Filoil Flying V Premier Cup Preview: What to look out for in a stacked Group A

College basketball season is back– and it starts with the Filoil Flying V Premier Cup.

And, for the first time in three years, all 18 teams from the UAAP and the NCAA are set to compete in Philippine collegiate basketball’s biggest preseason tournament. Just like in previous editions, teams are divided into two groups. Group A consists of the De La Salle Green Archers, the San Beda Red Lions, the Ateneo Blue Eagles, the Letran Knights, the Jose Rizal Heavy Bombers, the Lyceum Pirates, the Perpetual Altas, the University of the East Red Warriors, and the University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers. Group B, on the other hand, is composed of the Adamson Soaring Falcons, the Far Eastern University, the Arellano Chiefs, the University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons, the National University Bulldogs, College of St. Benilde Blazers, Emilio Aguinaldo College Generals, Mapua Cardinals and the San Sebastian Stags.

With these schools gearing up towards their respective goals in their mother leagues, numerous exciting storylines from different teams and different players can be expected in the 11th edition of the Premier Cup. These storylines or narratives can provide a glimpse to what type of seasons each team could have.

Last year, the De La Salle Green Archers established themselves early on as the best college team in the country by sweeping the 10th edition of the tournament and then went on to bag the UAAP title. In the finals of that year’s tournament, the Archers narrowly fended off a Jiovani Jalalon-led Arellano Chiefs. Jalalon went on to carry his team to the NCAA finals and be arguably the best local player in college last season. All of these– and others more– in one way or another started with the Filoil Flying V Premier Cup.

With the 2017 edition set to open on May 1 (starting off with Jose Rizal vs De La Salle at 1:30 pm, Ateneo vs Lyceum at 3:15 and Adamson vs Arellano as the main event at 5 pm), here are the stories to look out for for each team in the 2017 Filoil Cup for Group A:

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De La Salle Green Archers

With Jeron Teng having exhausted his playing years, the Archers’ main man this season will undoubtedly be Ben Mbala. After a stellar season last year that culminated in a championship and an MVP honor, the Cameroonian isn’t showing signs of slowing down anytime soon. However, a big part of the Archers’ success was their immense depth on both sides of the floor and losing the offensive bully Teng, starting point guard Thomas Torres and athletic wing Julian Sargent doesn’t help so seeing who takes on the workload left by the three veterans would be something to watch out for.

Big man Abu Tratter, who nabbed a Mythical Five spot in last year’s tournament, is someone poised to shoulder the workload Teng left in the frontcourt while Kib Montalbo, who was crucial in the UAAP Finals, looks to take on the leadership mantle and a bigger role on offense while maintaining his stellar defensive play. Reigning Rookie of the Year Aljun Melecio could also be expected to take more shots after thriving in head coach Aldin Ayo’s mayhem system last year. Ayo hopes to replicate his success he got from Melecio with another blue chip rookie in Troy Malilin who seems well-fit for the second year coach’s dreaded system.

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San Beda Red Lions

Much can be expected from the San Beda Red Lions as they head into the basketball season with an in tact core that won the NCAA Season 92 crown. Despite losing head coach Jamike Jarin who crossed over to the UAAP to coach the National U Bulldogs, the squad from Mendiola is still in good hands with returning head coach Boyet Fernandez who steered the team to back-to-back NCAA championships in Seasons 89 and 90.

They also lost heady starting floor general Dan Sara to graduation which leaves athletic combo guard Robert Bolick to shoulder most of the playmaking responsibilities. The freshly minted MVP of the PBA D-League, look for Bolick to blossom into a certified star in the college game with the ball more in his hands. Also coming back with him are do-it-all forward Javee Mocon, Season 92 Finals MVP Arnaud Noah, deadeye scorer Davon Potts, sharpshooter AC Soberano and, hopefully, a fully recovered big man Donald Tankoua who was lost last year in the season to a devastating ACL injury. The Lions gearing up for another title run in their mother league is a must which in this year’s Premier Cup.

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Ateneo Blue Eagles

In last year’s Filoil tournament, almost no one saw the Blue Eagles finishing third and in the ensuing UAAP season the same could be said with them reaching the Finals. Ateneo was a revelation last year overcoming adversity after adversity in their campaign. It led to guys being thrust into heavier roles and making the most out of it from versatile wing Thirdy Ravena to big man Isaac Go to bench sparker Raffy Verano. It’s safe to say that the boys from Ateneo overachieved last year– this year, however, that would not be the case.

The Eagles are now viewed as one of the greater in college basketball with a spectacular year under their belt led by the Mythical Five awardee Ravena and master tactician Tab Baldwin. Along with now seasoned teammates Go, Aaron Black and the Nieto twins while possibly elevating some former blue chip high school recruits from their Team B led by Gian Mamuyac and Tyler Tio, it would be interesting to watch how the squad continues to develop into possibly a powerhouse squad.

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Letran Knights

The Knights will undoubtedly live and die with Rey Nambatac. After contemplating leaving Muralla street for the pros, the lefty scoring machine will return for his final playing year in college, hoping to improve an underwhelming season where they failed to defend their NCAA Season 92 title and exited early. Nambatac will have to play without key veterans McJour Luib, Jomar Sollano and Felix Apreku who have all exhausted their playing years.

However, their is still formidable talent set to surround Nambatac with bruising vesrsatile forward Bong Quinto, promising playmaker JP Calvo and former Batang Gilas Jerrick Balanza. Seeing how they, along with head coach Jeff Napa, figure out a way to bring back Letran to the elite tier of college basketball starting with this tournament will be exciting to see.

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Jose Rizal Univiersity Heavy Bombers

There is no question that JRU is Tey Tey Teodoro’s team. Unlike the past two years, Teodoro will now be playing without fellow prolific combo guard Paolo Pontejos who they lost to graduation. Though the two produced gaudy numbers– a deadly duo that first turned heads in the 2015 edition of the Filoil Cup– they never quite figured out a way to win. It also felt that, at times, the two held each other back as they took turns chucking up shot after shot.

This year, Teodoro is free. And with solid complimentary pieces around him in Jordan Dela Paz, Abdul Potouuochi, Gio Lasquetty and others, look out for Tey Tey to slay.

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Lyceum Pirates

CJ Perez is finally back in college basketball, and expect him to come back with a bang. After a whirlwind collegiate career that started in San Sebastian which was then followed by a highly-touted transfer to Ateneo then a reunion with his former coach Topex Robinson at Lyceum; all in all, Perez missed three years of college basketball. Even with him missing a large amount of time in the college scene though, the 6-foot-1 combo guard still got busy as he got a spot in the Gilas Pilipinas Cadets squad and went on to play well in international competitions.

Pair him with the NCAA’s reigning Rookie of the Year in athletic big man Mike Harry Nzeusseu along with veteran scorers in Jester Ayaay, Reymar Caduyac and Wilson Baltazar, Lyceum might just be this tournament’s (and the NCAA’s) dark horse contender.

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Perpetual Help Altas

And then there was Gab Dagangon. With the departure of Altas cornerstone Bright Akhuetie for greener pastures in the UAAP, the fate of the boys from Las Pinas rests on the shoulders of the lanky 6-foot-4 forward. Dagangon, who carried the Altas to an NCAA Final Four win with 27 points last year over eventual champions San Beda, will be playing in his final year.

Backing up Dagangon is Nigerian Prince Eze who now has room to shine after serving as a backup to fellow countryman Akhuetie in the past years. Along with some key veterans, watch out for Dagangon and Eze to try and carry their squad.

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University of the East Red Warriors

The Warriors are in dire need of a star. With the high-scoring Bon Batiller crossing over to the NCAA with Arellano, UE needs literally anyone to take over and be the main man. Fortunately for them, they have a whole roster fully capable of doing that.

Guys like bruising big guard Alvin Pasaol; do-it-all forwards Clark Derige and Nick Abanto; athletic playmaker Edgar Charcos; former National University Bullpups star Philip Manalang; and many more have shown flashes of potential to be stars in the past years. However, the Red Warriors have one problem that has been keeping them down in past seasons: consistency. Talent has never been short in Recto but the ability to showcase it game after game has been what’s missing. Guys like Renz Palma, Paul Varilla, RR De Leon and, to some extent, Batiller have been frustrating to watch at times as you can clearly see the tools to be great present but they just can’t seem to figure it all out. Witnessing these new batch of players figure it all out will be an interesting watch.

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University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers

Gone are the days when UST was a perennial contender. Now, they are reduced to cellar dwellers as they transition to a rebuilding phase. Any educated college hoops fan knows that if you look at their roster, you should expect to be underwhelmed with their games. Gone are players like Kevin Ferrer, Ed Daquioag and Karim Abdul.

However, as the aforementioned three have proven in the past, you can never count the UST Growling Tigers out. With highly touted import Steve Akomo entering the mix, one can expect UST to, at the very least, be competitive. Add in Renzo Subido and Marvin Lee who hopefully mature and develop from role players to stars, as Ferrer and Daquioag had, and UST might just fast-track their rebuild– and inch back closer to their glory days.