It’s been about a month ever since the UAAP Season ended. Not much have happened since then, but it’s also allowed all of us to pause, reflect, and think about what is to come.

As we usher in the new year, we present to you our final instalment to close out our coverage of Season 81: Our New Year Interviews. In this series, we briefly summarize the season that was for each team, and ask some questions to take note of as we enter the preseason of Season 82.

Next up, we discuss the NU Bulldogs.

Another season done and another bottom 3 finish for Coach Jamike Jarin and the NU Bulldogs. After the drama surrounding Troy Rike and the excitement over the much-awaited debut of Dave Ildefonso and John Lloyd Clemente, NU still found themselves hounded by much of the same problems from the previous season. They saw some explosive performances from their super rookies (Clemente’s 38 comes to mind) and even steady play from the undersized Shaun Ildefonso. Despite that, they still have a lot of questions that will have to be answered one way or another before the next season rolls around if they want to get out of the bottom of the standings.

Who will run the point?

This was already a concern of theirs coming into the season and it clearly wasn’t addressed, which really hampered whatever progress they could’ve made. The loss of Chino Mosqueda probably had a bigger impact than expected. Enzo Joson regressed and none of the other options Coach Jamike tried (JV Gallego, Mike Galinato, Rev Diputado) worked out. Fact is, no one could really run the point and it just resulted in stagnant halfcourt sets with a lot of passing around the perimeter leading to nowhere. They were actually at their best when Dave Ildefonso would take over and just attack aggressively every time.

Outside of recruiting someone who could be like Jerom Lastimosa was to Adamson, they’ll be looking at some internal development. Their best option might be to draw inspiration from how Ateneo pretty much used Thirdy Ravena as a pseudo-point with Matt Nieto and Tyler Tio as floor spacers. Dave can probably fill in the same role. He did lead NU in assists at 2.8 per game (though his turnovers were a problem at 2.6 per game). He might not be as gifted a passer as Ravena, but Coach Jamike can probably emulate how Thirdy was used in some way. This also puts guys like Joson and Galinato into more comfortable positions to attack the basket instead of having to set the table for everyone.

Whatever they decide to do, they need to solve ASAP if they want to climb out of the bottom. Good offensive players aren’t any use if no one can organize and lead the offense.

What will be their identity?

After two seasons with Coach Jamike, we haven’t really seen his usual high-octane, high-energy, run-and-gun, full-court pressure style that he usually employs with his teams. They’ve slowed it down and relied on halfcourt sets. That has continued into this season where NU was the second slowest team, even slower than Ateneo. It seems to be the Tab Baldwin effect as almost every team decided to slow it down this season. Should the Bulldogs continue to follow the same trend? It remains to be seen but it hasn’t really paid dividends as they were 5th in points per 100 possessions; not bad but not good either. It doesn’t help that they’re in the bottom 3 of almost every other offensive category.

That held true defensively as well. They haven’t really run fullcourt pressure all that much. They relied instead on honest halfcourt defense. It has worked to some extent as they gave up the least number of fouls and free throw attempts but that could also be a sign of the lack of aggression. They don’t force a lot of turnovers either so not many opportunities for easy points.

Coming up to season three with Coach Jamike, they will have to decide on what kind of team they want to be. He has a wealth of scoring guards and dynamic wings at his disposable so they could go with the high octane, switch everything type of game. Or if they really want to slow it down, they will have to, once again, answer the point guard problem. And when you consider that they don’t really generate easy points on the other end, then they’ve got a lot of work to do.

What happened to Issa Gaye?

If they want to lock teams down in the halfcourt, Issa Gaye will be crucial. The only question is, what happened to the promising big man this season? His numbers were effectively halved from 10.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per outing in season 80 to just 5.9 and 5.8 respectively. His shooting and free throw attempts have gone down as well, probably all a direct result of his minutes going down from 25.3 to 18.6 per game.

It was a weird situation since he clearly can help the team especially with their problems defending the paint (second-worst) and gobbling up rebounds. Maybe it was a pacing issue? They were definitely some games where he would start out flying everywhere to block shots and crash the boards then eventually fizzle out by the endgame. And I guess the need to accommodate the one-and-done Rike was a factor as well. No disrespect to the guy, but didn’t really bring the energy and defense Gaye could.

Moving forward, with so many offensive options available to them now, NU will have to find a way to keep Gaye on the floor and have him pace himself. With less pressure to score the basketball, he can focus on the other end of the floor where his teammates can’t really replicate what he does.