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Sizing Up The Green Archers’ Opposition in UAAP 78 – Part 1

Wins by the skins of their teeth, losses by a mile, a couple of game-winners, a team that won despite committing 36 turnovers, a 19-point lead that was erased in a little over six minutes, a 20-minute power interruption brought by torrential rains, an emphatic block that completed a stunning upset, a game-winning three that sent one half of the Araneta Coliseum to pandemonium and silenced the other, and after surviving five do-or-die games, the first championship in 60 years for the NU Bulldogs.

If these highlights from the 77th Season of the UAAP are any indication, it’s that Season 78 (themed “Tumitindig, Sumusulong”) is bound to be more thrilling than the previous one.  Blue-chip rookies have been welcomed into the fold and certain players have finished redshirting and are ready to play for their schools.

We know that the Green Archers will be parading a small but offensively potent line-up that features nine rookies as they seek to attain the UAAP title that they lost in heart breaking fashion. But before we analyze their chances of winning La Salle’s 9th UAAP Men’s Basketball crown, let’s look at the universities that they will be facing and how they stack up against them.

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Adamson Soaring Falcons

Remember when Alex Nuyles, Eric Camson, Lester Alvarez, Jan Colina, and Jerick Canada almost led the Falcons to the UAAP Finals four years ago? It has been downhill for them ever since, as they first missed the Final Four in the next two years, before managing only a single win in Season 77 against theUP Fighting Maroons.

But just when it seemed that things were looking up for Adamson, their head coach, Kenneth Duremdes, was fired near the end of the preseason. One of their building blocks for the future, Matthew Aquino, also left. This is a team that has already lost their top scorers Don Trollano, Jansen Rios and Ryan Monteclaro to graduation, and put up an average of 56 points last season. This means that newly-minted head coach Mike Fermin and the rest of the young Falcons could be in for a long season.

1.) What are some of positives for the Falcons heading into Season 78?

JD Tungcab is someone to watch out for if you’re an Adamson fan. The former Adamson Baby Falcon made it to the Mythical Five in the UAAP Junior’s Division last year and was the team’s second leading scorer in the preseason averaging 13 points a contest.

Papi Sarr will be the Falcons’ first import since the departure of Ingrid Sewa, and though he played only three games in the Fil-Oil Preseason Cup, he has already shown that he can be the primary offensive option for this team. Rookie Nico Capote showed what he can do for the team in the preseason, as he ranked third in the team in terms of scoring and shot an impression 52% clip (13-for-25) from distance in the tournament.

2.) How do they stack up against the Green Archers?

The Falcons, like the Archers, also joined the Fil-Oil Preseason Cup to prepare for the UAAP. However, they were placed in a different group and did not meet La Salle, and only compiled a measly 2-6 win-loss record. In their first meeting in the elimination round in Season 77, the Archers beat the Falcons soundly, but struggled to put them away in their second round match thanks to the sniping of Trollano.

With the likes of Van Opstal and Torres gone, it might be a little more challenging for the Archers to defend the paint from Sarr, who showed that he can average 20-10 in the preseason, but as long as they prevent Tungcab, Capote, Dawn Ochea, and the rest of the Falcons from knocking down their shots, they should be able to ease past this young team.

Outlook:

Fermin stated that he plans to implement the same system used by Duremdes during the previous year, which should ease the transition of the players from one coach to another. But this is a squad that only has five returning players and will be relying heavily on rookies. Tungcab already received a lot of playing time in the preseason (27 minutes per contest), and will have a chance to quickly develop for the Falcons. But he also normed almost five turnovers a game in the preseason, which is alarming and is something that opposing teams will take advantage of.

Tungcab, Sarr, and Capote will have their moments, but the success of this team depends on its holdovers like team captain Ochea, and it might be difficult for them to keep in step with the other teams in the league and win more than a couple of games.

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UE Red Warriors

First, it was Roi Sumang who chose to forego his final year of eligibility. Then, it was Charles Mammie. Soon, guys like Gino Jumao-as, Moustapha Arafat, and even Dan Alberto were all reported to have left the Red Warriors. And when the team’s line-up for Season 78 was finally released, it barely resembled the squad that nearly swept the second round last season and was one Bong Galanza three-pointer away from entering the Final Four.  UE Head Coach Derrick Pumaren, however, remained defiant, and vowed that his Warriors still have some fight in them.

1.) This team lost a lot of firepower in the offseason, but they still performed well in the preseason. What can we expect from them?

Well for one thing, as long as the elder Pumaren is patrolling the sidelines for these Warriors, his suffocating full-court press will still be there. This team will still force turnovers and capitalize on them, which is more important now that they don’t have any rim protection. Chris Javier will undoubtedly be this team’s leader, as he is the most senior player and was the team’s leading scorer in the preseason. But other than him, Paul Varilla, and RR De Leon, it’s not clear where the offense will come from, as this is a team that has lost most of its scoring options last season.

2.) How do they stack up against the Green Archers?

The two teams locked horns in the preseason, with the Green Archers winning the high-scoring match, 96-82. Andrei Caracut shot 5-for-6 from long distance in this game to finish with a game-high 21 points, while Prince Rivero and Jason Perkins likewise helped the Archers fend off the Warriors. In the two games the team played last season, La Salle committed a combined 66 turnovers, which is something that they cannot repeat in their upcoming clashes in Season 78. But with the return of Thomas Torres and the arrival of other points, the Archers are better equipped to deal with UE’s press than they were a year ago.

Outlook:

This team won nine games last season, and without Sumang, their imports, and even some of their local players, and with the other teams retooling in the offseason, it will be hard for them to duplicate this record. Their press will still give them more possessions, and underestimating this team can allow them to pull the rug from under much stronger teams, but it seems as if their lack of experience, height, and talent will be too much for them to overcome, and that much-awaited Final Four appearance could come later rather than sooner.

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UST Growling Tigers

Aljon Mariano no doubt wanted to redeem himself from a disappointing performance in the finals the year before. Karim Abdul was always dependable, while Kevin Ferrer was coming off a stint with the Gilas Cadets in the SEA Games. Much of the nucleus of the Tigers that came within a basket of winning the UAAP title remained, with only Jeric Teng and Clark Bautista graduating.

But then the losses started piling up, and then came the injuries, most notably to Ferrer, and before long, it was too late for UST to climb up the standings and catch a ride to the Final Four bus. But with most of those guys returning, with holdovers like Ed Daquioag and Renzo Subido improving, and with new guys such as Mario Bonleon finally being able to play for the Tigers, it seems as if this team is ready to make a push towards the semifinals once again.

1.) Who are the players to watch out for this team?

We know all about Abdul and Ferrer, but Daquioag seems primed for a breakout season, as he led a UST team without Ferrer and Abdul in the Fil-Oil Preseason Cup by norming 20 points, five rebounds, and four assists per contest. Another player to watch out for is former UE player Mario Bonleon, who will finally be able to play for the Tigers after sitting out two seasons due to residency. Bonleon finished third in the team in scoring after the preseason, averaging almost 13 points and six boards in seven games. If they can contribute similar numbers for the Tigers this season, then it should ease the scoring load on Abdul and Ferrer.

2.) How do they stack up against the Green Archers?

Games between the Archers and the Tigers have always been closely-contested, and the teams’ lone preseason meeting was no exception, as La Salle needed a Jeron Teng lay-up at the buzzer for the Archers to escape with an 84-82 win. As with most of their preseason games, the Green Archers shot well from the three-point area, with Thomas Torres scoring 15 of his game-high 26 points on threes.

UST, which played in this game without Abdul and Ferrer, was led by Daquioag, who dropped 20 points against La Salle, which kept the game close. Abdul will always get a double-double, but it will be crucial for the Archers to limit the scoring of the team’s other options, such as Ferrer, Daquioag, and Vigil if they wish to defeat the Tigers.

Outlook:

This is a team that has the right mix of veterans and rookies, and has a lineup that is good enough to make the Final Four. However, the other teams that entered the semifinals (Ateneo, FEU, DLSU, and NU) last year have all retooled, and it’s hard to see UST dislodging any of them and sneaking into the Final Four. But if the usual suspects contribute to the team and if they do not suffer any major injuries, then this team has the chance to compete for one of the last two Final Four slots.

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Ateneo Blue Eagles

There was that comeback against UE. Then another against FEU. Then Kiefer Ravena hit a game-winner. Chris Newsome slashed to the rim. Nico Elorde ably orchestrated the league’s best offense. Despite lacking a big man and not being a great defensive team, Ateneo was able to finish atop the UAAP standings at the end of the elimination round with an 11-3 record.

They would have probably entered the Last Dance, if only they didn’t face the NU Bulldogs in the Final Four. Against the Bulldogs, their offense sputtered, and this time, the leads were too large to overcome. This year, however, the team will parade a couple of blue-chip recruits who have waited years to play. And with Chibueze Ikeh also being able to play, Ateneo will finally have a legitimate big man that they didn’t have last year.

1.) How will this team recover from the loss of Nico Elorde and Chris Newsome?

Elorde and Newsome played a ton of minutes last year for the Blue Eagles, and will not be easy to replace. The good news is that they have a lot of guards that can share the load of playing time that he had, such as Pingoy, Cani, and Matt Nieto. Newsome will be harder to replace because of his versatility and ability to play multiple positions, but players like Aaron Black and Pessumal can be utilized to fill in that void.

2.) How do they stack up against the Green Archers?

The arch-rivals didn’t meet in the preseason, as Ateneo did not compete in the Fil-Oil Preseason Cup. The first round meeting between the two teams last year served as the coming out party for Fonzo Gotladera, as La Salle allowed Ateneo to nearly reach the century mark. The second round meeting between the teams was more competitive, with La Salle winning, 88-86, and Jeron Teng pouring in 32 points to help the Archers.

La Salle will be hard-pressed to win a scoring battle with the Blue Eagles, so what they need to do is to limit the opportunities for them to run, and to clamp down on them defensively, especially on their outside shooting, where they generate a lot of their points.

Outlook:

Without a doubt, this is a team that has improved from last season. Pingoy and Cani are expected to immediately make an impact. Ravena will likely put up MVP-type numbers, but the other veterans like Pessumal, Gotladera, and even Arvin Tolentino need to alleviate his scoring load. There is also the matter of the distribution of minutes that head coach Bo Perasol has to figure out. Tolentino played well in the first round last year, but saw his playing time decrease in the second round and the playoffs. This is a team that can secure one of the top two Final Four slots and even make it to the Finals, but they need to be able to play defense when the stakes are higher.