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DLSU Green Archers UAAP 78 Preview: Embracing the Small Ball

There are two kinds of sports events or news: the ones where you remember where you were when they happened, and the ones where you don’t. I knew where I was when Smart Gilas-Pilipinas won against Senegal in the FIBA World Cup last year. I knew where I was when Ray Allen knocked down the triple that forced overtime in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals. I knew where I was when the San Mig Coffee Mixers survived AZ Reid and Rain or Shine to win the Grandslam.

With that said, I knew exactly where I was when Mac Belo hit that game-winner against La Salle in the Final Four that sent the FEU Tamaraws to the Finals and send the Archers crashing out of the semis. Most of the Lasallian community and the team’s supporters likewise probably knew where they were when that Belo three splashed through the net.

And less than a year after that stunning defeat, they will make their debut in Season 78 of the UAAP with nine rookies, the most since JVee Casio and other greenhorns made their debut for La Salle in 2003. Aside from the rookies, the Archers will also have a notable addition on the sidelines: Former Ginebra, Barako Bull, and San Miguel head coach Siot Tanquingcen, who joins the team as an Assistant Coach. So what can we expect from this retooled Green Archers team this season?

Season 77 Summary

Elimination Round Record: 10-4, Lost to FEU in semis, Finished 3rd.

The Green Archers were heavily-favored to defend their title entering Season 77. That’s because aside from LA Revilla who turned pro, the core of last season’s championship-winning team remained. They had the league’s best frontline in Norbert Torres, Arnold Van Opstal, and Jason Perkins. They had Jeron Teng, who was fresh from winning the Finals MVP award. And they had dependable guards in Almond Vosotros, Thomas Torres, Kib Montalbo, while also welcoming then-rookies Prince Rivero, Julian Sargent, and Abu Tratter.

The air along Taft Avenue thickened with excitement as the UAAP drew near. The Archers even came from behind and upended the San Beda Red Lions in the Finals of last year’s Fil-Oil Preseason Cup to win the title. There was talk of multiple championships and a dynasty.  The team’s line-up for the season was released, and noticeably absent were veterans like Luigi Dela Paz, Oda Tampus, and Gabby Reyes, as the team only fielded 14 players. But most fans weren’t really worried, since most of the key contributors in the 2013 title run were still there.

Then Mike Tolomia and the FEU Tamaraws pulled the rug from under them in their first game. Thomas Torres, who was the team’s third-best scorer in the preseason, then suffered a fracture in his foot in their second game against Ateneo, and the sophomore Montalbo was forced to play heavy minutes. Vosotros, who was struggling to find his shot, was also forced to share the ballhandling duties.

The team lost their first two games, before winning against NU. Their title defense had gotten off the wrong foot. Then came the victories as the team climbed up the standings. They won seven straight, and led the league in rebounds and assists. It seemed that the team was finally adjusting to the loss of their starting point guard. But they lost in the home stretch of the eliminations against a familiar foe, the Tamaraws, and the UE Red Warriors, before settling for a playoff for the second semis slot after a dominating win against the Bulldogs.

The opportunity to grab a twice-to-beat advantage, however, was lost against the Tamaraws, who had now defeated them three times and had pushed them on the brink of elimination. Some blamed the loss on a fashion show, of all things, that a couple of the team’s players had to attend a night before the match. Others simply noted the fact that La Salle shot an atrocious 32% from the field, and you don’t win games if you shot at that percentage.

With their backs against the wall, the team played perhaps its finest game of the season, and sent the Final Four series to a do-or-die match, which again went down the wire. The Archers had tied the game, and there were just 24 seconds left on the clock, with the Tams having possession. They needed to play good defense for 24 seconds, and the game would go to overtime. They played good defense for about 20 seconds, before Tolomia found Belo at the corner for that three that prematurely ended their season.

Season 77 Statistic Leaders

PPG: Jeron Teng (17.59)
RPG: Jason Perkins (10.18)
APG: Jeron Teng (3.88)
SPG: Jeron Teng (0.47)
BPG: Arnold Van Opstal (0.54)

Season 78 Roster

  1. Jeron Teng – SF
  2. Abu Tratter – PF/C
  3. Jason Perkins – PF
  4. Thomas Torres – PG
  5. Prince Rivero – PF
  6. Julian Sargent – SF/SG
  7. Darryl Pascual – SF
  8. Larry Muyang – C
  9. Joshua Torralba – SG/SF
  10. Anrdei Caracut – PG/SG
  11. Jolo Go – SG
  12. Lorenzo Navarro – PG
  13. John Gob – PF
  14. Leo Joson – C
  15. Andrew Langston – SG/SF

Offseason Additions: Joshua Torralba (Reserve), Darryl Pascual (Reserve), Larry Muyang (Reserve), Andrei Caracut (San Beda), Jollo Go (Hope Christian), Lorenzo Navarro (San Sebastian), John Gob (La Salle Greenhills), Leo Joson (Cypress Bay HS), Andrew Langston (Cape Henry HS)

Offseason Subtractions: Almond Vosotros (graduated), Norbert Torres (graduated), Yutien Andrada (graduated), Kib Montalbo (injury), Arnold Van Opstal (foregoes final year of eligibility due to lingering injury), Robert Bolick (transferred to San Beda), Terrence Mustre (transferred to Adamson), Matt Salem (transferred to NU)

Quick Roster Analysis: Not since Season 73, when they merely had the 6-5 Maui Villanueva, the 6-5 Papot Paredes, and the 6-6 Andrada as centers, has a La Salle team lacked in height. Ben Mbala, who well in the PCCL last year, could have helped  shore up the loss of Van Opstal, Norbert Torres, and Andrada, but he was declared ineligible to play this season due to a stint in a ‘ligang labas’ in General Santos City early this year, which extends his residency to three years.

The lack of guards from last season, meanwhile, has already been addressed with the return of Thomas Torres along with guards like Andrei Caracut and Renzo Navarro who can share the ballhandling duties. This team can also light the scoreboard, especially from the three-point area (they made an average of 7.4 threes a game in the Fil-Oil Cup, which is the best in the tournament), as they have guys like Torres, Perkins, Torralba, Caracut, and Andrew Langston who can spread the floor.

Storylines this Season

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Can the team stay healthy?
Some experts point to the injury by Thomas Torres during their second game as the moment when the Archers’ title hopes dimmed. Norbert Torres, Van Opstal, and Montalbo likewise missed significant time for La Salle during the season, so it is understandable if some fans are concerned with the health of the Archers heading into the season. Montalbo went down with an ACL injury during the preseason, while Van Opstal’s nagging Achilles injury was the reason why he decided to forego his final playing year. Joshua Torralba suffered a hand injury during the preparation for the season, and will be out for 4-6 weeks, which will likely be most of the first round.

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Who is going to step-up in the middle?
Tratter played around 19 minutes per game in the preseason, up from just nine minutes of playing time per contest in Season 77. The Archers used the five of Torres, Caracut, Teng, Perkins, and Tratter heavily during the preseason, so the duo of the 6-6 Tratter and 6-4 Perkins will likely spend the most time manning the middle for the Archers. Tratter played well in the Fil-Oil Cup, averaging around nine points and six rebounds, and if he is able to translate these numbers in the UAAP, it will help them blunt the loss of Torres and Van Opstal.

The 6-5 Larry Muyang and the 6-5 rookie John Gob will likewise play the four and the five for the Archers, with the burly Muyang averaging six points and four boards in the preseason. Gob, who played for La Salle-Greenhills and received the Most Improved Player award just this year, spent just ten minutes on the floor for the Archers, and scored just two points and hauled down two boards. But if he makes a good account of himself in the season, expect his playing time and production to increase. Look for La Salle to also go small at some point during games, with Perkins or the 6-3 Prince Rivero playing center, as they will try to negate their size disadvantage by running and quickening the pace of the game.

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Will this be Jeron’s MVP season?
Teng averaged 18 points, seven rebounds, and four assists last season, an improvement from his already impressive numbers in Season 76. He passed the ball more to his teammates, something which he continued in the preseason (three assists). He finished only second to Ateneo’s Kiefer Ravena in the MVP race, and will likely be in the hunt for the award again this season.

So how do you improve your game if you are already one of the country’s best collegiate players? Fans who saw Teng play in the preseason likely noticed that he was draining more jump shots instead of just barreling his way to the hoop. If he expands his offensive game and continues finding his teammates, look for him to be in the top two or three in the race for the MVP.

Rookies To Watch

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Andrei Caracut
Caracut receiving the ball in the corner or on the top of the key and draining a three-pointer became a recurring image for those who witnessed the Archers in the preseason. He finished second in the team in scoring in the Fil-Oil Cup, notching 14 points, three rebounds, and three assists per contest. More importantly, he was the tournament leader in three pointers made, as he knocked down a staggering 32 of his 63 attempts for a 51% shooting clip from long distance.

The former NCAA Jrs. Finals MVP will like receive the most playing time among the DLSU rookies, but he is more than just a spot-up shooter. He shows maturity for his age, even making clutch baskets in some of the team’s preseason games, and can also create a shot for himself and share the ballhandling duties.

Andrew Langston
Not much is known about Fil-Am Andrew Langston, except for the YouTube highlights during his high school days, when he played for Cape Henry High School in Virginia, USA. These highlights show him as an effective three-point shooter, something that the Archers lacked last season. Langston, along with Caracut and Torralba, are guys that opposing defenses cannot leave open from long distance, which should make the Archers less predictable on offense.

Potential Breakout Players

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Thomas Torres
With the departure of LA Revilla, last year should have been Thomas’ breakout year if not for his foot injury. Now fully recovered, he went on to be part of the Mythical Five in the 2014 PCCL last year and made a good account of himself in the Fil-Oil Cup, averaging 13 points, five caroms, and four assists.

Now one of the seniors in the team, a lot is expected from Thomas this season with Kib Montalbo sidelined. There is no other time than now for him to step-up not only in scoring but also in providing leadership in the backcourt. If he can keep cut down his turnovers (2.4 in the preseason, 2.3 in Season 76) and can consistently deliver offensively, this will most probably be the year where he will be ranked among the top point guards in the league.

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Prince Rivero
Many expected that Norbert Torres and Vosotros will be selected for the Sinag Pilipinas team. Many were surprised when it was Rivero, the former NCAA Jrs. MVP and Defensive Player of the year, who made the team and not Teng or Van Opstal. But Rivero has always been a hard worker, and made the most out of the 12 minutes per game that he spent on the floor in Season 77.

He made a good account of himself in the SEA Games when he played for the national team, at one point leading the team in scoring during a win against Timor Leste. In six preseason games, he also led the Archers in scoring (15 points per game) and rebounds (11 per game) in 23 minutes of play. Armed with experience in international play and coming from a stellar preseason stint, he will be one of the vital cogs for La Salle this season and beyond.

Best Case

The Green Archers will return to the Finals and reclaim the title.

Worst Case

Injuries, chemistry issues, or their glaring lack of size will prevent the team from making it to the Final Four.

Final Thoughts

This is a very different team from last season, as they will more likely try to outscore their opponents rather than win by defense. They actually led the Fil-Oil Preseason Cup in points per game (83), and, despite the loss of most of their frontline, placed second in rebounds thanks to the efforts of Rivero, Perkins, Tratter, Teng, and even Torres. The main concern for this team is whether or not they can defend opposing big men, as they surrendered around 80 points per contest, a far cry from their second-best defense in Season 77. Players like San Beda’s Ola Adeogun, Donald Tankoua, and CEU’s Rodrigue Ebondo all punished the team in the paint, and they need to shore up their interior defense for them to have a chance of going deep into the playoffs.

While much has been said about the rookies of La Salle, it is their holdovers who need to deliver if they wish to bring the men’s basketball title back to Taft Avenue. Torres, Perkins, Tratter, Sargent, and Rivero will need to contribute both on offense to alleviate the scoring load that Teng carries and on defense to make up for their lack of ceiling. A Final Four seed is definitely within reach for the Archers.  However, the most important thing would be to win as many games as possible and try to nab one of the first two seats in the semis that offer the twice-to-beat advantage for them to have a shot of making the Finals.