This Sunday, Ateneo will try to get a “W” for the fourth game in a row as they welcome the Adamson Soaring Falcons, a team that’s had problems securing a win over their last four or five games. Adamson is now on a very woeful three-game losing streak and they’ve won just two games (over six total) after opening the season up on a good note winning against the now 0-9 UP “Fightless” Maroons.

For Ateneo, their problems of closing out games now seems like a non-issue. Most people don’t remember this, but Ateneo forced  an overtime game (sans Ravena) against the mighty FEU Tamaraws and they were up big entering the second half and down by just two entering the fourth against their arch-nemesis, the La Salle Green Archers. Of course, both teams were able to close the Eagles out partially because the Eagles did not have a reliable closeout player. But since Ravena’s return to the bench in uniform, Ateneo’s won four of their last five. Now, they’re right in the mix of things for the Final Four (something that most people had forgotten after Ateneo’s 0-3 start).

Against an Adamson team that’s having a few issues of their own (*cough* free throws *cough*), Ateneo can get a lot of momentum before their pivotal (and obviously, arena-packed) matchup against the De La Salle Green Archers.

What are the Keys to the Game?

Keys to the Game

The Bigger they are, the Harder they Fall (Attack the Break)

Adamson is a really good defensive team. Taking out the horrible game against the NU Bulldogs, Adamson slotted conveniently between average and above average thanks in large part to their bigs – Brondial and Sewa gives the Falcons a good one-two punch of defensively capable big men. They can cover up a lot of the miscues of their teammates. Because of the Falcons’ perimeter pressure outside (they like to close out hard on shooters), their inside presence takes quite a beating on a game-to-game basis. Nevertheless, their bigs are still able to force opponents into average numbers from both attempts AND makes inside (that’s a very hard thing to do).

Ateneo

Easy fastbreak opportunities will be plenty against Adamson (Photo Credit: Arvin Lim, Fabilioh)

The problem however comes actually from the opposite side. Adamson likes to chuck a lot of three-point attempts per game – they take 20.3 three-point attempts per game, which constitutes 32.2 percent of their total attempts. That’s a good thing (even if they’re making it at a clip that’s barely average). The problem is that their bigs aren’t too keen on running back on defense when a shot goes up. Instead they’re actively pursuing offensive rebounds (they are the top offensive rebounding team in the league). That leads to a lot of easy fastbreak opportunities for the other team when they get rebounds. Adamson allows opponents to score 1.7 points per fastbreak opportunity – by far the worst figure in the league. Sewa and Brondial (and Michael Agustin) aren’t exactly fleet of foot.

Ateneo, therefore, needs to take advantage. With Ateneo operating with ‘bigs’ who can handle the ball (Newsome and Buenafe), along with guards who like to leak out (Pessumal, Ravena, Tiongson), this could become a field day for Ateneo on the break.

Aerial Supremacy (Rebounding)

Of course, in order for Ateneo to attack the break, they have to be able to force misses (which they probably can against Adamson – a team that’s itching to get offensive efficiency out of somebody) and rebound.

They’ve slowly been able to move away from “OMG we are so horrible” to “we’re below average”. That’s a big improvement considering the train wreck that we had prior to that. The arrival of Kiefer Ravena (who had a career-high 14 rebounds last time against UP) along with Poy, Buenafe and Newsome’s consistent contribution on the glass helped alleviate some of the rebounding concerns. They will now be placed under a microscope going against another big team (almost as big as La Salle, actually). Long rebounds must be grabbed, boxing Sewa and Brondial out is key. If they want to attack the break, they better “get that ball” *clap clap*

Hawkeye (Free throws)

It’s funny talking about free throws as a key but I think it will be one. Adamson likes to foul, a lot. They actually have the third highest number of fouls per game in the league. That’s probably a big reason why they allow the third highest free throw rate in the league. Agustin (6.6 fouls per 30), Abrigo (5.7), Julkipli (4), Monteclaro (3.9) and Sewa (3.6) are regular rotation players who have a hard time playing their brand of game (physical and aggressive) with control. That leads to a lot of easy points on the line. Unlucky for them, Ateneo’s among the best at making free throws (behind FEU and UST). That’s with Ravena still shooting a horrible 54.5 percent on the line (when he usually hovers around 70-ish).

On the other side, Ateneo doesn’t foul a lot (second lowest in the league). I credit that to the disciplined perimeter pressure that allows Ateneo to be among the best defensive teams in the league despite being among the smallest teams. Lucky for us, Adamson is among the worst at making free throws, making just 51.2 percent of their points from the line. This means that in those rare times that Adamson can get to the line against Ateneo, they won’t be able to capitalize as much as they should. (Shooting 51.2 percent from the line is still a good thing if we compare it against normal offensive numbers. It can be higher though since it’s supposed to be a free throw.)

Prediction

Predicting a win just because the aces and kings seem to be on the side of the Eagles – one team is struggling while the other is hitting their stride. A bad combination. Of course, I could also argue that this could also be a perfect moment for the Eagles to lose/Adamson to get their confidence back. But I’m picking the side of Ateneo because they have the upper hand not just in terms of momentum but also in terms of game plan and execution. Whether that materializes is the question.

Ateneo wins with a margin of 5+.