September 11, 2011

Sweep dreams are made of these

The perfect season is one of the rarest feats in sports. The longer the season, the more improbable it happens. In the local college sports scene, factors unique to the setting had made the sweep sweeter with its added perks.

The local college hoops scene has seen quite a number of elimination round sweeps and near-sweeps. Since the start of the Final Four format in 1993, there had been two sweeps and two near-sweeps. UE and UST swept the competition in 2007 and 1993, respectively; Ateneo and La Salle missed the sweep on the last games of the 2011 and 2002 seasons, respectively. In the NCAA, San Beda swept the eliminations on their to the title last year, while their finals opponents SSC-R was the last to do the feat prior to San Beda, in 1997 (although that was prior to the NCAA using the Final Four format).

Interestingly, the sweeps and near-sweeps had always involved the same teams, and not always the teams that contend year in and year out. And the near-sweeps were always convincing defeats for the would-be sweeper, while the sweeps would always be close games.

In 1993, Adamson led by Marlou Aquino had the privilege of derailing the Growling Tigers 14-0 sweep. They failed that time, but they managed to stay close, losing to only seven points, the second smallest advantage by the Dennis Espino-led Tigers team in that year. That game was personal for most of the Falcons as they previously tried out for the Espana team before being cut. In those days, sweeping the eliminations meant an automatic championship; this cut short the tournament so the league changed the rules, making the sweeping team qualify for the best-of-3 Finals outright.

We now all know that Aquino did not sorta attend his classes, so the league suspended the Falcons next year; this ushered in the DLSU-UST rivalry that lasted until the millennium ended. Interestingly, while UST ushered in their four-peat with a sweep, the Archers sought to extend their four-peat with a sweep in 2002.

DLSU entered the final game of the eliminations spotless, against Ateneo which had to win to have a chance at the twice to beat advantage. In that game, DLSU got blown out by Ateneo in the third quarter. UE won on their next game denying the Eagles of the incentive, but the Eagles beat them anyway, thanks to Gec Chia and "the shot" on their way to their first title since 1988.

While everyone expected DLSU to top the standings in 2002, and even sweep the eliminations, virtually no one saw UE sweeping the 2007 elimination round. In the finale, UE faced, guess what team, La Salle. Unlike the 2002 game, this game went into OT, complete with Brian Ilad making Lasallians proud by being like Manny Pacquiao.

And so we make it to the 2011 Ateneo near-sweep. Adamson relived its role of being the spoiler. Like the near-sweep games before, this was a blowout in favor of the spoiler, with Ateneo suffering its biggest defeat in... I dunno? Ever since Norman Black coached them?

What's unique with the UAAP sweep scenarios is that while you'd expect Ateneo, La Salle and even UST and UE to figure in such situations, you'd never expect teams such as Adamson to participate twice -- granted Adamson's participation is not the result of a good basketball program throughout the years, it goes to show you that for a team to figure in these sweeping situations, you'd also need a little bit of luck.

For the NCAA, the circumstances are more glaring. There had only been two instances were a sweep happened: 1997 San Sebastian and 2010 San Beda. In both times, both teams faced each other in the final elimination round game and in the finals.

The 1997 San Sebastian capped off their 5-peat with a sweep of the eliminations, beating SBC, only to be beaten by the Red Lions in Game 1 of the Finals. SSC made use of the twice to beat advantage given to the sweeper, winning Game 2.

In 2010, San Beda faced the Stags in the elimination round finale. Like in the UAAP when the would-be sweeping team won, the Red Lions had a convincing 8-point win to clinch the thrice to beat advantage in the Finals. Unlike the 2007 Red Warriors, however, the 2010 Red Lions even had more convincing Finals wins, winning both games via double-digits.

In 2011... well I won't jinx.

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