BY defeating the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons and cutting their seven-game winning streak, the De La Salle University Green Archers have announced their return to elite college basketball after stumbling from the gate this season.
The Green Archers have one of the most formidable rosters in the league, and probably the only one who can match the Fighting Maroons. La Salle has always been heavily favored. Underachieving has been par for the course for them in the last few years. Remember when they had two Mythical team members in Justine Baltazar and Jamie Malonzo and yet failing to secure a Final Four berth?
Now they have Schonny Winston, Michael Philllips, Kevin Quiambao and Evan Nelle. All of these players have next level potential, but the team has only started to get their act together in the second round, beating the other two Final Four teams after getting walloped by Ateneo.
In short, La Salle has an even record against National University, Ateneo and UP — which makes the Final Four very interesting. They would have the confidence knowing that even if they are the lowest ranked team, they have a fair chance against any of them.
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Aside from the NU Bulldogs, the University of the East Red Warriors are the surprise team of Season 85. The team's low-key recruitment of Luis Villegas and CJ Payawal was key to their unexpected resurgence. Their last game saw an overtime duel with the Ateneo Blue Eagles, boiling down to a missed three-pointer that could have extended the contest.
The Warriors can play spoiler to La Salle's Final Four quest, but the Warriors have laid the foundation for Season 86. Even if they lose Villegas and Payawal, along with the elder Paranada (Nikko), their program is now rooted to the core. Take note that they did not have a foreign student athlete, and that could also boost their campaign next season.
Villegas and Payawal are likely to be great contributors for PBA teams that would draft them, assuming they won't get offers from abroad. Villegas was comfortable in his long UE campaign, as he was not pushed to play center, thanks to Gani Stevens, a highly touted recruit that moved from UST to UE. He would be more effective in the PBA as a sweet shooting forward.
Payawal is a model athletic shooting guard, the kind of player that's in demand in the NBA and any league these days. He's likely to be on the radar of scouts, and may be a better performer than other big names that could be drafted ahead of him.
While the UAAP is rising in status as a league, the US NCAA Division 1 did not enjoy the usual anticipation for the 2022-23 season. One main reason is that the most anticipated soon-to-be NBA draftees are not even in the league. Victor Wembanyama is being heralded as the next basketball unicorn, and he's playing in the French league. Scoot Henderson is the point guard that NBA teams would want to have, and he's with G-League Ignite.
Another factor is that top recruits like Nick Smith of Arkansas and Dariq Whitehead of Duke are either injured or recovering from injury. The top ranked team is North Carolina, and it is filled with holdovers from their successful campaign last season. That's effective, but from a fan perspective, it's a bit boring.
There are also many college basketball fans who only watch the March Madness. The format and flurry of the Big Dance is the top attraction, not necessarily the teams that are playing.
Has one-and-done killed college basketball? Not really, but the presence of other leagues did. The G-League Ignite, which also featured Kai Sotto along with Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga, took some big names away, and there is also Overtime Elite League, a pro league for players around the world ages 16-19 years old.
Overtime Elite offers a base salary so young players can already earn, unlike in College basketball. This is likely what pushed the NCAA to reconsider their tough policies and let players have a piece of their money pie.