Friday, June 26, 2015

NCAA 91: The most exciting season yet

The NCAA’s 91st season has generated lots of buzz not only for their return to their former home network, ABS-CBN, but because of the quality of the games they play as well. The league is set to open festivities on June 27 in a lavish ceremony at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.

NCAA

Reigning five-time champion San Beda College looks to annex one more crown for an unprecedented sixth-straight conquest but this may be easier said than done for the other member teams have definitely souped up their rosters. How have the teams fared during the offseason? Find out in this primer in store for avid followers of basketball and the league as the teams look to be “Engineered for Excellence in the New Decade.

San Beda Red Lions

Record: 13-5 (Champions)

Offense: 3rd (76.7)

Defense: 2nd (66.7)

Rebounding: 1st (46.5)

Assists: 4th (15.5)

The Red Lions are bringing back the core of Art Dela Cruz, Ola Adeogun, and one of the country’s best pure point guard, Baser Amer for their record-breaking attempt. The Big Three of Mendiola is responsible for more than half of the team’s output. Adeogun (16.1ppg, 11.5rpg) is one of only five players to average a double-double last year and does most of the heavy lifting for a Red Lions team that has surprisingly shot poor from downtown compared to previous seasons. Dela Cruz, for his part, has done his job efficiently, shooting well (12.6ppg) and hauling down his share of rebounds while stretching defenses by extending his game past the free-throw line, giving Adeogun all the space he needs. Amer suffered a down year shooting the basketball, hitting poorly from the field overall, and turning the ball over more than he used to. However, the biggest blow to the Lions’ campaign this season would be the loss of Anthony Semerad who shot unbelievably from downtown, was good enough for 8.9ppg and 3.5rpg. Kyle Pascual, who got a championship for every year he played, has also graduated and will be leaving a big question mark as to who will give Adeogun a breather but still produce in short bursts. The verdict is still out whether the core is enough without ample bench support to net another title, and Jamike Jarin’s first in his maiden year.

University of Perpetual Help Dalta System

Record: 12-6

Offense: 5th (73.7)

Defense: 4th (69.6)

Rebounding: 5th (42.2)

Assists: 2nd (16.7)

Perpetual lost three of their core players in league- and team-leading scorer Juneric Baloria (21.0ppg), second leading rebounder Harold Arboleda (9.1rpg) and their lone center, the undersized Justine Alano (11.7ppg, 7.0 rpg). However, they more than made up for it by recruiting Bright Akhuetie who has terrorized opponents in pre-season leagues. Akhuetie may not be a true power forward or small forward, but he’ll probably be the ace in the pocket of Aric Del Rosario as the season goes along with Prince Eze. Both players give the size and scoring they have lost with the departures of Baloria, Arboleda, and Alano. It does help their campaign this year that Scottie Thompson will be back after having one of the best MVP seasons in recent memory. The combo guard was terrific across the board as he posted 17.4ppg, 11.4rpg, 5.8apg. This is probably their best year to get over the hump. Will they seize this opportunity?

Arellano University

Record: 13-5

Offense: 1st (85.7)

Defense: 10th (82.9)

Rebounding: 2nd (45.4)

Assists: 1st (18.7)

Last year’s runner up would have to content itself with the return of Dioncee Holts and Jio Jalalon. Alfred Gumaru is also returning and may be one of their major contributors when the ball is tossed up in the air at center court. The Chiefs surprisingly lead the league in scoring playing in a free-wheeling style that saw them assisting 18.7 times a game as a team. Jalalon emerged as a star in a year that saw him put up 12.8ppg, 5.5rpg, 5.8apg. He would have to turn it up several notches to make up for the loss of John Pinto, who has went pro, and sixth man Keith Agovida who provided a combined 24.1ppg, 10rpg, 7.2apg. Holdover sniper Zachary Nicholls has to live up to expectations and must produce more than his 4.2ppg if the Chiefs expect to make it back to the Finals.

Jose Rizal University

Record: 12-6

Offense: 7th (70.4)

Defense: 3rd (67.3)

Rebounding: 7th (39.4)

Assists: 10th (13.2)

Jose Rizal was the surprising entrant to the Final Four last year. But last year’s host really started hot and was good at one thing: they will have you playing their grind-it-out style wherein execution and defense must be at their finest while offense becomes a premium. They ranked 7th in scoring but made up for it by being the third-stingiest defense behind Letran and San Beda. JRU has to do more with less now since their top two scorers, and only guys to breach double figures, have used up their playing years. Philipp Paniamogan has been stellar in his last two years especially the last, being the main weapon of coach Vergel Meneses, as he put up 18.8ppg to lead the Bombers. Losing Michael Mabulac however might be the biggest blow to JRU. He was their main muscle in the middle providing 11.3ppg and hauling down 8.9rpg. Rassak Abdul Wahab may want to take on a larger role offensively but the big man is more of a scrapper who turns rebounds (11.4 rpg) to gold (7.7ppg). The scoring falls to returnees Jaycee Asuncion (9.8ppg) and Bernabe Teodoro (8.3ppg) and point guard Paolo Pontejos who is coming back from a leave of absence. Pontejos may add a few more dimes here and there to an offensively starved Bombers squad while being able to score himself by getting to the line, the hoop and throwing in some jumpshots in-between.

College of Saint Benilde

Record: 11-7

Offense: 4th (75.3)

Defense: 5th (73.6)

Rebounding: 9th (38.9)

Assists: 5th (15.2)

The College of Saint Benilde Blazers were considered the heart break kids of the league. They were so close to making their first Final Four appearance since Sunday Salvacion and Al Magpayo last suited up. To make matters worse, the team is losing almost half of their offensive output thanks to the departures of the second scariest wing combo, behind Perpetual’s Thompson and Baloria, of Mark Romero and Paolo Taha. Behind Romero (16.1ppg) and Taha (15.7ppg), Jonathan Grey (12.2ppg) is thrust into the spotlight as the team’s go-to-guy. Fonsy Saavedra has to really step up big time and produce three times as much as he used to (6.4ppg) for the Blazers to have a fighting chance. But scoring is not the only problem besieging College of St. Benilde. Almost last in rebounding, the Blazers’ returning leading rebounder would be a toss-up between the two guys supposed to lead them in scoring as well. But who knows? The league’s heart break kids ought to put up a darn good fight come the opening tip.

Letran Knights

Record: 9-9

Offense: 9th (66.2)

Defense: 1st (66.1)

Rebounding: 6th (41.7)

Assists: 7th (13.5)

It was a rough year for the Letranites as they just could not get over the departures of Jonathan Belorio and Raymond Almazan. Belorio was hurt for much of his last tour of duty but Almazan was literally and figuratively what made Letran a Final Four contender. Last year showed how much the Knights relied on Almazan to cover up defensive mistakes even as they still registered to be the best defensive unit. With no big man to funnel their opponents to, Letran was pretty much a donut. The offense surely missed the nightly 14-15 points that the Season 89 MVP provided. Kevin Racal (15.2ppg), Mark Cruz (14.4ppg), and Rey Nambatac (9.2ppg) tried very hard to put points on the board but they were next to dead-last in that department. Incoming rookie Jerrick Balanza seems promising to help out the trio this season although the Knights still remain thin up front and on reinforcements.

San Sebastian Stags

Record: 5-13

Offense: 2nd (78.2)

Defense: 9th (80.6)

Rebounding: 3rd (44.1)

Assists: 9th (13.4)

Rodney Santos’ first year as head coach looks like to be one tough task ahead of him. San Sebastian was dealt a big blow in the offseason by expected departures (veteran Jovit Dela Cruz) and unexpected ones (CJ Perez). The two guards combined for 45.2 points of the total output the Stags doled out per game last season. In fact, the Stags were pegged as Final Four contenders before dragging themselves through a horryfing losing streak that had them sitting out of the post-season. The biggest glimmer of hope this season has to be the return of Bradwyn Guinto who was a MVP contender and one of the only five players to post a double-double (14.2ppg, 11.1rpg) in Season 90. The Stags’ fate rests on the shoulders of Guinto, and Jamil Ortuoste (9.3ppg), who was one of the team’s surprising leaders in the post-Calvin Abueva era. However, the front court looks to be the worst problem for Rodney Santos’ young squad as there are questions to who will be giving Guinto short breathers.

Lyceum of the Philippines University

Record: 7-11

Offense: 6th (70.7)

Defense: 8th (77.1)

Rebounding: 4th (43.7)

Assists: 6th (13.9)

LPU has improved by leaps and bounds since they entered the league as a guest member. Before, they never really stood a chance against the traditional powers of the league, but now? It’s a different story. New coach Topex Robinson looks to build up on his new squad’s 7-11 finish and try for more modest goals such as a winning record and going from there. Robinson has to make sure that his building block, Joseph Gabayni, gets the ball on offense and must push the big man to post better averages after having a good campaign last year. Gabayni lead the Pirates in both scoring (12.6ppg) and rebounding (11.5) last season and looks to pour in more numbers this year if the Pirates want to better their record. It’s really all up to his big shoulders and of course, Topex Robinson’s tactical genius.

Mapua Institute of Technology

Record: 4-14

Offense: 10th (65.6)

Defense: 6th (71.7)

Rebounding: 10th (34.3)

Assists: 3rd (15.8)

Mapua has been going through rough times over the past years. Atoy Co has tried his best to squeeze whatever he can out of his wards in a severely depleted team when he took over. However, Co’s squad finally gets the help it sorely needs on the offensive and rebounding side of things with the return of former NCAA Rookie of the Year Josan Nimes, who was on leave from the team for two years, and Mark Braña, who will bolster the frontline after Jessie Saitanan has used up his eligibility. The two look to help returning leading scorer CJ Isit (12.0ppg) get more wins this season. Will the hosts be able to pile up a record good enough to make the Final Four?

Emilio Aguinaldo Generals

Record: 4-14

Offense: 8th (69.1)

Defense: 7th (76.1)

Rebounding: 8th (39.2)

Assists: 7th (17.3)

Emilio Aguinaldo had a terrible Season 90. The Generals had problems putting points on the board and they compounded that by having the other squads have a walk in the park on the defensive side of the game. Cedric Noube-Happi is gone from the team (and on time) and brings with him his 13.6ppg and 12.6rpg on the way out. The Generals have no firepower or a dominating inside presence to replace what Noube-Happi brings to the table. But there is quite some promise as Sidney Onuwebere looks to be ready to produce more than the 8.8ppg and 9.2rpg he put up last year as he takes on a lead role. Francis Munsayac is back to help shore up the back court as John Tayongtong’s (14.6ppg, 3.8rpg and 4.6apg) departure leaves the team with big shoes to fill alongside that of Happi’s.

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