Reigning champion Ateneo and University of the Philippines are still considered the teams to beat when the UAAP Season 84 kicks off on Saturday, March 26.
All eyes are on Ateneo and UP as coaches were in unison in recognizing both Katipunan-based squads as the teams to beat in the men's basketball tournament during a press conference at the TV5 Media Center in Mandaluyong City Wednesday, March 23.
While Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin was left hanging without an answer, Far Eastern University's Olsen Racela chose Ateneo and UP while Nash Racela of Adamson echoed his brother but also included the Tamaraws among his choices.
National University tactician Jeff Napa and UP's Goldwin Monteverde also mentioned FEU and De La Salle. Derrick Pumaren, mentor of the Green Archers, for his part, did not leave University of Santo Tomas out of the picture.
Like most of the coaches, Baldwin himself admitted that having a bubble setup training was quite a challenge even for the defending champions.
The three-time UAAP coach said there are limited information and scouting over their opponents sans participating in pre-season tournaments due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
"I think that's a disadvantage," said Baldwin about the lack of pre-season games. "But I also think that every team has to adjust to the same thing. At the end of the day there's a lot of unknown as we start this season."
Nonetheless, Baldwin is excited to kick off Ateneo's UAAP campaign without the likes of three-time Finals Most Valuable Player Thirdy Ravena, Isaac Go, and Nieto twins --- Matt and Mike, and Adrian Wong.
Last Season 82, Ateneo remained undefeated in the elimination round which paved the way to stepladder format in the Final Four.
With Ateneo waiting at the top, fourth-seeded UST beat No. 3 FEU in the first round of the stepladder.
The Growling Tigers then won back-to-back games against the Fighting Maroons, the second-seeded team which has a twice-to-beat-advantage, in the second round.
But Ateneo still prevailed at the end as the Blue Eagles took back-to-back commanding wins against the Growling Tigers in the best-of-three Finals en route to their third straight UAAP title since the 80th season in 2017-18. (Carlo Anolin) ###