It is a safe bet that the expectations for the UP Fighting Maroons this season will be minimal, as it has been like in recent memory. After they stumbled to another 0-14 record in Season 76, their third winless season in the last seven, no one of proper frame of mind would consider them as a legitimate title contender this season, yet even as a Final Four aspirant. But that does not make this squad no less interesting. With a decent mix of talented novices and reliable veterans, plus some significant shakeup in the team management, the Fighting Maroons might be finally armed and ready to return to basketball relevance.
While most of the teams were busy recruiting those highly-touted stars from the junior ranks, UP made their arguably biggest personnel addition in bringing Dan Palami in as its team manager. Palami, as you may know, is the manager of the Philippine Azkals and is largely credited to the rejuvenation of football in our country. His hiring gave a much-needed breath of optimism to the UP community, with the hopes he will be able to revive the UP basketball program and bring it to greater heights, just like what he has been doing in the Philippine football.
Another major decision for the Fighting Maroons this offseason was retaining the services of Rey Madrid as the head coach. Madrid, who took the coaching duties from Ricky Dandan eight games into Season 76 on an interim basis, bested other candidates like Allan Gregorio (who was heavily backed up by some UP alumni), Robert Sison, former Fighting Maroon Paolo Mendoza, and former Blue Eagle Jobe Nkemakolam (why did he apply, I will never ever know) for the position. Unlike last year where he was thrown instantly in the midst of a very frustrating season, he has now a lengthy offseason this time to prepare himself and the squad. He made buzz recently by guaranteeing that UP won’t finish dead last this season and assuring at least three wins.
|Joseph Marata||Kyles Lao||Dave Moralde|
|Raul Soyud||Mikee Reyes||Diego Dario|
|Chris Ball||JR Gallarza||Gelo Vito|
|Julius Wong||Henry Asilum||Jarrell Lim|
|Andre Paras||Moriah Gingerich||Carlo Escalambre|
|Kyle Suarez||Martin Pascual||Darwish Bederi|
|Jason Lugad||Agustini Amar||Nhomer Gonzales|
|Paul Desiderio||Mark Juruena|
Four regular starters (Joseph Marata, Raul Soyud, Chris Ball, and Julius Wong) from last season will no longer be in the lineup as they already played all up their eligibility years while Kyle Suarez and Andre Paras decided to take their talents to UST and San Beda respectively.
As some players go, others return. Mikee Reyes, the feisty point guard who just took part in one game last season, will be suiting up for the Fighting Maroons to inject some experience in these youthful squad, along with Mark Juruena who is raring to return after missing the entire Season 76.
There are seven newcomers in the lineup. Topbilling them is Dave Moralde, a transferee from San Beda, who had an impressive showing in the preseason tournament and could be a potent offensive weapon for the Fighting Maroons.
To compensate for the lack of ceiling on UP’s roster, Madrid has been stressing repeatedly in his interviews that they will need to embrace the concept of small ball. With Mikee Reyes and last season’s Rookie of the Year Kyles Lao as the probable starting one and two, and the likes of Henry Asilum, rookies Diego Dario and Jarrell Lim coming off the bench, the Fighting Maroons are stacked in the backcourt to employ this small ball scheme which puts premium on pace.
Pushing the pace increases the number of possessions, thus creates more scoring opportunities. Last season, UP averaged 77.1 possessions per game, just a shade below the league average of 77.2. Let’s just hope that the small ball will do favors for the Fighting Maroons as they struggled mightily on offense last year, placing dead last in many offense-related statistics, as seen on the table below.
|UP Stats||Season 76 Average||Rank|
|Offensive Rating (Pts per 100 poss)||81.2||8th|
|2nd Chance Points||8.7||6th|
|Pts Off Turnover||10.2||6th|
|Offensive Rebounding Rate||31.1%||6th|
|FG% (At the Rim)||42.8%||8th|
|Free Thow Rate||12.6%||8th|
The Non-Existence of Big Time Chuckers
In the previous years, UP has at least one spot in the lineup for guys who love jacking up shots beyond the arc despite their percentages telling them to do otherwise. And what is more disappointing is the fact that these guys are the ones who are expected to be the main offensive threat of the team.
Well, fret no more. Gone are the chuckers/brick layers in this team. There is a strong chance that we won’t be seeing the likes of 1-8 and 1-10 3PT shooting by any player in the box scores for some time. I am by no means discouraging them to take three-pointers. In fact, they should. But not the contested ones or those in which there are still lots of time left on the shot clock. And in a small ball offense, they’ll be needing to take those threes. They just have to pick the right spots.
|Player Stats(Season 76)||Minutes per game||Offensive Rating (Pts per 100 poss)||True Shooting||Offensive Rebounding Rate||Defensive Rebounding Rate||Total Rebounding Rate||Player Efficiency Rating (PER)|
While the backcourt of the fighting Maroons is relatively loaded, the opposite can be said with regard to its small frontline. With the departure of Raul Soyud and Chris Ball who were tremendous rebounders and decent post players, UP will now feature the likes of Andrew Harris, Martin Pascual, Mark Juruena, Gelo Vito and JR Gallarza. And in a league where there are the likes of Arnold Van Opstal, Charles Mammie, Alfred Aroga and Karim Abdul, this frontline will be pushed beyond its limits to compete with these guys inside.
Given the roster, it won’t be surprising if UP winds up once again in the lower echelon defense-wise. Opposing teams will regularly pound the ball inside and attempt high-percentage shots at the rim as they’ll take advantage of the small UP frontline. Last season, 55.3 percent of the field goal attempts by UP opponents were taken at the rim, the highest against any team. In relation to that, only 19.1 percent and 25.5 percent of the field goals attempted by the opponents were from midrange and three-point area respectively, both lowest among the eight teams. It is highly likely that we will be seeing the same percentages this season as the rest of the league will not settle for midrange jumpers and three pointers against UP’s defense and instead will take it inside.
|Minutes/ game||Offensive Rating (Pts/100 poss)||Usage Rate||True Shooting||PER|
|Season 76 Stats||19.7||96.6||20.8%||53.1%||15.1|
Ryan Buenafe, Jeric Teng, Terrence Romeo, Kiefer Ravena and Jeron Teng. These are the last five guys to snag the Rookie of the Year honors prior to Kyles Lao. Pretty great company, right? While the rookie class last year was not that deep compared to previous years, it does not him make less deserving of the award. Kyles was brilliant, flashy and very exciting to watch for most parts of Season 76 in limited time (19.7 minutes per game). The question now is if he can take it to the next level, that is, if he can be like Ryan, Jeric, Terrence, Kiefer and Jeron.
On offense, Kyles is a valiant guy who loves to attack the basket which is highly commendable of him as UP is scarce of guys who can score at the basket. But this could make him very predictable and opposing teams will just swarm the paint to prevent him from scoring. To address this issue, he has to expand his range and add three-point shooting in his arsenal. Last season, he missed both of his attempts from the three-point territory. I won’t be surprised if he does take more threes this year, but not as much as the big-time chuckers of UP did in yesteryears because he is smart and skillful enough to just settle for long bombs all the time.
On the other hand, defense is a major concern for him. There are number of instances last season where he appeared lost on defense and was even caught ball watching. I do not expect him to be a lockdown defender anytime soon but if he can lessen the defensive lapses, it might be enough to play him big time minutes.
|Minutes/ game||Offensive Rating (Pts/100 poss)||Usage Rate||True Shooting||PER|
|Season 76 Stats||11.6||98.1||16.0%||49.9%||18.3|
With small ball in place, expect JR Gallarza to play major minutes in the 4 or even 5 position. It will be a daunting task as he will likely face the likes of Jason Perkins, Alfred Aroga, and Charles Mammie. But JR is one heck of a guy on the court. What he lacks in size and offensive skills, he fills it with his relentlessness, energy, and hustle.
In short, #PUSO. With rebounding splits of 9/20/14 last season, he was a better rebounder (percentage wise) than Arnold Van Opstal of DLSU and FEU centers Anthony Hargrove and Christian Sentcheu.
He does not need to score much. What we really need from him is his sheer tenacity in grabbing the boards and physicality to match up against the big men. He could only do that if he’ll manage to stay out of foul trouble. He was quite foul prone last season (4.2 fouls per 30 minutes). He has to be a smarter defender as the Fighting Maroons need him more than ever.
3-11, seventh place
2007, 2010 and 2013. These are the three years in which UP registered the unwanted 0-14 record. By arithmetic sequence, the next one will be on 2016. (Well, hopefully it won’t happen anymore because losing sucks.)
I’ll have to agree with Coach Rey. Grabbing three wins out of the possible fourteen is feasible. This team, I believe, is better than of last year. The Fighting Maroons will be competitive and will no longer be an instant source of victories for opponents.
Actually, the supporters of UP Fighting Maroons do not expect much. One win and it might be good enough. A win is a win and we’ll gladly take that. We just want to end this victory drought and then have a bonfire on Sunken Garden.