MANILA – University of the Philippines (UP) and Ateneo are the teams to beat for the UAAP men's basketball tournament which will begin on Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.

Almost all of the eight coaches present during the league's preseason press conference at the said venue agreed that the Fighting Maroons and the Blue Eagles, the two finalists of the bubble tournament last summer, are still the favorites to win it all.

UP head coach Goldwin Monteverde and Ateneo tactician Tab Baldwin began answering the team-to-beat question with playful banter choosing each other's teams.

Although losing high-flying Ricci Rivero and lockdown defender Noah Webb due to graduation, the Fighting Maroons remain a formidable squad capable of defending their UAAP championship with Carl Tamayo, Zav Lucero, and JD Cagulangan leading the way.

On the other hand, Ange Kouame continues to be the beanpole that will lead the Blue Eagles in their quest to reclaim the title, although on which Kouame will show up following a knee injury remains to be seen.

Far Eastern University mentor Olsen Racela and National University (NU) gaffer Jeff Napa then answered both Season 84 finalists to still be the teams they need to upset if they want a shot at the Season 85 title.

Adamson coach Nash Racela added that La Salle and NU, which won major preseason tournaments over the midyear, should be considered as well as teams to beat.

The Green Archers ruled the PBA D-League Aspirants Cup title and even held a training camp in Japan, while the Bulldogs won the FilOil EcoOil Preseason Cup championship, even stunning the Fighting Maroons in one elimination round game.

La Salle coach Derrick Pumaren and University of the East assistant coach Don Allado somehow played it safe and said everyone is a team to beat.

Allado represented Jack Santiago, who is making a return as head coach after missing much of Season 84 due to suspension.

Meanwhile, University of Santo Tomas (UST) assistant coach Rodney Santos made a bold claim saying the Growling Tigers are the team to beat.

Santos pinched in for new head coach Bal David, who is tasked to take charge of a rebuilding UST squad that lost Season 84 leaders Joshua Fontanilla and Sherwin Concepcion.

The Tigers open the tournament against Season 85 hosts Soaring Falcons at 2 p.m. Saturday at the MOA Arena, while the Maroons open their title defense against the Archers in an early rematch of their instant classic Final 4 series at 4 p.m.

The following day, the Red Warriors and the Bulldogs clash in the first game at 2 p.m., while the Eagles battle the Tamaraws at 4 p.m.

Rising as one

Adamson has chosen "Rise as One" as the theme for UAAP Season 85.

League president Aldrin Suan said the theme is fitting as the league is bringing a full calendar for the first time amid the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic.

“Now, we are back and full of life," said Suan, CM of Adamson University. "For the past two years, it's not just the UAAP that was affected. The entire world was affected.”

"Emotionally, economically, socially, in one way or another, we were down. We are hoping to use the UAAP as one of the platforms in helping bring the new normal to the Filipino people. As we rise as one, we are back to being full of life," he added.

Among the tournaments making a return this season is the women's basketball event, in which the weekend matches will be held in the morning before the men's basketball doubleheader.

The Wednesday quadruple-headers for women's basketball will be held at the UST Quadripavillion in Manila. (PNA)