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Sizing Up The Green Archers’ Opposition: UAAP 79

For the second straight year, the Green Archers’ season ended at the hands of the FEU Tamaraws.

But this time, it was not a Mac Belo corner triple that was seared into the minds of the La Salle players and their supporters. Truth be told, neither Belo nor Mike Tolomia were on the floor when the Archers’ season came to a premature end. Instead, it was guys like Monbert Arong and Ken Holmqvist who sent the Archers packing. The game did not have any bearing for the Tamaraws, and Coach Nash Racela opted to rest his starters in the game’s dying minutes to keep them fresh for their Final Four match that same weekend.

That loss is clearly still on the minds of the Green Archers, and after several months of preparation including an unbeaten run in the preseason, they finally have the chance to erase those memories. But before we look at La Salle and what this season has in store for them, here is a rundown of the seven other universities who will also compete for the UAAP title.

Note: Some of the line-ups were taken from. SlamOnlinePH.com

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Adamson Soaring Falcons

Season 78 Recap: Finished 8th with a 3-11 record (tied with UP).

Additions: Jerrick Ahanmisi, Jonathan Ballon, Alexis Barrera, Ralph Chua, Jonathan Espeleta, Robbie Manalang, Sean Manganti, Terrence Mustre, Nicholas Paranada, Frederick Pasturan

Departures: Nico Capote, Carlo Escalambre, Gerald Fernandez, Chris Garcia, Jerome Garcia, Alvin Margallo, Joseph Nalos, William Polican, Ivan Villanueva

Returning Players: Kristian Bernardo, Simon Camacho, Ken Miranda, Harold Ng, Dawn Ochea, Papi Sarr, JD Tungcab

After seven years, Franz Pumaren has returned to coach in the collegiate ranks. Among his assistants include Green Archer greats Ren-ren Ritualo and Don Allado. But the things is, they’ll all be wearing blue. Adamson blue, in particular. This is certainly great news for a team looking to barge into the Final Four for the first time since 2011. Having one of the greatest coaches in Philippine collegiate basketball certainly helps the Falcons’ cause, because they will be parading one of the youngest rosters in the league this season.

Papi Sarr and JD Tungcab, two of the positive from their otherwise dismal Season 78 campaign, will be back for Adamson, along with a host of talented young guards, such as Jerrick Ahanmisi, Robbie Manalang, and former Green Archer Terrence Mustre. The talent is there, and their defense will certainly improve thanks to Pumaren and his dreaded press, which is why they are tagged as one of the dark horses coming into the season. However, their relative inexperience could be a problem once they find themselves in tightly-contested games, especially when the jockeying for Final Four positions eventually begin.

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UP Fighting Maroons

Season 78 Recap: Finished 7th with a 3-11 record (tied with Adamson)

Additions: Kyles Lao (missed Season 78 due to injury), Paolo Romero (also missed Season 78), JJ Espanola, Javi Gomez de Liano

Departures: Agustini Amar, JR Gallarza, Mark Juruena, Cheick Kone

Returning Players: Henri Asilum, Diego Dario, Paul Desiderio, Andrew Harris, Felix Jaboneta, Jarrell Lim, Pio Longa, Jett Manuel, Dave Moralde, Jerson Prado, Gelo Vito, Noah Webb

Around this time last year, something happened in the UAAP that hasn’t happened in some time: The UP Fighting Maroons sat atop the team standings with a 2-0 win-loss record. Unfortunately, they only managed a single win after their auspicious start, finishing with a 3-11 record at the end of the eliminations. The good news for UP is that they will have a relatively intact lineup for Season 79, with most of their topscorers like Paul Desiderio, Jett Manuel, Diego Dario, and Dave Moralde returning, plus players like former Kyles Lao and forward Paolo Romero also suiting up again for the Maroons.

The Fighting Maroons were actually a decent defensive team in Season 78, but struggled mightily when it comes to putting up points. Another problem for the team will be the lack of legitimate big men, especially with the departure of guys like Cheick Kone, Agustini Amar, and Mark Juruena. After a two-year stint coaching the Kiefer Ravena-led Blue Eagles, Bo Perasol is back at his alma mater, this time as head coach. And he will have his hands full is he wants to lead UP to its first Final Four stint since 1998.

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UE Red Warriors

Season 78 Recap: Finished 6th with a 6-8 record;

Additions: Rey Mark Acuno, Andrey Armenion, Wilson Bartolome, Omar Larupay, Alvin Pasaol

Departures: Chris Javier

Returning Players: Nick Abanto, Bonbon Batiller, Edgar Charcos, RR De Leon, Clark Derige, Shannon Gagate, Philip Manalang, Mark Olayon, Renz Palma, Ralph Penuela, Paul Varilla

Ever since the departure of Charles Mammie and Moustapha Arafat, the UE Red Warriors have not fielded a foreign student-athlete in the UAAP, and Season 79 will continue this trend. Instead, head coach Derrick Pumaren will rely on the full-court press that has become associated with the Pumaren name, as well as his veterans.

Despite the lack of a foreign student-athlete in Season 78, UE was still able to notch six victories, including big victories over Final Four squads like NU, Ateneo, and UST. Guys like Bonbon Batiller, Clark Derige, and Paul Varilla all had their moments, and these guys again need to come up big if the Warriors hope to enter the Final Four for the first time since 2009. A rookie to watch out for is Davao native Alvin Pasaol, who was impressive for the Red Warriors during their stint in the Fil-Oil Preseason Cup.

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NU Bulldogs

Season 78 Recap: Finished 4th with a 7-7 record; lost to UST in the Final Four;

Additions: Nico Abatayo, Matthew Aquino, Marc Joper Diputado, JV Gallego, Kins Jonas Go, Chino Mosqueda, Matt Salem, Josh Sinclair

Departures: Gelo Alolino, Reden Celda, Paolo Javelona, Jeff Javillonar, Kyle Neypes

Returning Players: JJ Alejandro, Alfred Aroga, Rev Diputado, Mohammad Salim, Dave Wilson Yu

When you consider the fact that the NU Bulldogs started Season 78 with a 0-3 record and had just lost guys like Troy Rosario and Glenn Khobuntin, it’s surprising that they were somehow able to still make the Final Four. The problem is that the team was coming off a championship, and along with a title comes heightened expectations, expectations that they were unable to meet after dropping their Final Four match against UST.

In that game, Gelo Alolino and Alfred Aroga both struggled from the field, and with the departure of more cogs from their 2014 championships team, Season 79 could even be more challenging for the Bulldogs. Fortunately, Aroga will still be back, and he is joined by a host of blue-chip high school recruits and transferees from other schools.

Among them are JV Gallego from Chang Kai Shek College, Josh Sinclair from Sacred Heart School Ateneo de Cebu, and Tzaddy Rangel of Hope Christian High School. A former Green Archer in Matt Salem and a former Falcon in Matthew Aquino will also bolster the NU line-up this season, and if head coach Eric Altamirano can get steady production from these recruits to help Aroga, then NU can certainly get to a better start than they did in their ill-fated title defense last season.

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Ateneo Blue Eagles

Season 78 Recap: Finished 3rd with a 9-5 record; lost to FEU in the Final Four in one game

Additions: Anton Asistio, Jme Escaler, Shaun Ildefonso Jolo Mendoza, Kris Porter, Thirdy Ravena, Raffy Verano, Jawuan White

Departures: John Apacible, Hubert Cani, Gwyne Capacio, Ponso Gotladera, Von Pessumal, Jerie Pingoy, Kiefer Ravena, Arvin Tolentino

Returning Players: Gboy Babilonia, Aaron Black, Isaac Go, Chibueze Ikeh, Matt Nieto, Mike Nieto, Vince Tolentino, Adrian Wong

A total of five teams made coaching changes during the offseason, but none received more attention than the Blue Eagles, who welcomed no less than Gilas Pilipinas head coach Tab Baldwin as the team’s tactician (Former assistant coach Sandy Arespacochaga is officially the team’s head coach, with Baldwin as a consultant).

This season was always going to be a challenge for Ateneo, especially with the departure of two-time MVP Kiefer Ravena, Von Pessumal, and veterans like Ponso Gotladera and Gwyne Capacio. But their climb to the UAAP mountain got steeper as players who were supposed to beef up their lineup this season were deemed ineligible due to academic issues. CJ Perez, Jerie Pingoy, Arvin Tolentino, and Hubert Cani have also left the Eagles’ nest, and it is up to guys like Thirdy Ravena, Aaron Black, Adrian Wong, and Chibueze Ikeh to carry Ateneo if they are to stay in the hunt for the Final Four.

But if Baldwin was able to guide New Zealand to a 4th place finish in the 2002 FIBA World Championships and a Gilas team missing several key players to a silver medal finish in last year’s FIBA Asia Championships, it’s hard to bet against this team.

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UST Growling Tigers

Season 78 Recap: Finished 1st with an 11-3 record (tied with FEU); defeated NU in the Final Four; lost to FEU in the Finals in three games;

Additions: William Afoakwah, Regie Basibas, Oliver De Guzman, Jason Strait, Jan Macasaet, Tsutomu Tateishi

Departures: Karim Abdul, Osama Abdurasad, Ed Daquioag, Kevin Ferrer, Janrey Garrido, Kyle Suarez

Returning Players: Justin Arana, Embons Bonleon, Enrique Caunan Jr., Jeepy Faundo, Zach Huang, Kent Lao, Marvin Lee, Renzo Subido, Jon Sheriff, Louie Vigil

Two of the members of last year’s Mythical Five are Kevin Ferrer and Ed Daquioag, while Karim Abdul was previously named in the Mythical Five for three straight years from 2012-2014. So how can the production of these guys be replaced? Louie Vigil, Kent Lao, Embons Bonleon, and Marvin Lee are some of the guys that new head coach Boy Sablan will turn to for production.

If they can also get some production from new big men William Afoakwah and Tsutomu Tateishi, that will be great for a team that has made the Finals in three of the last four years. With UST also being the hosts for this year, expect the Tigers to go all out in their quest to end their title drought, though they will need to get more production outside of Vigil.

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FEU Tamaraws

Season Recap: Finished 2nd with an 11-3 record (tied with UST); defeated Ateneo in the Final Four; defeated UST in the Finals in three games to win the championship;

Additions: Kimlee Bayquin, Axel Inigo (transferee from Adamson), Gerald Nunag, Stephen Roxas, Kenneth Tuffin

Departures: Mac Belo, Russell Escoto, Achie Inigo, RR Pogoy, Alfrancis Tamsi, Mike Tolomia

Returning Players: Monbert Arong, Wendelino Comboy, Augus Denila, Ron Dennison, Kevin Ebona, Richard Escoto, Ken Holmqvist, Raymar Jose, Prince Orizu, Allen Trinidad

The FEU Tamaraws will still have Coach Nash Racela at the helm, along with some of the veterans from last year’s title winning squad, such as Raymar Jose, Monbert Arong, and Prince Orizu. The rest of the vital cogs of that team, however, have already graduated, with Mac Belo, Mike Tolomia, RR Pogoy, and Richard Escoto already playing for Gilas Pilipinas 5.0 and winning championships with the Phoenix Accelerators in the PBA D-League.

The rest of the Tamaraws, however, still have a crown to defend, and unlike last year’s veteran laden squad, this year’s team will have a lot of young guns. Much will be asked of the veterans like Jose, Arong, Ron Dennison, and Ken Holmqvist (who was the PCCL co-MVP last year), and with Racela still in charge of the team, the team’s familiarity with their coach’s system and with each other could be an edge that can carry them to the Final Four in what figures to be a tight race to the semifinals.