Who will win 2018 Fil Oil Cup?
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BY JUDE P. ROQUE ON JUNE 25, 2018
We’re approaching the start of the 2018 collegiate season as the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) kicks off in two weeks. This also means top pre-season tournament – the Fil Oil Flying V Preseason Premiere Cup – will reach its climax this weekend.
After two months of exciting college basketball, eight teams out of nineteen participants in this 2018 edition remained in hunt for the title currently held by the San Beda University Red Lions. All ten NCAA and eight Universities Athletics Association of the Philippines (UAAP) schools joined along with the Kobe Paras-powered Gilas Pilipinas 2023 squad. Since 2006, the Fil Oil Cup has been the best preview for the NCAA and UAAP cage wars as most, if not all, participating teams showcase their new roster. Fans get a glimpse of the new recruits and also the teams’ progress from the previous year.
The playoffs start on Thursday with exciting quarterfinal games – Group A leader UAAP champions Ateneo de Manila University Blue Eagles versus Group B No. 4 Letran Knights, Group A No. 2 San Beda versus Group B No. 3 Adamson Falcons, Group A No. 3 De La Salle Green Archers versus Group B No. 2 Far Eastern University (FEU) Tamaraws, and Group A No. 4 University of the Philippines (UP) Fighting Maroons versus Group B top team College of St. Benilde (CSB) Blazers. Semis will be on Friday followed by the finale on Saturday.
The Blue Eagles remained unscathed after the elimination round as it swept Group A with an astounding average winning margin of 25.4 points! Tab Baldwin’s wards only had two tough games – versus San Beda (69-68) and La Salle (81-75 in overtime). With the core of the victorious 2017 UAAP champion batch still intact, which includes Gilas cadets Matt Nieto, Isaac Go and Thirdy Ravena, plus a dominant center in new African recruit Angelo Kouame of the Ivory Coast, Ateneo is heavily favored to take home this year’s Fil Oil Cup crown, which it only held once, in 2011. Baldwin transformed the Blue Eagles into a hard-nosed defensive unit, and quick ball movement scoring machine. They are a sight to behold this year, even more than last year. But they need to hurdle a hard-fighting and souped-up Letran side on Thursday before facing the winner of the La Salle-FEU game in the semis the next day.
San Beda, fresh from a two-week training camp in Florida under renowned skills trainer Ganon Baker, is looking to score its first back-to-back Fil Oil titles this year. The Red Lions, champions in this tournament in 2015 and 2017, figured in a sensational championship duel against La Salle last year that ended with a booming step-back trey from star Robert Bolick Jr. Bolick and fellow Gilas cadet Javee Mocon will spearhead the Lions’ title-retention bid along with 2017 NCAA Finals MVP Donald Tankoua and the rest of the talent-laden San Beda roster. But their date versus UAAP contender Adamson on Thursday won’t be a walk in the park for sure as the tall and aggressive troops of multi-titled mentor Franz Pumaren are raring to make a mark this season.
La Salle, the winningest team in this league with four titles, aims to add one more with a young but tall roster under new coach Louie Gonzales. Gone is two-time UAAP MVP Ben Mbala but in his place are two towering rookies in 6’8” Taane Samuel of New Zealand and 6’9” Fil-Aussie Brandon Bates to reinforce the much-improved 6’8” sophomore Justine Baltazar and 6’5” Santi Santillan. But the Archers are in for a grind when they collide with the Tams of second-year coach Olsen Racela as the Tams are visibly formidable and deep this year with Gilas candidates Arvin Tolentino, James Tuffin and Richard Escoto. FEU bested San Beda in the final of the EDQ Cup last February.
UP is another team to behold this year with prize additions in 6’6” Nigerian sensation Bright Akhuetie, Fil-American David Murrell, former Falcon JD Tungcab and 2017 NCAA Juniors MVP Will Gozum. But CSB is a different beast this year with its “40-minutes of hell” defense and rookie marvel Justin Gutang.
Who will rule the 2018 Fil Oil Cup? It’s anybody’s guess.