UAAP: Keys to basketball success for each school in Season 81 Pt.1

Success is always relative to context and expectations; each UAAP school is coming into Season 81 with different contexts and expectations for the basketball season. For some teams, aiming for a championship is a realistic expectation. Rebuilding teams, on the other hand, may choose to measure success through the growth and development of the players rather than wins and losses.

Let us take a look at what should each school’s goal be for Season 81 and the biggest keys for them to attain it:

Adamson Soaring Falcons:

Realistic goal: A top 2 finish and a Finals appearance

Keys to success:

Breakout seasons from Jerie Pingoy and Sean Manganti

After a tumultuous first five years in the Seniors division, Jerie Pingoy is finally entering consecutive UAAP seasons for the first time in Season 81.

With this new-found continuity and lack of chaos surrounding him this year, expect Pingoy to finally showcase his true potential as the Soaring Falcons’ unquestioned floor general this year.

Manganti, on the other hand, is perhaps the biggest wildcard for Adamson this year. After two years as an athletic role player, Season 81 can be the year that Manganti shows more flashes of star potential for the San Marcelino-based squad. He already has the athleticism, now he must show improvement with skills such as his outside shooting and ball-handling.

We already know what Papi Sarr and Jerick Ahanmisi bring to the table. We expect Pingoy to finally breakout. But Sean Manganti may be the difference between Adamson soaring past most people’s expectations or falling short of them.

A more aggressive Jerick Ahanmisi

After a terrific rookie year in Season 79, Jerick Ahanmisi found himself struggling more often than he would have liked in Season 80. Teams focused their defenses on preventing his open looks from off-ball movement and forced him to put the ball on the floor more.

In effect, there were multiple stretches in games when Ahanmisi, supposedly Adamson’s best perimeter player, seemed invisible despite being on the floor.

In Season 81, Ahanmisi must show that he has diversified his game and become more aggressive in attacking defenses with the ball in his hands. A reliable attack off the dribble coupled with one of the best shooting touches in the league will make Ahanmisi one of the most difficult defensive assignments for Season 81.

Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagles

Realistic goal: Championship

Keys to success:

Contribution from the big men

The Blue Eagles have arguably the deepest perimeter rotation in the UAAP today. The likes of Thirdy Ravena, the Nieto twins, Anton Asistio, Adrian Wong, Jolo Mendoza, Tyler Tio, and even incoming rookie SJ Belangel are all good enough to be starting for other UAAP teams, but instead are all sharing playing time for Coach Tab Baldwin.

But as much emphasis as perimeter play in basketball has been getting over the past several years, big men still serve invaluable roles for every team. And with the graduation of Chibueze Ikeh and Vince Tolentino – their starting frontcourt – after Season 80, Ateneo will be heavily relying on Isaac Go, Raffy Verrano, and new comers Angelo Kouame, William Navarro, and Matthew Daves for frontcourt production.

Go and Verrano must show that they can still contribute consistently with larger roles, while Kouame, Navarro, and Daves, despite being highly-touted, are all still unproven in the UAAP.

Thirdy Ravena’s rise

Last season, we finally saw Thirdy Ravena start to scratch the surface of his superstar potential. This year, Ateneo fans hope that he gets even closer to that level by being more consistent and improving his outside shot.

As is the case with most young and athletic players, Thirdy Ravena’s game also suffers due to his inability to consistently hit outside shots. While he is not strictly a scorer, improving his stroke to even just a respectable level will add another dimension to his game which will make him virtually impossible to guard.

Despite coach Tab’s egalitarian system, Ravena is still viewed as the leader and best player for Ateneo. For him to bring the Blue Eagles to back-to-back titles, he must lead by example and show that he is willing to put in the work to improve his game for the betterment of the team.

De La Salle University Green Archers

Realistic goal: Final Four

Keys to success:

A veteran stepping up

After an exodus of their Season 80 squad’s most prominent personalities – two-time MVP Ben Mbala, rising superstar Ricci Rivero, his brother Prince, starting power forward Abu Tratter, and head coach Aldin Ayo – La Salle’s young Season 81 team is going to be led by veterans such as Kib Montalbo, Andrei Caracut, Aljun Melecio, and Justine Baltazar.

While they are all talented players potentially capable of stepping up as the team’s leaders, they are still unproven as main options in the Seniors division due to the team’s reliance on Ben Mabala in the last two seasons (and to some extent Ricci Rivero last year). Should any one (or more) of these veterans prove to be a capable leader who can lead the boys from Taft both with their words and actions, then a Final Four slot is very much within reach.

Coach Louie Gonzales’ system

Despite the exit of Mbala and co., La Salle’s roster is still loaded with talent for Season 81. The next question is if they will be put in a position to succeed both individually and as a team.

It is now up to new coach Louie Gonzales to come up with a system that will enable the Green Archers’ talented roster, which also includes Taane Samuel, Santi Santillan, Brandon Bates, Encho Serrano, and Miguel Corteza, to flourish. Pre-season performances indicate that he will bring some elements of the ‘Mayhem’ system that coach Aldin Ayo used, which may be good news for the returning players.

La Salle may have lost a lot after Season 80, but as long as their new head coach proves to be capable of handling the pressure of the UAAP, then they have nothing to worry about the state of their basketball program.

FEU Tamaraws

Realistic goal: A top 2 finish and a Finals appearance

Arvin Tolentino and Hubert Cani

The two former Blue Eagles hold the keys to success for FEU’s success in Season 81. Both of their UAAP careers have been underwheling thus far, especially considering the hype around both of them coming out of high school.

For Season 81, both players won’t only be tasked to produce numbers, but also to be leaders to the rest of the Tamaraws. After a ho-hum first season with FEU in Season 80, both Tolentino and Cani are poised to finally show their wares in Season 81 and lead the Tamaraws to hopefully lead FEU to the Finals, a feat they were just one stop away last season from accomplishing.

Collective development

Besides Tolentino and Cani, the FEU Tamaraws are parading a pretty much intact line-up for Season 81. They only lost Ron Dennison from their Season 80 squad.

And while Dennison was the team’s leader and best defender last season, the fact that a lot of the team’s players for this season were also in the line-up last year means that they should be able to fill-in the hole left by Dennison. Players such as Jasper Parker, Kenneth Tuffin, Prince Orizu, Wendell Comboy, and Alec Stockton must continue improving their games for one of the best basketball programs in the country.

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