Most UAAP fans have installed Ateneo as the prohibitive favorite to defend the title they won last year. This belief is mostly based on the two wins that the Blue Eagles had over the Red Warriors this season. In both games, Ateneo's Rabeh Al-Hussaini imposed his will over the frontline of UE, averaging 28.5 points, and almost single-handedly gave his team the win. This exposed UE's lack of a true center, and Ateneo's superiority in that department. And while the rest of the starters for both teams might cancel each other out, it goes without saying that the boys from Loyola have the deeper bench. In addition, they also have more "name" players that are familiar even to the casual basketball fan. Indeed, a team that has a five of AlHussaini-Baclao-Buenafe-Salamat-Reyes has more ring to it than one which has Llagas-Espiritu-Acuna-Lee-Lingganay.
Looking at the numbers, I am almost tempted to join the bandwagon, and declare the Blue Eagles as champions even before the first shots have been fired. But something in my gut makes me feel that the Red Warriors have a decent shot at dethroning the Season 71 title-holders.
Let's not forget that, for most part, UE is still the team that Dindo built. Yes, the same team that went undefeated two years ago, until Dindo Pumaren was upstaged by his Kuya Franz in the Season 70 finals. The same team that was a victory or two away from winning it all. Practically half of the current line-up, or almost anyone who matters in the rotation of Lawrence Chongson was part of that team. Needless to say, these Red Warriors are veterans who are just dying for some payback.
Plus, there's this little known fact: that Norman Black has a losing Finals record against rookie coaches, whether it be in the PBA (losing to Rino Salazar in 1992, and Chot Reyes in 1993) or the UAAP (losing to Pido Jarencio in 2006).
So how will I call the Finals? I think I'll follow my head on this one and give Season 72 to Ateneo. The Blue Eagles just have too many weapons, and that will clinch them the series, aside from improving Coach Norman's record against rookie coaches. But it's going to be closer than what a lot of people think. UE may even sneak in a win and bring the series to a deciding 3rd game if Ateneo's not careful.