View from the Enemy: NU Bulldogs
It’s the first game of the season and Sir Rick Olivares hit it right when he said, “The first few weeks will be crucial.” Boy is he right! Ateneo is set to face the National University Bulldogs for the opening salva (this made me sad) of their title defense. NU is among the top contending teams, with most coaches naming them (along with UE) as the top contender this season.
It has it’s merits. With the arrival of Alfred Aroga and Bobby Ray Parks Jr. still counted among their roster, NU is practically the same team only a year longer together. Better chemistry, better performance. And this showed in the FilOil tournament where they scored 96.6 points per 100-possession and allowed just 83.3 points per 100-possession. Those are excellent numbers (especially that defense).
Meanwhile, Ateneo wasn’t a slouch either. With 5 rotation players – 3 of them were starters and another was a key backup – leaving due to graduation, Ateneo had to completely rehaul it’s lineup. From an inside-out attack (focusing most of their attacks on attacking the rim), Ateneo is now based more from the perimeter. With more perimeter players getting heavy minutes — with 6 of the top 8 minute getters in the FilOil tournament more comfortable located all the way out on the perimeter, Ateneo is now more of an outside-in attack.
Fewer postups and high/low action, more drive-and-kicks and dribble handoffs. That’s how much overhaul Ateneo’s offense is undergoing. Our defense will largely remain the same — proper defensive posture to force players into the baseline and/or into help, strong side overloading and crisp rotation. And it showed — in the FilOil tournament, Ateneo scored 96.6 points per 100-possession while allowing just 87.7 points per 100-possession. That’s mighty impressive especially for a team going through a major overhaul.
All that said, what are the keys to the game?
Keys to the Game
Rebounding leads to Easy Scoring Opportunities.
Between Villamor (10/13/11 rebounding split in S75, 8/16/13 in the FilOil tournament), RayRay Parks (5/15/10 rebounding split in S75 and FilOil tournament), Alfred Aroga (13/27/21 rebounding split in the FilOil tournament) and possibly Emmanuel Mbe (11/27/19 rebounding split in S75), not to mention other not-so-horrible rebounders in Javillonar and Jeth Rosario, NU looks like a team built to rebound the ball on both sides. And it showed – they won the rebounding battle by 6.5% back in Season 75 and by 1% in the FilOil tournament.
Meanwhile, outside of Ravena and Newsome, Ateneo has no one who’s an above average rebounder for their size or position. That spells doom for the Blue Eagles. A team effort is needed here as rebounding does not allow Ateneo to do what it can possibly do well – run off a miss and attack the transition game.
Last season, Ateneo ranked as the 2nd most efficient fast breaking team (scoring 1.38 points per fastbreak attempt) and the 3rd most fastbreak attempts in Season 75. They continued this trend in the FilOil tournament, when they scored 1.58 points per fastbreak attempt. It’s easy to see why – Juami is one of the, if not THE best, outlet passer in the UAAP. His outlet passes are usually on point and makes the life of his teammates easier on the break — they can just run and if they’re open, Juami will find them. Lucky for Juami, Kiefer and Newsome are quick and love to leak out — both players can use their elite athleticism and finishing ability to get Ateneo easy scoring opportunities. Needless to say, those won’t happen if we continuously allow them to rebound their misses.
Shooters have to, you know, shoot.
Kiefer Ravena is a big part of Ateneo’s offense. In my preview, I basically said that Kiefer would be the focal point of our offense. He’s surpassed expectations (so far) by not only maintaining his efficiency, he’s done this despite being the focal point of the opposing team’s defense and increasing his usage rate. That’s impressive.
What’s even more impressive is Kiefer not only getting his points on ball screen actions, isolations and transitions (three of Kiefer’s most used play types) but he’s also added a post game to his repertoire – one that was in full display against La Salle, when he racked up 31 points against an assortment of defenders La Salle threw at him.
Teams will do everything in their power to take the ball away from Kiefer — either through doubles, traps, hedges and zones. This means Ateneo’s shooters (Tiongson, Newsome, Elorde) will have to step up and knock down those wide open looks Kiefer will undoubtedly generate for them. Once the 3PT shots start falling, their outside-in attack will flourish (since players will now get to attack off a pass or on the bounce when teams start closing out hard). Kiefer will be there generating shots, the question is – will our shooters make shots or will they brick them?
The real Frank Golla, please stand up
I’ll be harping about him a lot this season. Why? Because with the slew of big men currently populating the league, Ateneo only has one with significant experience — Frank Golla. And his role has never been more important than it is now. Before, he had people who could shoulder the load when he failed (Justin Chua, Nico Salva). Now he doesn’t have one. And his interior presence will be key. No, he’s not a shot blocking menace. But his wide body coupled with Ateneo’s aggressive, funneling defense will be crucial for an Ateneo team still adjusting to life without Slaughter. The main reason why Ateneo forced a lot of midrange jumpers last season was because the threat of Slaughter discouraged players from attacking the rim while Ateneo’s ultra aggressive perimeter defense forced opponents to settle for easy shots — midrange pullups, conceded mid range jumpers, fadeaways and everything else. Can Golla replicate that?
The key here is communication and rotation.
Can Golla communicate the offensive traffic of the opponent and inform his teammates accordingly?
Can Golla make the right reads and rotate appropriately?
Can Golla use his wide frame and strong lower body to push players inside out of rebounding position (even if he doesn’t get the rebound) and push players out of their comfort zone in the post?
I think a win here would mean a lot for the Blue Eagles. I’m predicting that at some point in the game, Newsome will be Parks’ defender. I love that matchup — Newsome is quick and strong enough to neutralize any athletic advantage Parks has. He’s also really tenacious and has a motor that won’t stop. That’s a recipe for success on defense. And just like last season, NU is a team primarily built to support Parks. They don’t have any proven secondary scorer – one that can create for them once Ateneo inevitably keys in on Parks. At least we have Newsome and to a degree, Tiongson. NU has no one.
Eagles win this in a tight, defensive battle.
[Update: Kiefer Ravena has a sprained ankle. He’ll play through it but it might hobble him a little bit. Won’t change my prediction though. If he doesn’t play, NU wins this handily]