To nobody’s surprise, the Falcons opened their season with a sad 22-point loss against Ateneo. (Yes, you will be seeing me give my team a lot of tough love this season.)
The Eagles were simply faster, more organized, better trained (thanks to the Las Vegas training camp) and hell of a lot better coached (thanks to Ronnie Magsanoc and Ricky Dandan as assistant coaches). The last time the Falcons played an official game was when they lost to UE in their final game in Season 76. The last time they played an official game with this roster and coaching staff? Never. This is by all means a hazing (woo… controversial word!) into the UAAP for the team and the coaching staff.
From the starting tip down to the final buzzer, the Ateneo squad just went to town on the Falcons and ran away with the win. There was no fight, there was no drama, there wasn’t anything Adamson could do to stop them. The game was practically over by halftime with the Eagles leading the Falcons 47 to 20. They probably would have lost by even more if Ateneo wanted to up the pressure, seeing how many times Adamson was called for 8-second backcourt violations, the several times they threw the ball away just trying to get it past half court and the number of times they did get it past half court but couldn’t get any kind of offense to go… or set up. But for all the negatives that were obvious for the Falcons, a shining spot is that they didn’t stop playing. Even when they were bloodied and weak, they kept their heads up and continued driving to the basket. They still tried to make their shots. They tried, they tried and they tried.
The key to appreciating their effort is knowing that it could be a lot worse. For one thing, Coach Duremndes is not the best coach in the UAAP. His offense which mostly consists of calling Horns Iso with Axel Iñigo trying to go for a decision pick-and-roll is too simplistic and lacks nuance. This is evidenced by the relative ease of which defenders like Nico Elorde were able to go over the pick and trap Iñigo, forcing him to dribble away and eat more time on the clock. Coach Duremdes also has problems deciding how he wants to stop the opponent, throwing an early 2-2-1 trap only to have it taken apart and backfired when Ateneo pulled the same thing on them. Down the stretch he settled for a kanto-style 2-3 zone which was again obliterated by Ravena and company.
Review of the Keys to the Game
They have a small semblance of one, apparently. As I said earlier, they mostly run their offense off a horns setup (PG on top, C and PF on high post, SG and SF at the corners). From there, I assume they plan to run a double ball screen for Iñigo to use his point guard powers and read the defender. Played properly this would translate into a pick and roll for either big man or a drive to the basket for Iñigo. Unfortunately they couldn’t execute it, at all. Each time they setup the double ball screens on top, Axel’s defender simply went over the pick and forced him away from the play. The offball defenders just had to deny the pass to their assignments and the Falcons would resort to swinging the ball around until someone had an open shot of sorts.
Throughout the game, Ateneo only made five steals as a team. This means the Falcons were at least not handing them the ball. What is bothersome, however, is the 22 turnovers of the Falcons. Where did those come from?! From five-second violations behind the opponent’s basket, 24-second violations, and offensive fouls off illegal screens just to name a few. The Falcons were just horri-bad when it came to executing what semblance of a system they supposedly had. Timing of the screens were off, players were often lost on offense and very few of their motions were deliberate. The lone bright spot was the post up game of Ivan Villanueva, who was able to score off post isolations on several occasions.
On defense, Coach Duremdes definitely did not learn from his predecessor about running a defense. There was little to no weak side help and players were getting chewed up off back-door plays. Yes, they were able to contest some shots, but most of the time they were so easily taken out of position it was like watching video game AI.
Well, I got to hand it to them, they out-offensive rebounded Ateneo. They held a slight 18 to 14 lead on the offensive glass over their opponents. Good effort got them 8 points off second chances while Ateneo got 10. Yup! Adamson got the rebounds but couldn’t translate them into points. And given Adamson had 39 chances at offensive rebounds while Ateneo only had 38, Ateneo was clearly the more efficient rebounding team. Adamson actually won the rebounding battle, but again this was due to the number of offensive rebounds they got off their own misses. It showed that they were willing to work and bump shoulders, with Ivan Villanueva leading the board crashing with 9 and Trollano following with 8, but without a proper system to convert those second chances into points, they’re probably better off getting back on D and forcing a turnover and scoring on the run. Adamson got only one fastbreak attempt and managed to score on it, which is nice.
Well, at least somebody did. Ivan Villanueva who was recruited from Colegio San Juan de Letran was surprisingly effective and held his own. He finished with a team high 15 points for Adamson coupled with 9 rebounds. Almost a double-double on your UAAP is by no means bad. The problem was that while he rose, the others were still catching up. Trollano who averaged 15 points a game in the semi-pro league was reduced to only 7 while Iñigo had a difficult time just holding on to the ball. Jansen Rios provided an extra lift for the Falcons with 15 more points but he isn’t really the type to carry a team on scoring. If both Villanueva and Rios can continue scoring the way they do while the other Falcons start catching some wind beneath their wings, the next games will start to become a bit more bearable and they might actually start to contend against some of the teams.
The Falcons are obviously under prepared. Their offseason was mostly spent trying to recruit players and developing individual talents rather than gelling as a team. Their last ditch efforts of brotherhood didn’t immediately translate into on court chemistry as expected. The coaching staff has a lot on their plate as the burden passes on to them to give the players a system they are able to execute. The players have shown that they are willing to play on and follow orders. They fought back in the second half, keeping pace with Ateneo, though never actually going on a run to shave the lead.
A bright spot for the team is the 36 free throws they took. They made only 61 percent of their attempts from the line, missing 14 shots which would have made the deficit a lot smaller. While we could dwell on how poorly they shot from the line, the amazing thing is that they even got there as many times as they did. It meant that they were taking contact and not settling for jump shots.
If the Falcons can continue to improve on these while fixing their errors, we might not even have to wait for next season to have a team in contention again. Hopefully the coaching staff does its homework and hopefully the players continue to follow through. I see we have a long road ahead, but I’m optimistic. Our boys have a lot to prove, let’s just hope they take on the challenge and prove it to us.