Sizing Up The Green Archers’ Opposition – Part 1

National University (NU) Bulldogs

The steps towards improvement and respectability had been slow and measured, like a child nervously taking his first steps. The blowouts became nail-biters, the labels (underdogs, whipping boys, washouts) were shed one at a time, and gradually, the team burrowed its way out of the cellar to narrowly miss punching a semifinal ticket in the last two seasons.

The seeds that had been sown year ago were finally beginning to bear fruit, and just this summer, the Bulldogs racked up 11 straight victories en route to the Fil-Oil Preseason Cup title, trampling their opponents with an average margin of around 15 points, a testament to their dominance. The message that they had sent with their performance is resonant: They are done playing the role of spoilers, and are ready to seriously contend for the championship.

Quick Questions:

1.) How is this team different from the Bulldogs of last year?                                                                                           

In terms of changes in their roster, hardly. But if the preseason is any indication, this team underwent an overhaul and is ready for the looming cage wars. Their defense, anchored by the tournament’s best defender Emmanuel Mbe, is able to stymie even the most potent of offenses. Their turnover-prone and inconsistent play at the point has likewise vanished, replaced by a young yet heady point guard in Gelo Alolino.

Players like Denice Villamor, Jeffrey Javillonar and Kyle Neypes whose dialling from long distance are able bear the scoring cudgels once only lifted by Ray-Ray Parks and Mbe. And at the heart of these improvements lie the renewed focus and endgame brilliance of Parks that was absent during their previous UAAP campaign.

2. Are they as good as their pre-season record indicates?                                                                                       

Coach Eric Altamirano, while proud of his team’s preseason performance, admitted that road towards a Final Four or even a Finals berth in the UAAP will be much more difficult as compared to his team’s ascent to the Fil-Oil crown. The team had indeed made a quantum leap in the off-season, but they will be hard-pressed to equal their unbeaten preseason run, although a trip to the semis may not be so far-fetched.

3. How do they stack up against the Green Archers?                                                                                                       
 In the previous UAAP season, the Archers, despite their dismal second round record, still had a chance to nab a Final Four seat, but it was the Bulldogs who ended their slim hopes of barging into the semis. And less than a month ago, it was likewise the Bulldogs who derailed the Archers from capturing their first Fil-Oil title since 2007.

But this is far from the unit that used to dump the ball in the hands of Parks and let him do the rest. They are aware of their strengths, and, under the able guidance of Altamirano, are able to use it to the hilt. Mbe will likewise get his touches, as well as their other players who are able to light up the scoreboard with their sniping. No longer will an affair against the Bulldogs be easily chalked up as another win, but with a tall frontline and a host of guards that can hold their own against their counterparts from Sampaloc, the Archers will be up to the task of engaging the Bulldogs in a dog-fight.

Outlook: The last time the Bulldogs made it to the Final Four was in 2001, when the team was bannered by the likes of Jeff Napa. But with a year’s experience under their belts, an unbeaten run in the summer that bode well for their confidence, and a renewed focus that stems from their seasoned coach and their best player, this drought may just find itself at an end.

University of the East (UE) Red Warriors

Only three years ago, this team was a game away from ending their decades-long drought as the UAAP champions, but with all of their battle-tested veterans being whisked away by graduation and the lure of going pro, the team will have to rely on their young guns for the upcoming years. Paul Zamar, Biboy Enguio, Lucas Tagarda,  were the latest subtractions on a team sorely lacking in scorers, but younger players have already stepped up to the plate and are ready to answer the call of the man they call the Defensive Minister.

Quick Questions:

1.) Roi Sumang has made huge strides of improvement in the summer. Will he be able to lead this team? 

Sumang has the makings of a prolific scorer, as shown by the numbers he had normed during the preseason in leading his team in scoring. But while he has made strides in improvement, his production alone will not be enough to lift the Warriors past teams who can count on more players in terms of putting point across the board.

2. The team has a young core that is full of promise. Will they be able to make noise this season?               

This team’s relative youth may be their undoing, but it can also be their advantage, especially when the coming years are taken into consideration. JM Noble, Chris Javier, Adrian Santos, and Sumang are indeed talented, but the noise they will be making will likely be heard later rather than sooner.

3. How do they stack up against the Green Archers?                                                                                                        

The Warriors and the Archers clashed twice in the preseason, once in the quarterfinals of the Fr. Martin Cup, and once in the eliminations of the Fil-Oil Pre-Season Cup, with both those meetings being curiously won by the Warriors. Turnovers became the undoing of the Archers in both those games, and it will do well for them not to take the Warriors lightly, for they are a team is more than capable of wielding the upset axe on an unwary opponent that trifles with them.

Outlook: Coach Jerry  Codinera vowed that the team will be no pushovers and will be working hard against their opponents, and he had the truth of it, for his wards must truly work hard in order to avoid the lower rungs in the ladder of the standings.

Adamson University (AdU) Falcons

A rousing victory against the defending champions that ended a decades-long streak of futility, a twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four, and a veteran-laden roster mentored by a seasoned tactician was still unable to grant the Adamson Falcons a chance to unseat the Ateneo Blue Eagles last season. And instead of having another golden opportunity to make ripples in the postseason, they will have to deal with the departure of several vital cogs that will decimate their backcourt and likewise leave holes in their middle.

Quick Questions:

1. With the loss of Lester Alvarez and Jerick Canada, who will be their primary point guard?                          

Jericho Cruz may be an unfamiliar name to many a hoops fan, but Coach Leo Austria has already gone so far as to mention that he has been inserted in the Falcons’ starting line-up. But he also went on to say that Cruz had already been training with the team for a year, so he may be able to hurdle the problem of chemistry. But make no mistake, the services of Alvarez and Canada cannot easily be replaced, despite showing promise in the pre-season.

2. Can Alex Nuyles and Eric Camson lead this team?                                                                                            

Camson is a veritable double-double machine and an inside operator, while Nuyles is gifted with an athleticism that is unrivalled that enables him to score with relative ease, but Roider Cabrera, Rodney Brondial, and Cruz will need to constantly backstop them to ease the pressure of their shoulders. The team’s depth last season rivalled that of the Blue Eagles, and last-year’s shock troopers will finally find themselves thrust into the limelight.

3. How do they stack up against the Green Archers?                                                                                                           

It could be said that the Falcons have had the Archers’ number these past few seasons, as the team has not yet beaten the wards of Leo Austria since July 2009. But with the loss of their best court generals, including Alvarez, who has been tagged as an “Archer-killer” for his seemingly inspired play when matched against the boys in Green, as well as a couple of notable slotmen, then it could be said that this streak will likely see its end.

But while their backcourt is in dire need of warm bodies, their frontline, despite the loss of Janus Lozada and Austin Manyara, still has considerable size with the presence of Brondial and Cabrera if they are able to use their heft to bang bodies and snag those all-important boards.

Outlook: When it’s Leo Austria who is patrolling the sidelines for a basketball team, it’s hard to discount that team from being a championship contender, but that might sadly be the case for the Falcons, as their loss of talent in the off-season may be too much even for them to overcome. Players not named Nuyles and Camson will likewise have to make their presence felt for them to contend for a Final Four seed.

Ateneo De Manila University (ADMU) Blue Eagles

With a line-up that features a seven-footer patrolling the shaded lane, a couple of battle-hardened Finals MVP’s, a former Rookie of the Year with the basketball IQ of a pro, and a host of other good players off the pine, it’s hard to bet against the Blue Eagles. Even with the loss of most of their backcourt, their line-up remains the most talented and experienced among all of the competing teams, with a decorated coach at the helm.

Quick Questions:

1. Can their point guards fill in the void left by Emman Monfort and Kirk Long?                                             

Losing Monfort and Long not only meant the loss of two pressure-absorbent ballhandlers and scorers, but also meant the loss of two of the team’s best defenders. All the pressure now shifts unto the shoulders of Juami Tiongson and Nico Elorde, who will be charged with the quarterbacking and the distribution of the ball amongst their players, most especially Slaughter.

2. Can this team be beaten?                                                                                                                                           

This is a similar question that was asked the year before, when Slaughter and Ravena donned the Blue-and-White for the first time, and yet the Adamson Falcons were able to dent their otherwise immaculate record. Their defense in the perimeter will certainly be challenged with the loss of Monfort and Long, but in the end, their real opponents are themselves, as proven by that fateful game against the Falcons.

3. How do they stack up against the Green Archers?                                                                                              

Throw out the stat sheets if it’s an Ateneo-La Salle game, it’s said, but even without the aid of one, it could easily be said that both teams measure up well against each other. Their lone preseason meeting was waged despite the absence of Slaughter, and it was in this game when Jeron Teng nailed a game-tying three-pointer in the waning seconds that forced an extra session in a match that was eventually won by the Archers.

Jed Manguera was up to the unenviable task of guarding Ravena, and might see time when the two teams clash. But the real threat will be Slaughter and how the La Salle bigs will respond once he pops a midrange jumper or barrels his way to the hoop.

Outlook: The bells of greatness are tolling and beckoning for the Blue Eagles. Win another title, and they will etch themselves a niche in the annals of UAAP history as one of the greatest and most dominant dynasties to ever compete in the collegiate level. Needless to say, the pressure of finishing their “drive for five” and enabling Black to ride off into the sunset with a fifth straight crown is a daunting task, but with a crew that is brimming with experience and talent, he has all the tools he needs to pull the feat off. 

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