It’s championship or bust for the De La Salle Green Archers this season. Despite coming off a disappointing season where they missed the Final Four for the first time in four years, the Green Archers enter this season with large expectations.
Last season was clearly a disappointment, beginning with the decision that Ben Mbala would have to serve an additional residency year after playing in an outside league. That left a big hole in the middle for DLSU, with the graduation of Nobert Torres, and the departure of Arnold Van Opstal. The Archers never recovered from that, and ended their Season 78 campaign by losing five of their last seven matches.
But aside from their hole in center, DLSU had talent. They were just never on the same page last season. Following a busy offseason that saw a new head coach come in, Mbala finally becoming eligible, and another big recruiting class, the Green Archers look locked and loaded for a championship run this season.
Here are three reasons why the Archers could go all the way this season:
They have arguably two of the best players in UAAP Season 79
The DLSU Green Archers boast of arguably the two best players in the UAAP heading into this season. Jeron Teng, in his final season, might be the most decorated player suiting up. Since his first year in the UAAP in 2012, he has bagged the Rookie of the Year award, 2013 UAAP Finals MVP, three Mythical 5 selections and a championship. Last season, he was the lone bright spot for the Green Archers, averaging 18.3 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 3.6 assists, leading the team, despite opposing defenses basically throwing the kitchen sink at him. He was also #2 in the league with a 29.9 USG%, showing how he had to carry the team on his shoulders last season.
This season though, teams will have to contend with Teng AND Ben Mbala. The Cameroonian big man turned heads when he was an SWU Cobra in the 2012 PCCL. Three years after news of his transfer broke, and the La Salle community will finally get to see how he does in the UAAP.
Fans though have already gotten a sneak peek, thanks to the 2016 FilOil Flying V Premier Cup. Mbala was named MVP behind averages of 24 points and 16 rebounds. He’ll be a magnet for opposing defense, and that will open things up for the other four Archers on the court, giving this team a dimension they sorely lacked in Season 78.
They are one of the deepest teams in UAAP Season 79
It’s not enough that DLSU has possibly the two best players in the league, but they also have a ridiculously deep roster as well. Projected to join Teng and Mbala in the starting line-up are fifth-year veteran Thomas Torres, an integral part of their 2013 championship run, last season’s Rookie of the Year Andrei Caracut, and 2016 FilOil Mythical Five member Abu Tratter. If we’re handing out awards, they might just win “Best Starting Five” as well.
DLSU also has a strong supporting cast, headlined by UAAP Season 76 Mythical Five member Jason Perkins, Gilas cadet Prince Rivero, defensive stalwart Julian Sargent, and the returning Kib Montalbo. Add in another bumper crop of recruits, UAAP Season 78 Juniors MVP Aljun Melecio, UAAP Season 78 Juniors Finals MVP Justine Baltazar, and LSGH star Ricci Rivero, and you could form an all-reserves quintet that could beat the starting five’s of other schools.
Aldin Ayo brings “mayhem” to Taft
Aldin Ayo, fresh off winning an NCAA championship in his first year as head coach with the Letran Knights, will be calling the shots for the DLSU Green Archers this season. And that means only one thing – ‘mayhem.’
With the Knights, Ayo got his players to pressure the ball from opening whistle to final buzzer. And based on the preseason, we’re going to see more of the same with the Green Archers, this despite having a taller, and more talented line-up.
If you think that’s overkill, perhaps it is. But it’s in direct response to how bad the Green Archers were defensively last season. They were second-worst in defensive rating (88.4 DRTG), and forcing turnovers (16.9 per game), and dead-last in steals (2.4 per game), and blocks (1.7 per game). Now with Ayo at the helm, they’re going to be plenty more aggressive. We already saw seeds of that in the FilOil tourney, where they averaged seven swipes a contest, 26 forced turnovers, and with Mbala patrolling the paint, four blocks a game.
As the saying goes, “defense wins championships,” and DLSU certainly wasn’t going to win one the way they played D last season. That all changes with Ayo on board.
In the end, I believe that the DLSU Green Archers will win it all this season. They have all the pieces for a championship run, if they can shut out the pressure that comes with such great expectations.
Make no mistake, the DLSU will have a target on their backs this season, with every team determined to make sure that no sweep will happen. And while it’s certainly a possibility, the removal of the thrice-to-beat advantage for a perfect 14-0 season makes such a path to the Finals less tempting.
Ultimately, a championship is the goal for the Green Archers. After several back-to-back disappointing seasons, this squad is ready to bring back the UAAP crown to Taft.