In what could shape up as an unpredictable season with more than a few real contenders, these are the dark horse picks that could find themselves in a position to make a big splash once the final four rolls along.
University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers
Last year: 8-6, final four
Coach: Pido Jarencio
Roster: Karim Abdul, Melo Afuang, Clark Bautista, Eduardo Daquioag, Kevin Ferrer, Jeric Fortuna, Janrey Garrido, Roberto Haingan, Kim Lo, Kenneth Mamaril, Aljon Mariano, Paolo Pe, Robin Tan, Jeric Teng, Louie Vigil, Christian Villar
Many coaches pointed at UST as the darkhorse pick to win it all this year and it isn’t surprising to see why. Jeric Fortuna and Jeric Teng, the focal points of the offense, will both be back to carry the load on that end while Cameroonian big man Karim Abdul returns to anchor the defense for the Growling Tigers.
They’ll lose Chris Camus, one of their key pieces from last year’s final four campaign, but they look like they’ll be even deeper this season with Clark Bautista and Aljon Mariano both returning from one-year breaks. Bautista is one of the better three-point shooters in the UAAP while Mariano is a potent scorer who will give the squad more options.
For a final four team to come in almost intact, and have two experienced players who can contribute come in, that should worry the other teams. UST has the size and the scoring to give plenty of teams trouble and will likely be a matchup nobody wants to see come the playoffs.
De La Salle Green Archers
Last year: 5-9, 6th
Coach: Gee Abanilla
Roster: Yutien Andrada, Luigi Dela Paz, Ponso Goltadera, Jed Manguera, Jovet Mendoza, Papot Paredes, LA Revilla, Gab Reyes, Mark Tallo, Jarelan Tampus, Jeron Teng, Norbert Torres, Thomas Torres, Arnold Van Opstal, Almon Vosotros, Joshua Webb
The Green Archers are definitely a team to watch out for this year. This is a team that’s loaded with depth at several spots, but especially so in the backcourt where LA Revilla, Almon Vosotros, Jarelan Tampus and Luigi Dela Paz will all play major roles.
Up front, Norbert Torres, who was named to the Mythical Five in the FilOil preseason tournament, looks to be one of the top big men in the league this year, while also being backed up by some promising young bigs. And they came up big in the recruitment wars last summer, bringing in prized rookie Jeron Teng, who looks like he can be counted on to contribute right away.
With a new coach and new system under Gee Abanilla, it might be hard to expect too much from the Green Archers. They’ll be looking to make a return to the final four this year, and they have plenty of both size and depth and should be giving teams trouble late in the season.
Last year: 10-4, final four
Coach: Leo Austria
Roster: Gian Abrigo, Michael Agustin, Rodney Brondial, Eric Cabigas, Roider Cabrera, Eric Camson, Jericho Cruz, James Deans, Allen Etrone, Ar-raouf Julkipli, Ryan Monteclaro, Alex Nuyles, Jeffrey Olalia, Harry Petilos, Jansen Rios, Celedonio Trollano
The Falcons were very impressive in last season, finishing second after the elimination round and denying the Blue Eagles a fourteen-game sweep by handing Ateneo its one and only loss that year. But Adamson had two things going for them – point-guard play and depth – that won’t be there this season.
With Lester Alvarez, Jeric Canada, Jan Colina, Austin Manyara and Janus Lozada all graduating from the UAAP, the Falcons are left with a team in transition. Adamson can still rely on the talented duo of Alex Nuyles and Eric Camson, as well as promising rookie Jericho Cruz, and all three should certainly shine this year, but expectations are understandably lower this year as compared to last year’s stellar run.
Making the final four will be tough, but it will be hard to overlook a team with players with the caliber of Nuyles and Camson. Adamson coach Leo Austria will have a tough task in front of him, but the Falcons are certainly no pushovers, and could surprise a few of the top teams this season.