Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Big Honking UAAP S74 Preview

Each team gets the following:
  • Last season's placing and record
  • Who's in, who's out, who's staying
  • A paragraph describing their Season 73
  • A paragraph describing how they got to where they are now and my outlook for them
  • "How they can win a title" or their strengths
  • "How they can't win a title" or their weaknesses
Teams are placed in alphabetical order, so no, this does not mean I have Adamson winning it all.

The super-long UAAP preview, under the cut!

Adamson University (Season 73: 3rd place, 9-5)
Head Coach: Leo Austria

Additions: Mike Agustin, Genesis Manuel, Harry Petilos
Subtractions: Arnold Basilio, Michael Galinato, William Stinnett
Holdovers: Lester Alvarez, Rodney Brondial, Roider Cabrera, Eric Camson, Jerick Canada, Jan Colina, Allen Etrone, Janus Lozada, Austin Manyara, Ryan Monteclaro, Alex Nuyles, Jeff Olalia, Jansen Rios

The Adamson Falcons finally notched their first winning season since their 6-6 performance got them into the Final Four in Season 69, a feat accomplished through an in-your-face defense that led the league in steals (7.2) and opponents’ turnovers (19.8). Players like Eric Camson, Janus Lozada and Alex Nuyles saw big leaps in production, making up for the fact that their foreign players, Austin Manyara and Will Stinnett were largely nonfactors. Unfortunately for their chances of winning a title, the Falcons still couldn’t beat their avian-rivals, the Ateneo Blue Eagles, as the latter swept them yet again in the regular season, and then dispatched them in the Final Four, stretching their losing streak against the Katipunan-based dribblers to 28 games.

This season is an important one for the Falcons, as it is the last year of Lester Alvarez, Jerick Canada, Jan Colina, and Janus Lozada, a foursome responsible for 29.4 points, 11.1 rebounds, 7.3 assists and 4 steals a game. Next season will likely have them in partial-rebuilding mode as they endeavor to find a point guard. Another Final Four trip is likely, but they’ll really need to turn up the defensive intensity, and maybe finally end the losing streak to Ateneo, if they want to win a title. 

Why they can win a title:
  • Pressure defense – The Falcons didn’t lose anyone from their line-up of swipe-happy, floor-running attack dogs, a defense that allowed them to hold their opponents to the least number of field goal attempts per game in the league last season. 
  • Three-point shooting – Between Jerick Canada, Lester Alvarez, Alex Nuyles, Roider Cabrera and Janus Lozada, a hot-shooting Falcons team can bury its opposition in an avalanche of triples should they be given the looks. Even forward Jan Colina has been known to hoist up a few triples.

Why they can’t win a title:

  • Donut team – The Falcons lack a good center, with Austin Manyara’s performance constantly wavering between “decent” and “meh,” and Rodney Brondial being too raw. Both are prone to give up excessive fouls and can’t be counted on really to create a shot for themselves in the post. 
  • All jumpers – This is a team of jump shooters, especially when forced into the half court. While they do have some players who can create a shot like Nuyles and Colina, they’re just as prone to be content on the perimeter, swinging the ball around or launching defended triples.

Ateneo de Manila University (Season 73: 1st place, 10-4)
Head Coach: Norman Black

Additions: Gwyne Capacio, BJ Cipriano, Von Pessumal, Kiefer Ravena, Greg Slaughter, Oping Sumalinog
Subtractions: Carlo Balmaceda, Ryan Buenafe, Chris De Chavez, Arthur Dela Cruz, Jason Escueta, Eric Salamat
Holdovers: Bacon Austria, Justin Chua, JP Erram, Jeric Estrada, Frank Golla, Tonino Gonzaga, Kirk Long, Emman Monfort, Nico Salva, Juami Tiongson

Fielding a line-up that lacked a truly dominant big man for the first time in Norman Black’s tenure, the Blue Eagles went through an up and down season that had many doubting their three-peat aspirations. It was a squad that went through offensive droughts when they needed it the least, and one that seemed to give up triples by the bucket.. When all was said and done, Ateneo was hoisting a championship trophy for the third straight year and had arguably the best defensive stats in the league, holding opponents to the least number of points, made field goals, and field goal percentage. Coach Black also showed that he could win without a back to the basket center, employing a slashing-oriented offense that won through ball movement (16.41 assists, best in the league) and attacking the rim (15.76 makes at a 69.43% rate, both best in the league).

Ateneo found itself dogged by controversy early on, losing Ryan Buenafe, Arthur Dela Cruz, and recruit Mark Tallo to varying circumstances. The Eagles also dodged a bullet when center Greg Slaughter was nearly ruled ineligible. But as the season unfolds, the host school team looks ready to win four in a row, with one of the deepest line-ups ever fielded, highlighted by two standout recruits.

Why they can win a title:
  • Championship experience – As incumbent team captain Kirk Long said last season after blowing out FEU in game one of the Finals, “(The finals series) is sort of our home ground.” The Eagles and even their additions, are used to playing for titles in front of big crowds and that’s extremely valuable especially if they go up against a neophyte Finals squad. 
  • Coaching – Norman Black is easily the best collegiate coach right now, bar none. With the help of his staff, the Eagles are one of the best prepared teams, one that can make in-game adjustments easily to any situation. Toss in the ability to masterfully diagram plays, and a focused, disciplined tone that carries over to his players on the court, Black is simply the guy you want coaching your team.
  • Depth – The Eagles can go twelve-deep, with their sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, possibly even tenth man, on starter level with a number of other teams. It’s also possible that their bench is even better at locking down opponents than the starters, a testament to how ingrained Black’s defensive ethos is on his players.

Why they can’t win a title:
  • The burden of expectations – In their three title run, Ateneo has rarely been selected as the preseason favorite. Truth be told, they’ve always been slightly neglected by the media, with other schools being favored to win it all, up until the moment Ateneo’s confetti starts raining down from the rafters. This season is different, with the air of a “championship or bust” wafting, and so it’ll be interesting to see if such pressure will weigh down the Eagles.

De La Salle University (Season 73: 4th place, 8-6)
Head Coach: Dindo Pumaren

Additions: Ponso Gotladera, LA Revilla, Roldan Sara, Norbert Torres, Arnold Van Opstal
Subtractions: Gabriel Banal, Nico Elorde, Ferdinand, Aiki Herrera, Joel Tolentino
Holdovers: Yutien Andrada, Simon Atkins, Luigi Dela Paz, Joseph Marata, Jovet Mendoza, Papot Paredes, Martin Reyes, Jarelan Tampus, Maui Villanueva, Almond Vosotros, Joshua Webb

A young DLSU team rebounded from a poor showing in Season 72 to surprise some by notching the last Final Four berth. Their up-tempo style got them more field goal(68) and free throw attempts (22.8) than anyone else last season, and an undersized frontcourt pulled down the most rebounds (42.33) and most offensive rebounds (15.4) in the league. But while they overachieved, they could have overachieved more, had it not been for poor free throw shooting at key moments and some careless errors by a young backcourt.

After an off-season that saw an amazing 8 players transfer to other schools, the Archers field a team that still has depth as one of its strengths. Now their running game can be balanced with the recruitment of several big men that will help when they get bogged down in the halfcourt and further improve a set of already impressive rebounding numbers. They’ll need them if they continue to miss free throws at their summer rate (58.5%, lowest among UAAP teams).

Why they can win a championship:
  • Depth – The Archers have a large number of guys who can hurt you, and head coach Dindo Pumaren has no qualms yanking an ineffective guy for someone who’s waxing hot. 
  • Defense – When the press is on, the press is on, resulting in turnover points galore and a frustrated opponent. But more than the press, La Salle has shown that they can play you straight up as well, placing second over the summer in the opponents’ field goals made category (24.4 a game).

Why they can’t win a championship:
  • Free throw shooting – see above.
  • Rotation – It’s easy to decide between an ice cold player and a red hot one, but what happens if you have two players playing at the same level? Who do you sit down? Such is the problem of Coach Dindo Pumaren, with so many players on par with each other. It’s a nice problem to have, sure, but it could result in a team lacking direction or a go-to guy, as well as an inability for certain players to ply their trade without constantly checking over their back to see if they’ve committed one mistake too many

Far Eastern University (Season 73: 2nd place, 12-2)
Head Coach: Bert Flores

Additions: Russel Escoto, AA Fabian, Roger Pogoy, Christian Sentcheu, Cris Tolomia
Subtractions: Reil Cervantes, Jolas Guerrero, Anjoe Latonio, Christian Manalo, Paul Sanga
Holdovers: Mark Bringas, JR Cawaling, Carl Bryan Cruz, Chris Exciminiano, Clarence Foronda, RR Garcia, Jens Knuttel, Gryann Mendoza, Pipo Noundou, Aldrech Ramos, Terrence Romeo

The FEU Tamaraws ran rampant at the first half of the regular season last year, but faltered a bit in the second round, and then collapsed completely during the Finals. An attempt by then-Coach Glenn Capacio to install the Triangle Offense actually bogged down into isolation plays by RR Garcia and Reil Cervantes come crunch time. And all that focus on offense actually took away from what used to be FEU’s calling card, its tough defense, led by shut-down center Aldrech Ramos.

The Tams answered some of their short-comings by bringing back former head coach Bert Flores to coach the team. Over the summer, Flores allowed players to attack in transition more often, while also toughening up their defense (first in field goals made by opponents). They’ll need it, because after leading the UAAP in field goals made (27.29) and points scored (73.24), this season’s incarnation of the Tams might struggle to put the ball in the basket. Yes they still have RR Garcia and Terrence Romeo, but they lose sniper Paul Sanga, and post men Reil Cervantes (early exit) and Pipo Noundou got hurt at the end of the summer and might miss the entire season. Plus, they failed to get clearance for Arvie Bringas and Gino Jumao-as to play this season.

Why they can win a title:
  • The backcourt – Terrence Romeo and RR Garcia will probably get the greenlight to fire away at will, given the lack of any other options, and that might be a good thing, see as how these are two of the best scorers in the league. If all their big men do on offense is snare rebounds to set up more shot attempts, then why not?

Why they can’t win a title:
  • Lack of scoring options – In an ideal world for the Tams, Pipo Noundou comes back early from his injury, Aldrech Ramos starts demanding the ball down low, JR Cawaling improves his percentage and decreseas his turnovers, and recruit Roger Pogoy gives them another option off the bench. What’s the likelihood of all of that happening though?  
  • Reputation – This squad has gotten so near, yet have remained so far, thanks to scandal, and poor play at the worst possible time. Perhaps Flores, who has won when Arwind Santos was around, will change up the culture. If not, well, Ramos, Cawaling and Knuttel all graduate after this season.

National University (Season 73: 5th place, 7-7)
Head Coach: Eric Altamirano

Additions: Gelo Alolino, Reden Celda, Robby Celiz, Spencer Eman, Cederick Labing-isa, Kyle Neypes, Bobby Ray Parks, Robin Rono, Denice Villamor
Subtractions: Mervin Baloran, Joseph Eriobu, Kokoy Hermosisima, Nico Javelona, Yvan Ludovice, Larry Malanday, Jewel Ponferrada, Jerome Tungcul
Holdovers: Jul-Ashri Ignacio, Jeoffrey Javillonar, Glenn Khobuntin, Marion Magat, Emmanuel Mbe, Ajeet Singh, Joseph Terso

The Bulldogs got a huge shot in the arm last season from Emmanuel Mbe, finishing at .500 and a game away from the last Final Four spot. The big man finally gave them a player opponents had to pay extra attention to, allowing guys like Kokoy Hermosisima, Glenn Khobuntin and Joseph Terso to do their thing a bit more freely. It also gave them someone to turn to when the offense screwed up, dumping the ball down low to him in a jam. An overreliance on the starters though, coupled with a turnover prone team that played at a glacial place did them in.

In any case, last season was always expected to be a transition year until head coach Eric Altamirano could settle in and bring with him an ambitious recruiting effort, highlighted by the now-cleared-to-play Bobby Ray Parks. The new-look NU has had a strong off-season, winning the Unigames and the Fr. Martin Summer Cup, but the UAAP season will test whether this is an actual team, or two great players and a supporting cast.

Why this team can win a title:
  • One-two punch – We didn’t see much of the Parks-Mbe combo over the summer, due to Mbe’s dalliances with French teams, but when both players are on the floor, few teams have the personnel to guard one of them single-handedly, let alone both of them.

Why this team can’t win a title:
  • Lack of experience – The Bulldogs graduated their three most senior players last year, Baloran, Hermosisima and Ponferrada. That means their most experienced players will be Joseph Terso, who seems to have fallen out of favor with Altamirano, and Marion Magat, a sparingly used back-up center. 
  • Lack of a third option – If both Parks or Mbe go down to injury, or even just foul trouble at the same time, who does this squad turn to? Most of the recruits were brought in specifically to play off the two, after all. By default, the third option tag might fall to Glenn Khobuntin, a second-year forward who might be the only one aside from Parks and Mbe who can create his own shot. 

University of the East (Season 73: 6th place, 6-8)
Head Coach: Jerry Codinera

Additions: Von Chavez, RR De Leon, Jairold Flores, Chris Javier, Nico Montelibano, Jessmar Sabangan, Roi Sumang, BJ Zosa
Subtractions: Ken Acibar, Garrick Ayala, Ivan Hernandez, Paul Lee, James Martinez, Sam Razon, Raffy Reyes, Kit Rosopa,
Holdovers: Lordy Casajeros, Erwin Duran, Biboy Enguio, JM Noble, Adrian Santos, Jay-ar Sumido, Lucas Tagarda, Paul Zamar

After a horrific first half of the season, the UE Red Warriors made a belated rally at the last Final Four spot, but came up short. The team struggled to get scoring outside the Lee – James Martinez – Ken Acibar triumvirate, and didn’t have the size to really compete, finishing last in all the opponents’ rebounding categories (44 total, 15.43 offensive rebounds conceded per game).

A new coaching regime brought in Jerry Codinera, but also swept out a lot of promising recruits former head coach Lawrence Chongson had in the pipeline. It also moved Lee and Acibar to scramble to their former head coach’s side in lieu of playing another year of collegiate ball. The upheaval leaves Codinera with a barely stocked larder. The team is smaller than last season’s incarnation, if that were possible, and a distinct lack of a go-to guy, save for a first-year player or two. For UE, the rebuilding starts, this season.

Why they can win a title:
  • Hustle – Can a team win entirely on scrappiness and hustle points? UE’s certainly going to try with its squad of undersized forwards. In a perfect world, the Red Warriors are in your face from start to finish, and are willing to go flying, crashing, and falling for every loose or 50-50 ball. Even then though, it may not be enough.

Why they can’t win a title:
  • Lack of height – The tallest player on this team is the seldom used 6’6” RR De Leon, followed by 6’5” freshman Chris Javier. Everyone else is at the most, 6’4”. With the jump in size from all of the other teams, UE will be hard-pressed to defend the interior and grab the rebounds
  • Lack of a go-to guy – Roi Sumang ought to be “the man,” but he’s coming from surgery and looked tentative all summer. Outside of him, it’s hard to find someone who can get a must-have basket with the clock running down and the game on the line, if it even gets that close. That said, I’d love for it to be the tiny BJ Zosa, who beat out fellow Cebuano and reigning CESAFI Jrs. MVP Nike Montalvo for a roster spot.

University of the Philippines (Season 73: 8th place, 0-14)
Head Coach: Ricky Dandan

Additions: Don Fortu, Mike Gamboa, Alinko Mbah, Jelo Montecastro, Paolo Romero, Robby Wierzba, Julius Wong
Subtractions: Woody Co, Diony Hipolito, Mark Lopez, Alvin Padilla, Martin Reyes, Mikee Reyes, Joshua Saret, Magi Sison
Holdovers: Vergel Evangelista, Moriah Gingerich, Carlo Gomez, Mark Juruena, Miggy Maniego, Jett Manuel, Martin Pascual, Mike Silungan

The Fighting Maroons suffered the ignominy of yet another winless season, as an early coaching change, followed by health issues plagued their squad, ruining all the optimism built up from a solid summer showing. How dismal were the Maroons? They were dead last in scoring, averaging just 60.85 points a game, while landing at the bottom in every shooting category, and they allowed the most points from their opponents, 74.31 a game.

Another summer later, and the Maroons, once again, look promising. New head coach Ricky Dandan has done a good job instilling a “yes we can” attitude in his players, brought about by giving each of them a distinct role to fulfill on the court. There’s still quite a bit of hustle on this roster, though not enough height, especially off the bench. That means perimeter points will have to carry the day for UP, which scarily enough, was the idea going into last season.

Why they can win a title:
  • Perimeter points – Mike Silungan, Jett Manuel, and Mike Gamboa form a deadly outside shooting trio that can burn you if given even an inch of open space to shoot. If Jelo Alolino picks up where he left off in the summer, that’s yet another gunner defenses will have to keep in check.

Why they can’t win a title:
  • Lack of inside presence – Once you get past Alinko Mbah, there’s really nothing that scares you from the UP frontcourt. Paolo Romero is an undersized rookie, Martin Pascual is untested, and Mark Juruena has struggled to show his UAAP Jrs. MVP form. And that’s literally everyone the Maroons have! 
  • Tendency to foul – During one Fil-Oil tournament game, an extremely angry Coach Dandan once yelled during a timeout, “I told you to stop fouling!” loud enough for the entire San Juan Arena to hear. Considering their lack of depth and the fact that they tend to foul at the worst possible moment (when they’re starting to build a lead, for example), some matador defense might not be the worst thing for the Maroons.  

University of Santo Tomas (Season 73: 7th place, 4-10)
Head Coach: Pido Jarencio

Additions: Karim Abdul, Kevin Ferrer, Ron Javier, Kent Lao, Jaypee Sarcia, Jamil Sheriff, Robin Tan, Aljohn Ungria, Louie Vigil
Subtractions: Clark Bautista, Eduardo Daquioag, Fritz Delgado, Kenneth Mamaril, Edcor Marata, Aljon Mariano, AC Marquez, Vince Tinte, Jackson Wong
Holdovers: Carmelo Afuang, Eddie Aytona, Chris Camus, Jeric Fortuna, Kim Lo, Paolo Pe, Jeric Teng

Without any real big men aside from Chris Camus, the Tigers relied entirely on their three-point shot, leading the league in number of triple makes (8.71) and percentage from outside (38.75%), while on the flipside, falling to last in free throws attempted (13.71) and made (8.71). That lack of height also affected the team in other ways, as they pulled down the least number of boards (35.36) in the league and allowed opponents to shoot their best (42.66%).

The Tigers reloaded for their quadricentennial year, hauling in Louie Vigil, finally getting Karim Abdul after residency, and keeping Juniors MVP Kevin Ferrer. But that same quadricentennial celebration also puts pressure on this squad to perform well, coupled with Coach Pido Jarencio’s self-made proclamation that if he doesn’t get a Final Four slot this season, he’s resigning. How that affects this squad will be interesting to see, though truth be told, their offense didn’t really change so much. They lose Clark Bautistia, but add in Vigil, Ferrer, and Jaypee Sarcia so they’ll still be bombing away from long range. The biggest addition is Abdul down low, picking up offensive rebounds and maybe even being active in the post. If they solve their rebounding and then improve the defense, then we might still see Jarencio on the sidelines next season.

Why they can win a title:
  • Three-point shooting – Over the summer, the Tigers continued to wax hot from three-point land, making 7.9 a game, best in the Fil-Oil Tourney. The addition of Ferrer will make their shooting better because of his size and speed, he poses a mismatch problem and can also get the ball to open guys should he draw a double-team.

Why they can’t win a title:
  • Lack of size – Despite having Abdul, this is still a small team, with a big man rotation that consists of Abdul, Paolo Pe, Melo Afuang and Camus. Should Abdul get into foul trouble, the Tigers become the same team they were last season, one without much ceiling.
  • Shot discipline – This squad, as talented as it is from the outside, shouldn’t see it as their only weapon. Teng and Ferrer are excellent slashers and should expand their repertoire to include drive and kick moves. If the Tigers become too simplistic with their offense (a common complaint about Jarencio), other teams will have an easier time game-planning against them.