UAAP Season 74 Outlook: UP Fighting Maroons

(image from the UP Fighting Maroons FaceBook page)

Will the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons get their act together under a new coach, or will the loss of key personnel send them to the cellar yet again?

Filoil Results:
UP over CSJL, 65-63
UP lost to FEU, 76-80
UP lost to AdU, 57-65
UP over JRU, 80-71
UP over EAC, 63-61
UP over UE, 78-76
UP over CSB, 93-75
UP lost to MIT, 71-75
UP lost to SBC, 68-97
5 wins & 4 losses

Who's missing?
Alvin Padilla, Mark Lopez & Mikee Reyes
I'm not really certain about what happened to these guys, but their absence will definitely be felt this season. The loss of Lopez and Reyes, in particular, might be costly for the Maroons as both were often reliable playmakers. If coach Manny Dandan chooses to use Mike Gamboa at the point, as is expected by many, then I'm not too sure he can do a bang-up job. He's a proven scorer and a prolific free-throw shooter, but he's not exactly known for being the kind of floor general who could maximize his teammates' gifts. Of course, he could just as well come out and pull the rug from under everyone by making great plays, but I wouldn't advise anybody to bet on that. As for Padilla, perhaps the biggest thing UP will miss from him, more than anything, is his spunk. This kid has shown he won't back down from anybody, and that's an intangible any top-caliber team needs. It's rather unfortunate that UP will not enjoy the services of three vital cogs in Season 74.

Do you wanna be like Mike?
(image by Carl Sta. Ana/Filoil Flying V Sports)

Who'll take the shots?
M & M connection: Mike Silungan and Mike Gamboa
Taking the shots doesn't necessarily mean they'll score, of course. Both players combined for a hefty share of the Maroons' shots in the 2011 Filoil tourney, with mixed results. Silungan shot the lights out -- shooting 47% from the field, 41% from downtown and making an average of about 3 triples per outing. He's a bona fide sniper, and I'm sure UP's fans won't mind seeing him shoot his chest-shot without conscience. Gamboa, on the other hand, isn't as accurate. He normed just 31% from the field and 26% from downtown, but he was impressive from the stripe -- a 94% success rate there. Whereas Silungan is the constant, Gamboa is the high-risk-high-reward fellow.

Big things are expected from Nigerian Alinko Mbah.
(image by Carl Sta. Ana/Filoil Flying V Sports)

Who MUST make an impact?
Alinko Mbah, Paolo Romero & Gelo Montecastro
A foreign recruit, a from-the-other-end-of-katipunan rookie, and a college transferee -- these three guys will carry a lot of pressure and expectations when they debut in UP's colors this season. Mbah, for one, is touted to be the game-changer for Dandan's crew, much like how Emmanuel Mbe was for NU. The 6'7" Nigerian won't light up the scoreboard (just 7.8ppg in the Filoil league), but he can clean the glass (8.8rpg). Paolo Romero is projected to come off the bench, but an interesting thing is he started more games than his partner at the 4 position, Carlo Gomez. Gomez is serviceable, and he's shown flashes of brilliance in previous seasons, but Romero has more upside. The former AHS Eaglet had better preseason stats too -- 6.6ppg, 3.4rpg and 1.0bpg in about 22 minutes per game. I think he's got something to prove. The third must-have-an-impact-guy is former CSB Blazer Gelo Montecastro. He was the top-gunner for CSB before Carlo Lastimosa came into town, and UP is looking for him to bring his sweet shooting to Diliman. The problem I foresee is that with Silungan and Gamboa, there might not be enough shots to go around for Gelo to make a good impression. 

What will help them?
Streak-shooters, Coaching/System Change, Having new bigs
For the past few seasons, UP has played like the UST Growling Tigers. Their offense is predicated on outside shooting, but more often than not, it just doesn't result in a lot of success. The biggest reasons explaining why UST has done better are: more quality big men (Camus, Ababou, and Maliksi in recent years), and better point guard play. UP seems to have addressed the big man issue with Mbah and Romero, but they'll probably be weak at the point. Considering the competition Gamboa will encounter (Lester Alvarez, Emman Monfort, RR Garcia, LA Revilla), he'll have to adjust his game fast.

Manny Dandan is reasonably upbeat about UP's chances in Season 74. He knows that, realistically, his wards are not to be considered title contenders, but he also believes that they're good enough to spring a few upsets. The coaching change is potentially good, since it can usher in a new mindset in the UP program. Maybe a more successful Season 74 will usher in a tsunami of support for the squad. This considering "better season" means winning even just one game.

Like I already wrote in the previous section, Mbah and Romero should change more than UP's look. If they perform AT LEAST as well as they did in the Filoil wars, then UP's overall game should improve dramatically. Mbah won't be the best foreigner on the floor, and Romero has very little chance of winning ROY, but they don't have to be out-of-this-worl for UP to enjoy this season more than the last.

What will make it difficult?
Streak-shooters, Talent gap, School Support
UP's biggest strength will also be their biggest weakness. If the Maroons' shooters are hot, they'll have a chance against anyone, but if they fail, then I'm afraid UP doesn't have enough alternatives to carry the fight. Guys like Mark Juruena and Miggy Maniego might get some points via the garbage bin, but they'll have lots of trouble creating their own shots at this level. Simply put, UP will just go as far as its outside shooting.

UP just doesn't have as much talent as the top-tier teams. Whereas teams like Ateneo, FEU, DLSU, Adamson and even NU can go reasonably deep into their respective benches, UP just doesn't have that luxury. Guys like Frank Golla, Mark Bringas, Dan Sara, Eric Camson, and Kyle Neypes can start on a team like UP, but they're all practically second-stringers for their mother teams.

I've yet to be really impressed by any UP crowd at a UAAP game. If it were the Cheerdance Competition, then UP's degree of school support would be amazing, but with basketball? Pfft. Aside from the twice-a-year battle with Ateneo, are there any other games UP fans await? Maybe UP should think of requiring their freshmen to attend games as partial fulfillment of their PE requirements? Oops sticks and stones ;)

Will they make the FInal Four?
Outside chance
They're definitely not among the top seeds, but UP is more than capable of springing some surprises. The Dilimanians' 5-4 Filoil slate is nothing to scoff at, and if they can just shoot the ball with more consistency and just generally play with more pride, then things can turn around, albeit slowly.

Jett Manuel will be thrust into a probable starting role in S74.
(image by Carl Sta. Ana/Filoil Flying V Sports)

I'm seeding them as
#7 -- See? I think UP will have a better year compared to the last one. I'm pegging them at 2-4 wins this season. They should beat UE at least once. And then maybe an upset here and/or there can make them dream of being dangerous.

*UPDATES & CORRECTIONS (July 2, 2011):
- The UP Coach is RICKY Dandan, not Manny Dandan.
- Mark Lopez has a knee injury.
- Mikee Reyes dislocated his shoulder twice.
- Alvin Padilla is academically ineligible.
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3 Comment

do you know why Diony Hipolito won't be playing this season?


just goes to show UP gives more importance to education. didn't allow their best player to play this season because of low academic performance. kung sa ibang school yan...


Anonymous 1: AFAIK, he was simply cut during tryouts. I guess the coaching staff felt other people could give more significant contributions.

Anonymous 2: I'm sure UP gives more importance to education, but to insinuate other schools don't is not just presumptuous, it's also unfair. I believe there are several ways a school can show how important education is vis-a-vis varsity athletes:
1) The classic way of having an academic standard that the athletes must meet in order to play, and/or
2) Ensuring that the athletes are capable of meeting that standard thru an academic atmosphere/process that takes into account their context as varsity athletes (a bridge program, academic mentoring etc)

Thanks for your comments!