#UAAP79 Outlook: UST Growling Tigers

Who’s out: Kevin Ferrer, Ed Daquioag, Karim Abdul, Jamil Sheriff, Kyle Suarez, Rey Garrido, Osama Abdurasad

Who’s back: Justin Araña, Regie Boy Basibas (missed S78), Mario Bonleon, Enrique Caunan, Jeepy Faundo, Zachy Huang, Kent Lao, Marvin Lee, Joco Macasaet (missed S78), Renzo Subido, Louie Vigil

Who’s new: William Afoakwah, Olive De Guzman, Jason Strait, Tsutomu Tateishi, coach Boy Sablan

Season 78 Record & Finish: 11-3, 1st seed in the elims, beat NU in the Final Four, but lost to FEU, 1-2, in the Finals.

2016 Filoil Record & Finish: Did not participate.

What should work in S79:
FEU lost a helluva lot from their champion team last season, but it sure feels like UST lost a lot more. Ferrer, Daquioag, and Abdul made up their big three in S78, and all are gone now. Gone, too, and very recently to boot, is Jamil Sheriff, who was already part of UST’s S79 team photos before he was ruled ineligible earlier this week. That’s easily four of the team’s S78 starting five, and, heck, if Louie Vigil didn’t decide to come back, then he would’ve been a casualty as well and completed the exodus of UST’s entire S78 starting unit. Still, don’t cry yet for the Growling Tigers. They were pretty much written off last season, too, before they shell-shocked the league with an 11-3 win-loss record and nailing Final Four top-seed. These cats thrive as underdogs, and they’ll have to prove it again this season.

At the forefront will be Vigil, who should put up nearly two dozen shots per game, and Kent Lao, who will be this season’s version of Paulo Pe – a veteran big man who’s out to be an enforcer and bruiser. Both will be expected to play a ton of minutes and be productive.

A lot, too, will be expected from returnees Regie Boy Basibas and Joco Macasaet, as well as import William Afoakwah. Basibas had a couple of good outings in S77, while Macasaet was a star juniors player in San Sebastian in his younger years. They will probably alter with Lao, Huang, and Faundo at the frontcourt. Ghanian slotman Afoakhwah will also be put under the spotlight as, by default, he will fill in for the Abdul-sized hole in the paint for the España quintet. Based on clips I’ve seen, he’s more of a wingman who can handle the ball well, he likes to drive strong to the hole, and he isn’t a textbook center. If coach Sablan runs with Afoakwah at the head of UST’s offense, we may see a really high octane pace for the Black & Gold.

What will be tough in S79:
I worry about Vigil. He could explode and be this team’s version of Jeron Teng, or he could fall too much in love with his own offense and be this team’s version of… Paul Desiderio? Vigil played under 25 minutes per game last season, making 42.6% of his shots and ended up as the team’s fourth-best scorer. He will play A LOT more minutes and launch A LOT more shots. Unless Afoakwah turns out to be a helluva scorer, Vigil will be UST’s top offensive option, but that can be a double-edged sword for coach Sablan.

Backcourt stability will be a huge issue, too, at least at the onset, especially with Sheriff’s being ruled out. Marvin Lee spotted some minutes at the point last season, but he’s not exactly a classic playmaker. Ditto for Renzo Subido and Embons Bonleon, both of whom, based on their past performances, love their shot more than most anything else. Unless Subido has made big leaps in his game, he will be playing behind Lee in the rotation, while Bonleon should be a clear option alongside Vigil at the wings.

In conclusion:
I’m penciling UST in as a sneaky dark horse team, though that depends heavily on how productive Afoakwah and Vigil are going to be and how much discipline their other shoot-first players are willing to imbibe. We’ll obviously know a lot more once they open their campaign against Ateneo, but right now, with hardly any veteran presence to hold up an otherwise shaky core, it sure looks like the Growling Tigers may not be springing a lot of shockers this season. – By Enzo Flojo 

Follow this writer on Twitter: @hoopnut

Enzo Flojo writes opinion pieces for FOX Sports related to basketball

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