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UST Growling Tigers: UAAP S78 Starter Pack

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Kevin and Kareem have One More Chance

UAAP Season 77
Record: 5-9 (6th)
Offense: 62.4 ppg (7th)
Defense: 66.4 ppg (4th)
Rebounds: 39.3 rpg (7th)
Assists: 12 apg (6th)

Pomp and Circumstance
Aljon Mariano, Reggie Boy Basibas, Levi Dela Cruz, Alfren Gayosa, Kim Lo, Jan Macasaet, Paolo Pe, Raymart Sablan

Depth Chart

CPFSFSGPG
Abdul, Karim (FINAL!!!)Lao, Kent (4th)Ferrer, Kevin (5th)Daquioag, Ed (5th)Sheriff, Jan (4th)
Faundo, Jeepy (3rd)Suarez, Kyle (3rd)Bonleon, Mario (1st)Vigil, Louie (4th)Subido, Renzo (2nd)
Arana, Justin (1st)Caunan, Enrique (1st)Huang, Zachary (1st)Abdurasad, Osama (2nd)Garrido, Jan (2nd)

AssessmentPhilippine Sports News - Tiebreaker Times UST Growling Tigers: UAAP S78 Starter Pack
Now without Karim Abdul the UST Tigers begin a new- wait… Karim’s still playing? Are you sure? How many playing years did he have? Let’s ask everyone’s favorite Thomasians, Poy?

Philippine Sports News - Tiebreaker Times UST Growling Tigers: UAAP S78 Starter Pack

Kidding aside, the UAAP  may need to be more transparent with their residency rules, specially with how long foreign student-athletes can play. Sports writers and fans alike all had the same shocked reaction when they found out Karim still had a playing year. It was the same type reaction everyone had when NU’s Mbe seemingly had infinite playing years, despite already sitting out a few years before his first season.

Getting back on topic, the Tigers were surprisingly disappointing last season. Close years and blindly point at UST’s Season 77 roster and you’re gonna land on someone who had an off-year – no more than Aljon Mariano. The former San Beda Red Cub famously missed a championship-winning step back three in the Season 76 Finals, and it seemed that Mariano, along with the entire UST community, mourned that missed shot through Season 78. Aljon was UST’s clutchest of clutch players, but he lost touch last season and crashed trying to get it back.

Mariano, however, wasn’t the only reason for the Tigers missing the Final Four. I had tagged Season 77 to be Kevin Ferrer’s breakout season but the former Junior’s MVP ran into one too many injuries causing him to sit out much of his fourth season. Even Abdul, a perennial MVP candidate, posted below average numbers. UST just had way too many problems.

The Tigers, under former Head Coach Pido Jarencio, were a hustling bunch of brutes, who wore away at opponents with tough defense and tounge-wagging antics. It seemed that Pido took his hard-nosed culture with him when he left for the pros. No one was scared to play UST last season, not even the lowly Adamson Falcons, who dragged them to the brink of an upset twice last season.

Defense wasn’t the only problem. The Tigers also struggled to put up points specially late in games. Looking at their roster last season, you’d be hard pressed to find a consistent shooter besides Louie Vigil, which made it easy for teams to clog the post and driving lanes when things got dicy.

The Season 78 iteration of the Tigers can still have the same problems – it all just boils down to how Coach Bong Dela Cruz organizes his ranks. Finding the right point guard should be on the top of his list, as both of his floor generals are on totally different ends of the spectrum. On one side, Janjan Sheriff – grit personified but his shooting range is probably just his arm’s length (which isn’t that long by the way). On the other side is sophomore Renzo Subido – a throwback to spitfire Point Guard Jeric Fortuna with his three-point shooting capabilities, but his height is a disadvantage that causes him trouble in defending. The Thomasians need a middle ground between the two, maybe Ed Daquiaog can take some of those point guard minutes. But, if Subido shows better decision making and defensive capabilities, or if Sheriff can develop some type of mid-range shot, Bong Dela Cruz can sleep a little easier. UST can’t have Karim dribbling the ball down court himself like last season just so he can have a decent look at a shot.

By all accounts, Kevin Ferrer is healthy and raring to go this season. Ferrer showed great promise as an energy guy/streak shooter in the SEA Games Gold-medal winning Sinag Pilipinas team. Standing at 6’4 with boundless wing span, Ferrer always made an impression as an Arwind Santos clone – a guy who could guard any position and do anything else the teams needs him to do. For the Tigers to make a serious run at a Final Four spot, Ferrer needs to show that he’s a PBA player among colleagues this season. An MVP consideration would then be easy for Ferrer to net.

Philippine Sports News - Tiebreaker Times UST Growling Tigers: UAAP S78 Starter Pack    UST still also has versatile wing players in Kent Lao and Louie Vigil. Lao looked like he feasted off protein shakes and raw eggs all off-season as he looked buff during the FilOil pre-season tournament. He’s a great penetrator who draws a lot of contact with his drives, and he also has a decent jumper. Vigil, on the other hand, has been tearing up the PBA D-League with multiple scoring outbursts. The former Letran squire’s overall improvement is a blessing for the España based squad as Vigil provides a reliable third option, who can score just as well off last ditch isolation plays or off coordinated set pieces.

If you trust sophomore big man, Jeepy Faundo, then depth at the center slot shouldn’t be a problem for you. Who would’ve thought that Paolo Pe was going to be such a huge loss for the Tigers? Abdul, to his credit, can play 30-35 minutes a game but that would be a reckless waste. That, however, is what Bong Dela Cruz is going to need him to do. The UST bench better preparw their towels so they can fan Abdul from time to time during games.

UST definitely has few viable bigs aside from Abdul and Ferrer. But, they do have a wealth of versatile wings and lineups with Ferrer as Power Forward will most likely be UST’s go-to end game lineup so it shouldn’t matter too much barring injuries.

PREDICTION

This is where it gets tricky. Even if every team lost significant pieces heading into this season, UST’s veteran-laiden lineup can still find itself out of the Top Four – it all really depends on how they play.

With their personel, the Tigers have favorable head-to-head matchups with fellow powerhouses Ateneo, NU, La Salle, and FEU. Karim is still the best offensive big in the league with NU, arguably, being the only team with a sure defensive answer for his post game. Ferrer defends the opposing team’s best scorer with Lao and Sheriff locking up the next threats. Expect a lot of UST’s game to come down to the last five minutes of games. Whether or not UST can find points in those heavy scrambles and stifle their opponents will determine their Season 78 fate.

UST should have no problem against the league’s bottom three teams – UE, UP, AdU – and can, at best, win four games in their eight matches with the Ateneo-La Salle-NU-FEU quartet, giving them a 10-4 record which would probably be good for third or fourth seed. But, it is that easy to look at UST’s lineup and enamored at their potential. For UST, this is their last dance with Ferrer and Karim, two pillars of their glory days. If their vets step up and coach Dela Cruz can get the entire roster humming, mark UST down for a high seed. Realistically, I see UST enthralled in a race for the final spot on the Final Four with the NU Bulldogs for the entire season.

Best Case: 10-4 (Final four)
Worst Case: 5-9


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Miguel Luis Flores fell face first into sports writing in high sch9l and has never gotten up. He reluctantly stumbled into the volleyball beat when he started with Tiebreaker Times three years ago. Now, he has waded through everything volleyball - from its icky politics to the post-modern art that is Jia Morado's setting.

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