Team Record Last Season: 4-10, finished 7th
Key Losses: Troy Rike, Rev Diputado, Dave Yu
Troy Rike’s one and only season with the NU Bulldogs was pretty underwhelming to put it lightly, especially with the hype surrounding his decision prior to last season. Pegged as a stretch big, that didn’t really translate onto the court as he played more like a traditional center. His modest averages of 6.3 points and 5.5 rebounds a game will be easy to replicate but he was still a big body that helped spell Issa Gaye in most games, especially on a team that will have a relatively undersized front court.
In a way, Rev Diputado and Dave Yu served as reminders for what this team was able to accomplish in their magical run to their first championship in 60 years. It’s also easy to forget that it all happened just four years ago. Having played their final playing years, NU Bulldogs is now devoid of any veterans. For a squad that was already very young to begin with, it remains to be seen if that will be a positive or negative for them.
Key Returnees: Dave Ildefonso, John Lloyd Clemente, Shaun Ildefonso
Fortunately for NU, they have a couple of prolific scoring wings to lead the way. Dave Ildefonso and John Lloyd Clemente more than lived up to the hype as rookies.
Dave was quick to introduce himself in his rookie year, starting all 14 games for the Bulldogs and finishing with 15.2 points per game, tops on the team and seventh in the league. He also showed he could do a bit of everything as he finished third on the team in rebounding and first in assists, providing some much needed play making. But make no mistake, he’s a scorer at heart and that’s what we’ll see him do this season. And with how he performed in the FIBA U19 World Cup in Greece just two months ago, rival teams better watch out.
Clemente meanwhile started out a bit slow before finally getting his bearings and finishing second to Dave in scoring. Who can forget about that 38-point explosion he had in the second round against the FEU Tamaraws. His 36.5% mark from deep was definitely the most eye-popping stat. Second to that was definitely his 10 TOTAL turnovers. That is incredibly efficient for a high volume shooter. He will be scary good if he can build on that.
NU will also bank on the solid inside presence of newly-minted team captain, Shaun Ildefonso. Last season, he showed that his sturdy body and nose for the ball were enough to offset his height disadvantage, finishing as one of the best rebounders on both sides of the court. He did lose his minutes as the season wore on but with the exit of tall trees Rike and Matthew Aquino, Coach Jamike Jarin will probably need to rely on him even more.
Key Stat: 14.5 TOs per game
A lot has been made about their mediocre half court offense. But if Coach Jamike is adamant about his desire to keep slowing the game down and executing, having just 14.5 turnovers per game last season is a pretty good building block. If they can continue that, it’ll help immensely. At the very least, they don’t cough up the ball a lot, they just take some really bad and hurried shots.
Key Question: Can they finally sort out their point guard situation and organize their half court offense?
As mentioned multiple times last Season 81, the point guard situation is their biggest need and will probably be the difference between being at the bottom of the standings and fighting for a final four slot. It’s good that they have Dave and Clemente to rely on for all their scoring needs, but it’ll all be pointless if they can’t get them the ball consistently in the right spots.
Hopefully, the return of Chino Mosqueda from injury can help them in that department as he was their starting point guard two seasons ago. It could also lessen the pressure on guys like Enzo Joson and JV Gallego among others, allowing them to focus on their game instead of trying to force themselves to being primary play makers.
X-Factor: Issa Gaye’s pacing
It was a pretty weird season for Issa Gaye last year. He started out very strong, chasing after every shot and loose ball only to seemingly lose steam as the elimination round wore on. Even his minutes were cut severely in favor of Rike. Whether that was to try and maximize Rike’s one playing year or keep Gaye fresher or both, it severely impacted his overall performance. As mentioned earlier, he doesn’t need to score a lot for NU, just rebound the ball and protect the paint. Proper pacing will do wonders for him and his team.
Prediction: 7th place finish
Once again, they will definitely be one of the more exciting teams to watch this season. Everyone will probably be waiting for another Dave/Clemente explosion and hope they score in bunches.
In terms of the standings however, they will likely face the same problem as last season: almost every team got better. Again. It’s not a sure bet that they can make the same leap. Their performance probably hinges on if they can have a functioning offense this time around. Do that and they probably defy expectations. But it looks like they’ll have to wait a few more years again to come close to top dog status.