The Ateneo Blue Eagles are set to take on the National Bulldogs in both teams’ second game of this young season, with the two boasting of 1-0 starts.

The Eagles won a very nip-and-tuck game against the UST Growling Tigers. ADMU showcased the young guns in their lineup with Aaron Black leading the charge (23 points, 68.6 TS%), alongside Thirdy Ravena (17 points, 56.7 TS% and 11 rebounds). It was a great opening game for a team shrouded in mystery and unknowns.

Now with the second game of the season set to tip off in less than 24 hours, the Eagles are in for a much bigger test against a team that, unlike most of the other squads, only saw a relatively minor offseason change. The NU Bulldogs will be without veteran point guard Gelo Alolino. That’s a big loss. However, unlike the losses endured by the Eagles, it doesn’t look as bad.

This means the Eagles are in for a big fight, figuratively and literally. Alfred Aroga, their man in the middle, is back, and he’s going to be the focal point now, more than ever. Last season, Aroga saw his usage increase by 4 percent. That, along with the increase in minutes (25.7 vs 29.6) meant an increase of about 4 to 5 possessions used per game. That’s a big number, especially when most of his attempts last season were much harder without Troy Rosario manning the paint alongside him. Because of this, his efficiency took a hit, but he was learning the ropes and made great strides last season.

The Eagles, who started Gboy Babilonia at center and played a lot of small ball, featuring just one traditional big man, last Sunday (and yes, I’m not counting Vince Tolentino as a traditional big. He’s…somewhere in-between). That’ll work versus the Tigers, who without Karim Abdul, didn’t have the imposing inside presence needed to make the Eagles’ pay for their decision. It will be different this time against the Bulldogs.

Here are my burning questions for Game #2 of the Eagles’ season:

Outside vs Inside? The Eagles, as I said in their season preview, will mostly attack from the perimeter. The Bulldogs are the complete opposite. Which one wins? Can the Eagles’ sustain their constant drive-and-kick offense? Or will the Bulldogs dominate the paint like the few minutes UST’s William Afoakwah took it to Chibueze Ikeh?

Can the defense hold? The Eagles showed a particular defensive style last game and I don’t know if it holds. While teams usually have a go-to scheme during actual contests, they tend to practice 4 or 5 at a time.

Versus UST, Ateneo was mostly icing on side ball screens and dropping ball screens. They’re also switching on particular match-ups (like if Ravena and Black were defending, they’d switch it). It still wasn’t perfect because they lost match-ups when they switched, and the icing didn’t deter anyone (Vigil) from attacking the paint. Will they do the same thing now? Will they continue to switch?

Can they be consistent? The Eagles found their stride early in the fourth quarter, last game but they almost let the game slip away because of their inconsistency. It’s always the biggest question for young teams, and the same is true for the young Eagles. They couldn’t find their stride, allowing the Tigers to get back into the game with some minor mistakes, mostly turnovers, that turned into big differences.

Prediction: I’ll be honest, I see the Eagles losing this one. If there’s one thing the Bulldogs have going for them, it’s that their defense has always been strong since Coach Altamirano came into town. I don’t see that changing now. With how the Eagles are still adjusting to their new team, and their inconsistency on defense, I think the Bulldogs can get this in a close, low-scoring game.

Game Details
TIME: 4:00 PM