Season 79 is upon us and the National University Bulldogs are going into the tournament with revenge as their mindset. A year removed from their first title in 60 years, the then-defending champions looked inconsistent throughout their 2015 campaign.
Starting off with a three-game losing streak, NU had some mind-boggling losses against less-talented teams, but still managed a 7-7 record, good for the fourth seed, and a battle against the #1 UST Growling Tigers. Ultimately, they were unable to accomplish another #4 vs. #1 toppling, getting eliminated in one game by the eventual runners-up.
Key holdovers: JJ Alejandro, Rev Diputado, Alfred Aroga , Mohammad Salim, Dave Yu, Nik Abatayo
Key losses: Gelo Alolino, Pao Javelona, Kyle Neypes
Key additions: JV Gallego, Matthew Aquino, Chino Mosqueda, Matt Salem, Joshua Sinclair
Season 79 Outlook
The biggest loss of the bunch is veteran playmaker Gelo Alolino, who led the team in scoring (14.9 ppg), while orchestrating the offense (3.9 apg). He will surely be missed as the team’s go-to-guy.
In his absence, the team will still rely heavily on their defense. Last season, the team had the second-best DRTG, allowing 84.0 points per 100 possessions. They also allowed an eFG% of 40.9 percent, third in the UAAP. While Alolino is gone, Cameroonian Alfred Aroga is still around to man the paint and provide that much-needed shot-blocking presence. The hulking foreign student-athlete will also be challenged to lead his squad, in his new role as team captain.
On the offensive end, key holdovers Jjay Alejandro, Rev Diputado, Mohamma Salim, and Dave Yu should provide ample support. Look for Alejandro to make a huge leap. The Leyte native showed flashes of brilliance of what he can do especially on during crucial games. In their second round encounter against La Salle, the unheralded guard poured a career-high 25 points to pump oxygen into their dying Final Four aspirations. If the unheralded guard can be the sidekick that Aroga is looking for to carry their offense, expect an inside-out tandem that would give the opposing side serious problems.
As for the new guys coming in for the Sampaloc-based squad, fans should definitely keep an eye out for JV Gallego and Matthew Aquino.
Gallego actually committed to NU last year, but got red-shirted and sat out Season 78. With the departures of Alolino and Pao Javelona, Gallego will have ample opportunities to prove his worth. As far-fetched as it may seem, Gallego has actually gotten comparisons to Ateneo’s Kiefer Ravena, thanks to his shooting prowess and impressive footwork.
On the other hand, Matthew Aquino goes from being an Adamson Falcon, to an NU Bulldog. The son of PBA great Marlou Aquino, he has his father’s height, standing 6’7”, but was very raw in his first UAAP campaign. Hopefully he was able to improve during his residency year.
Final Four appearance.
Since the Bobby Ray Parks era, the Bulldogs have been considered title contenders every season. Season 79 should be no different. Despite losing their floor general, the team is largely intact, and is even bolstered by their recruits from Team B. Coupled with head coach Eric Altamirano’s usual bench acumen, NU seems to be on the path for yet another Final Four berth. They could even be the second-best team next to the DLSU Green Archers.
For this to happen though, we’ll need to see Alfred Aroga take another leap. While he was productive last season, he wasn’t exactly a take-charge guy. If he can add that aggressiveness to his game, there’s no reason why he can’t be an MVP candidate.
Last season, inconsistent play ultimately led to NU squeaking into the postseason with a .500 record. In Season 79, a better start, coupled with a consistent level of energy on both ends of the court, should lead to another strong campaign.