Who’s your top bet for this season’s MVP award?
The UAAP Season 81 Men’s Basketball Tournament has been a wild ride so far. Hopes of attempting a sweep again were lost when defending champions Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) lost their first game to surprise current top spot team Adamson University (AdU). The latter eventually lost to Far Eastern University (FEU), who faced defeat to bottom-dwellers University of the East (UE). This means no team will be winless this season.
There is still a scramble for the Final Four, especially between former finalists De La Salle University (DLSU), rising hopefuls University of the Philippines (UP), and dark horses University of Santo Tomas (UST). With new faces in both players and staff alike, the first round of games has given us a glimpse of the stellar standouts in the tournament. The UAAP recently released their statistical list of Season MVP aspirants, and MBody breaks down the top 7 players and what they must do to win the coveted award.
Bright Akhuetie (UP)
UP and UAAP fans alike have been waiting for the arrival of the Nigerian on the court. It’s a wonder why some are still surprised that he tops the candidates list over players like Kouame and Ahanmisi. As of October 13, Akhuetie was the only player to posit over a hundred points and rebounds (leader), while still dishing out 25 assists. He gained 17 statistical points over teammate Juan GDL, who seems to be more of a favorite. UP’s Final Four hopes are dwindling down as they sit at 6th with a 3-5 standing, so if he wants to cement a real chance at MVP, Bright will need consistent hardcore performances and take the Maroons back into contention.
FAST FACT: If Akhuetie maintains this position, Angelo Kouame will lose out a spot in the Mythical 5 because of the UAAP’s allowance rule of one foreign player.
Alvin Pasaol (UE)
Where would UE be without Alvin Pasaol? His displays are reminiscent of LeBron’s Cavalier years before making the move to Los Angeles, but it seems harsh to say he is a one-man team with a player like Philip Manalang in support. But the stats don’t lie, Pasaol leads the UAAP in scoring, averaging 20 points every game, and his team is still at the bottom. Based on the term “most valuable,” Pasaol is the key fit. Don’t let the dependence deceive you though. He is a proven shooter on the court, and will need to be an inspiration for future Red Warriors if they are to crawl out of their pit.
FAST FACT: The next UE player on the statistics list is Philip Manalang, way down at 38th, a difference of 39 statistical points.
Angelo Kouame (ADMU)
When he made that monster of a dunk against rivals DLSU, chants of “MVP! MVP!” rang around the Mall of Asia Arena. Kouame is only a newcomer and he has already made his presence felt. From a mild performance in his team’s defeat to Adamson, he has only gotten better by “trusting the process.” (It’s lesson he takes from his idol Joel Embiid.) Kouame is a big reason why Ateneo can hope to be the first defending champion since the school’s historic five-peat. Contributing on both ends of the court, the UAAP has to prepare for more sensational displays by the Ivorian.
FAST FACT: ADMU ties with FEU for the most players on the statistical list with 7. This is even with the removal of Thirdy Ravena (ADMU) and Arvin Tolentino (FEU) because of their game suspensions.
Justine Baltazar (DLSU)
While Aljun Melecio is the face of the Green Archers, Baltazar is the unsung hero of DLSU. The team may be feeling the departures of Ben Mbala and Ricci Rivero, but Baltazar’s defensive contributions—five steals and 18 blocks (2nd highest), as of October 13—keeps the Archers in Final Four contention. His big step up is key for DLSU, and will need to maintain that level if he wants to at least get into the Mythical Five.
FAST FACT: DLSU, along with UP, has two players in the Top 10, the other Green Archer being Aljun Melecio (9th).
Juan Gomez De Liano (UP)
Most were not expecting UP to be as good they are now yet as they await the arrivals of Ricci Rivero and Kobe Paras, but a big reason for this (along with Akhuetie) is Juan GDL. An absolute beast with the ball, GDL can threaten any team with his drives and jumpshots. He plays even better with the connection he has with his brother Javi, and initiating plays to Akhuetie. UP may be in trouble now, but with GDL in tow, UP will have an earlier comeback than they had hoped for.
FAST FACT: UP is the only team with two players in the Top 5, their next ranked player is Paul Desiderio (12th).
Jerrick Ahanmisi (AdU)
Did anyone think Adamson would be the frontrunner they are right now? Props to who did. Circling around the amazing trio of Ahanmisi, Sean Manganti, and Papi Sarr, the Soaring Falcons have been defying odds to remain on top of the standings. Though they are not as consistent as a whole lately, you can always expect Ahanmisi to step up and drive the team along. After years of trying to prove he is MVP-worthy, this year may be his best chance.
FAST FACT: Adamson is the only team with three players in the Top 10—Papi Sarr is at 8th while Sean Manganti rounds up at 10th.
CJ Cansino (UST)
This season is the year of the rookies. While Kouame has been making a name for himself in Ateneo, and Dave Ildefonso finds his groove for National University, the standout for the youngsters is UST’s CJ Cansino. Players like him are a great example as to why new head coach Aldin Ayo will be excited to breed a new kind of “mayhem” in the UAAP. Cansino is already scoring and making plays as if he is a veteran of the game. If the MVP is too out of reach for him, the Rookie of the Year should be a sufficient title—especially if he gets them into the Final Four.
FAST FACT: Cansino ranked higher than teammates Henri Subido, Steve Akomo, Marvin Lee, and Zach Huang because of his 100 points, 66 rebounds, and 20 assists (as of October 13) to give him 57.43 statistical points.
MORE FAST FACTS:
- FEU’s highest ranked player is Prince Orizu at 11th.
- NU’s highest ranked player is rookie Dave Ildefonso at 13th.
- Thirdy Ravena ranked 15th but his game suspension takes him out of contention. The next highest ranked ADMU player is Mike Nieto at 27th.
- Ravena’s suspension means it will be the first time there is no Ravena in the Mythical 5 since UAAP 77. (His brother Kiefer was included in Seasons 77 and 78.)