by Enzo Regondola
With the 76th UAAP season kicking off today, expectations flood basketball fans. Though the UP Fighting Maroons are coming off a one-win season while winning only a combined nine games – some of them upsets – in the last five years, their supporters can do nothing but hope for the best.
As the festivities of the opening ceremonies die down and the opening tip is tossed, here are four questions thrown at the Maroons this season.
How will the revamped roster affect UP’s game?
Eight of last season’s Maroons have graduated. The team will miss swingman Mike Silungan’s 10.5 points per game, who led the team. Another key loss is top defender Alvin Padilla, who averaged 1.43 steals per contest, third best in the league.
Other departures from the roster are Mike Gamboa, Alinko Mbah, Mark Lopez, and Jelo Montecastro.
Forward Paolo Romero and point guard Henry Asilum are both injured, while Jett Manuel is out of the country.
They lose some, they win some. UP has acquired two new faces who will look to make an impact on the team. One is freshman guard Kyles Lao, a Xavier High School standout. The other is former Green Archer Sam Marata, who played for the UP Integrated School in the junior league. Sam’s father Tata was also a former player of the Maroons.
The question is whether or not the new pieces can fit together with the veterans, and with each other as well. Can they build chemistry in time to win a good number of games? Or will the new faces carry the same old UP?
Will Andre Paras and Kyles Lao live up to the hype?
Lao and power forward Andre Paras are two big-name rookies entering the Maroon lineup this season. Paras made waves last summer when he confirmed playing for UP, following the footsteps of his father Benjie. The elder Paras led UP to its only championship title in 1986. This put the spotlight on Andre, with fans hoping he may replicate the achievements of his star dad.
Despite his size, though, he only averaged 5.4 points and 5.0 rebounds along with 1.1 blocks in 14.3 minutes of action per game for La Salle Green Hills.
Lao, on the other hand, was Xavier’s leading point-man in the Metro Manila Tiong Lian Basketball Association competitions. He led the league by averaging 25.8 points per game. He was also a member of the RP Youth U-16 team in 2011.
Paras got the hype because of his bloodline. Lao got his with his high school game. With different backgrounds and achievements, it will be interesting to see how the hype on these two rookies grow – or die down – as the season wears on.
How effective will the Maroons be in closing out games?
UP lost several games last year because of late-game collapses. Against eventual champions Ateneo, they held a 10-point lead early in the third quarter, only to falter and lose 76-70.
The Maroons lost to the DLSU Green Archers 73-68 after climbing back from a 16-point deficit, even taking the lead in the final minute. But Jeron Teng rescued the Archers and brought them the win.
They also lost to the FEU Tamaraws 73-70 after battling from 15 points down.
Against Adamson, they faced a 20-point first quarter hole and tied it up by the end of the third quarter. They fought a close game until the final moments, when Adamson’s Rodney Brondial hit the game-winning shot with 18 seconds left, giving them a 69-67 win.
In another game against UE, they lost 79-76 via an unlikely three-pointer from the Red Warriors’ Chris Javier at the buzzer.
The Maroons had a strong will to fight their way from big deficits last year. However, they could not sustain the momentum. On the flipside, when they have the lead, they fail to hold on.
How many wins will the Maroons have?
In recent years, it has become a sort of joke that the matchup against the UE Red Warriors draws attention because it is the only UP-winnable game. Last year’s lone UP win came against the Warriors.
This year though, UE has improved. They won the Filoil Flying V Premier Basketball Cup after slaying the National University Bulldogs in the finals. Roi Sumang, Finals MVP, averaged 16.5 points per game while dishing out 5.6 assists a game during the Filoil tournament.
Adamson’s 5-4 record during the Filoil cup was better than their 3-11 UAAP finish last year. Cameroonian big man Ingrid Sewa, who has served his residency, will try to bolster the Soaring Falcons. Jericho Cruz and Brondial will also be key contributors for Adamson.
The Far Eastern University Tamaraws do not lack star power with RR Garcia and Terrence Romeo once again leading the charge. But their subpar 4-4 finish in the Filoil tournament is not typical of FEU, a team that usually makes the UAAP Final Four.
DLSU’s lineup will only feature four rookies, which might make it easier for the team to jell. Superstar Jeron Teng, though, should avoid a sophomore slump. During the Filoil cup, he only shot 34.6% from the field and 12.3 points a game.
The UP games versus Adamson, FEU, and DLSU last year were nail biters. If chemistry would not be an issue, look for the Maroons’ win(s) to come against any of these teams.