Filoil, and other minor tournaments, gave a glimpse of their answer, with the likes of Harold Alarcon, RC Calimag, Terrence Fortea, and Brix Ramos taking turns at stepping up.

UP ended Filoil with a quarterfinals loss before moving forward to competitive tune-up games against Korean Basketball League teams. With Carl Tamayo, Zavier Lucero, JD Cagulangan, and Finals MVP Malick Diouf still in tow, their preseason performance did nothing to lower expectations that they are the team-to-beat.

Grade: B+

UST GROWLING TIGERS

Safe to say, it'll be a rebuilding year for the Growling Tigers, who named a new coach in alumnus -- and former Ginebra great -- Bal David.

True to their first-year mentor's background, however, they were a tough out in Filoil and was even a finals contender in the D-League.

What'd hurt UST the most, however, is the fact that Sherwin Concepcion and Bryan Santos, two players they relied on last season and in the preseason, have just been deemed ineligible due to the UAAP's age rules. That means that much of the work they've done would have to be overhauled, with Nic Cabanero and Paul Manalang now the unquestioned team leaders.

Grade: C