I’ve written and invested a great deal of time (and emotion) on this matchup. I’ve become so engrossed in it since starting HB that even now, two years later, #AllTheFeels still applies. Who wouldn’t be?
Just a recap: Ateneo beat UST on October of 2012 to claim their fifth championship in as many years. A year later, with the massive exodus of talent from Ateneo, UST mathematically eliminated Ateneo from the Final Four. This was after all the drama from way, WAY back (2006 ghost of Jervy Cruz still haunts my dreams) not to mention the heated battles in between.
So it’s no surprise that this first game against the Tigers has me all fired up. Both teams are drastically different from the past incarnations of the teams I knew. Ateneo’s moved away from a burgeoning inside game to a more perimeter-based game. The result was a switch in philosophy: Ateneo moved away from a great defensive + middling-to-good offensive team to a middling-to-good defensive + great offensive team. Currently, Ateneo’s the best offensive team in the league. A lot of that has to do with the fact that Ateneo’s played with mostly “meh” (UP, ADU, FEU) or still-figuring-things-out (La Salle) defenses. The one time they faced a defensive team (a great one at that) in NU, they were not able to produce at a level congruent with what the season numbers say. This next two games will be a good litmus paper for their offense (UST and UE are the other two teams that have above average defenses allowing just 77.5 and 76.6 points per 100, respectively).
Ateneo’s offense, although largely not different from last year, has seen a big boost thanks largely to the return of the prodigal son. They’re a side-to-side offense (instead of the more used inside-out offenses of other UAAP teams) that runs a lot of side pick-and-rolls or dribble handoffs (which are similar to ball screens) for their main guns. You’ll see an occasional high-low action or some post up actions just to keep the other team guessing but by and large, Ateneo’s offense is perimeter based.
UST’s defense, on the other hand, has always been about physicality. This year, that physicality (paired with their length) has allowed them to force an unusually high number of turnovers. They lead the league in turnover rate forced, with a 25.9 percent TOV%. Again, putting numbers into context, UST’s played mostly with turnover prone teams (FEU, ADU, NU) so that might be a bit inflated. Nevertheless, the idea that they can force a lot of turnovers is true and scary.
What will I look for in this game?
Keys to the Game
Get Keep that Ball! Get Keep that Ball! Get Keep that Ball!
One team knows how to take care of the ball (Ateneo, currently best in the league with a TOV% of 14.8 percent), the other knows how to force it (again, UST is tops in the league).
Ateneo MUST – and I mean MUST – take care of the ball against a UST team desperate for offensive production (77.5 points per 100, 2nd worst offense in the league). This isn’t flattering at all considering they’ve played against mostly soft defenses (FEU, ADU, UP). If Ateneo can take care of the ball, they’ll significantly hinder UST’s already piss-poor production on offense.
Go Ateneo, One Big (3-point) Shot!
One big change from past iterations of the Eagles is their 3-point shooting — they’re now among the best volume 3-point shooting teams in the league (*kilig*). Not only are they shooting the 2nd most 3-point shots (20.8 attempts per game) but they’re also making them at the 2nd best rate (33.7 percent).
UST, on the other hand, has always been good at challenging outside shots despite their pack-the-paint mentality on defense. This is because they have some quick and long wing defenders (Kent Lao, Ed Daquioag, Kevin Ferrer even Sheak Sheriff). They allow the 3rd worst 3-point conversion rate in the league.
It’ll be interesting to see how Ateneo frees up their shooters. Ateneo usually does this by some sneaky roll/pop action, some down screens and stagger screens on the right baseline. UST, on the other hand, aggressively hedges on any screen action so getting semi-open/open shots isn’t the problem. It’s whether Ateneo players can get those shots off clean is the bigger question. Currently, I feel like Von’s the only one with a quick enough trigger to get it off clean.
REBOUND SPELLING! R-E-B-O-UND!
The battle of the boards has always been Ateneo’s Achilles heel since the Big Slaughter left for the pros. They lost the rebounding battle on three of their last five games (side note: still impresses me that we broke even on the battle of the boards against the giant frontline of La Salle. #GotladeraPodiumGame). Meanwhile, UST’s always been at or near the top (with the exception of last year) in rebounding. This year won’t be any different.
Gotladera and Newsome are our two best rebounders with a steep decline after that. This will be a by-committee task, with everyone chipping in on the rebounding. Thirdy Ravena is a strong rebounder (6/22/15 splits) but has not given the coaching staff any reason to siphon minutes from the more dependable Gwyne Capacio, whether offensively (nice dribble game but still no shooting) or defensively (too jumpy and eager, typical rookie mistakes).
I think this will be a closer game than most people expect. Ateneo’s new setup (perimeter-based) just does not match well with UST’s still rock-solid inside presence. Their 3-point shooting might help mask the beatdown they’ll get on the inside and may actually serve as the great equalizer. What decides this game for me is whether UST can get easy baskets either from 2nd chance points or turnover points. Look out for that.
Ateneo in 3 but it won’t surprise me if UST in 5+.
Featured Image by Arvin Lim, Fabilioh