UAAP Season 86's second round has wrapped up -- and yet, just three spots have been filled for the Final Four.
Defending champion Ateneo de Manila University will still clash with determined Adamson University on Wednesday for the right to take on top-seed and twice-to-beat University of the Philippines.
Meanwhile, De La Salle University will face off with National University, even as University of the East, Far Eastern University, and University of Santo Tomas have all bid their farewells.
As we rush headfirst into what is sure to be an intense semifinal, here are key takeaways after the eliminations:
This is the La Salle we expected -- and it's all because Kevin Quiambao
La Salle went unbeaten in the second round, and its last loss came at the hands of UP a month ago. As Topex Robinson finally has his lineup at full-strength, he has turned the Green Archers into the powerhouse everybody anticipated.
At the forefront stands MVP favorite Kevin Quiambao who has done anything and everything to will the Taft-based team from a 4-3 first round all the way to an 11-3 eliminations. Right there with him are Mike Phillips, Evan Nelle, Mark Nonoy, Jonnel Policarpio, and a lineup that can match up well with anybody and everybody.
With its engine already at full-throttle, La Salle, indeed, looks like Robinson's greatest shot at an elusive championship.
Ateneo-Adamson for the fourth-seed is exactly what we want and need
Ateneo vs. Adamson for the last playoff berth is the grudge match we didn't know we had or wanted. But we did end up having a game between two teams out to prove they won't go gently. And we did end up wanting another round of the coaching chess match between Tab Baldwin and Nash Racela.
It's a shame that Jerom Lastimosa will have to remain sidelined because of his torn ACL.
Of those ousted, UE is the team to watch for next season
The UAAP's longest active playoff drought continues, as UE still won't be returning to the Final Four which it last appeared in back in 2009.
And yet, the Red Warriors remain adamant that their future is bright, as unlike last season, their core -- except for trusty veteran Abdul Sawat -- won't be graduating. Noy Remogat is already on the upward trajectory towards the upper echelon of collegiate point guards, while Nigerian big Precious Momowei just missed out on Rookie of the Year as he was disqualified due to his one-game suspension.
Add a few more weapons and head coach Jack Santiago will have a well-stocked arsenal that will allow him to be equipped to go toe-to-toe with the league powerhouses.
The curious case of Rookie of the Year
UE's Momowei was, by far, the pacesetter for the top rookie award -- until he accumulated his second unsportsmanlike foul that then led to the league sanctioning him with a one-game suspension. As per UAAP rules, a disciplinary action disqualifies a player from individual awards.
With that, the next man up was UP's Francis Lopez, who seems safe to win the award even after a late push by La Salle's Jonnel Policarpio. The thing is, though, is that the Rookie of the Year was never close, as Momowei was the only freshman in the top 10 in terms of Statistical Points (SPs).
This, despite the fact that the league welcomed seven of the country's top 24 recruits out of high school, as ranked by the National Basketball Training Center, in Ateneo's Lebron Nieto and Raffy Celis, UP's Luis Pablo and Seven Gagate, UST's SJ Moore and Mark Llemit, and NU's Rein Jumamoy. Don't forget highly-touted Filipino-foreign rookies Sean Alter, Mason Amos, Chicco Briones, Jack Cruz-Dumont, and Mark Parks, and it's just another reminder that this season didn't necessarily showcase the best of the freshest talent in the league.
UP is far from done making history
In five years' time, UP -- under the guidance of Bo Perasol and then Goldwin Monteverde -- has done this: first MVP since 1986, first Final Four since 1997, first Finals since 1986, first twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four era, first championship since 1986, and now, first-ever top seed.
This Season 86, the Fighting Maroons are armed with a twice-to-beat advantage and are set to meet either Ateneo or Adamson -- both of whom will have to play an extra game just to get into the Final Four. State U's path to a third championship round in a row is the most direct it has ever been.
Their road to a second title in three years -- and second since 1986 overall -- isn't getting easier, however. Either La Salle or National U will be a tough test, but Monteverde has both the capability to push all the right buttons and the confidence in his fully-loaded lineup to make history anew.