Back on the saddle and into the arena, the Blue Eagles are ready to take back the court after their emotionally charged, mentally draining and physically exhausting game against their rivals, the De La Salle Green Archers. Of course, they’ll go into battle without their trusty general – Coach Bo Perasol who has been slapped with a (well deserved) one-game suspension. In his stead is one of Ateneo’s long standing assistant coach, Sandy Arespacochaga (always a mouthful to say or type.) The man has bridged five coaches in total – Mark Molina, Joe Lipa, Joel Banal, Norman Black and now, Bo Perasol. So if you’re worried about how Ateneo will perform without their trusted coach, don’t be. We’re in good hands (at least for one game.)

The UE Red Warriors, on the other hand, seem to be on a downward spin that started when they played that highly physical game against the FEU Tamaraws. Since then, they’ve seen multiple suspensions – Casajeros (an alleged malicious elbow on Romeo’s face), Mammie (malicious intent on Romeo) and Olivares (I think it was the stare down and bump on Javillonar). I think they’re back in full force for this game. That could spell trouble for the Eagles who are just a game ahead of the Warriors and a half-game behind the UST Growling Tigers for a Final Four seed.

What are the things that I’ll look at in the game?

Keys to the Game

Three is the Key

UE’s defense has plummeted – allowing 98 points per 100 possession, second worst figure in the league (just two points ahead of the league worst, UP.)

The biggest reason behind that is their inability to defend three point shots. Over their last four games, they’ve allowed opponents to shoot 33 percent from beyond the arc – a figure that would surely lead the league. The good thing for Ateneo – we’re one of the better three point shooting teams in the league. Between Juami Tiongson (38.2 percent), Nico Elorde (29.6 percent), Chris Newsome (28.6 percent), Von Pessumal (28.6 percent) not to mention Ryan Buenafe (25.8 percent) – we have a lot of shooters to throw at UE’s defense. What’s more – UE likes to gamble a lot on steals. They’re aggressive from the perimeter and they jab and swipe and take chances on passing lanes. They also collapse strong into the paint on drives (probably due to their size deficit outside of Mammie). Both of those are things that Ateneo can surely attack on their sets to open up shots for our guys from the perimeter. A barrage from deep would be hard for UE to recover.

Rebounding

Ateneo’s had a pretty great rebounding run in the second round – they’ve yet to actually be outrebounded. But that run will be placed in question as they go up against Charles Mammie and Co. Mammie is without a doubt, the best rebounding player in the league right now. He rebounds 22.8 percent of his team’s misses, 26.1 percent of his opponent’s misses and 24.4 percent of the total misses when he’s on the court. That means that he rebounds, on average, one out of five shot attempts on each side (offense and defense) whenever he plays. He is tough, aggressive and he knows a couple of rebounding tricks (I saw him once do the “tap on the shoulder” fake and I also saw him spin to the opposite side of the box out). It feels like the guy was born and bred to rebound the ball.

This means that if Ateneo plans on continuing their solid defensive run (before, they were able to force misses but they couldn’t grab the defensive rebound), then they need to face guard Mammie on rebounds. Not box out mind you – I mean face guard as in when a shot goes up, his man will face him and push him as far from the hoop as possible. Let the other guys do the actual rebounding.

You’re not going to stop Mammie from rebounding the ball – with his lowest output coming against a team that features Norbert Torres, Arnold Van Opstal, Jeron Teng and Jason Perkins (his rebounding splits against La Salle in the first round was 29/10/20. Still excellent, mind you.) But you better try your damn hardest to limit him while also limiting his teammates. That’s on the team. A hard task, to be sure, but one that’s necessary if the Eagles want to bounce back. They just have to remember – Eagles can fly, Warriors can’t. And also, convocation > tribe (I hope people understand this.)

A Raven among Eagles
This is what I'm talking about (Photo Credit: )

This is what I’m talking about (Photo Credit: Raddy Mabasa, Fabilioh)

I’ve long been a Kiefer Ravena fan – I’ve followed his career since I first heard of him in his junior year in high school. I’ve always thought of him as a guy who had a high basketball IQ – he attacks angles and spaces better than a lot of players. But over the years, I’ve actually come to hate one thing about him — his shot selection. Now, don’t get me wrong, his shot selection isn’t anything new – tons of number one options have had similar success with a broken (but sometimes, inevitable) shot selection. But I’m pretty sure he can clean this up.

Ravena, has decided to change his whole strategy – from being more of a slasher to becoming more of a shooter. That’s all well and good if you can shoot (see: Juami Tiongson) but he’s not (yet). And it’s hurting the team badly. I’m not talking about his postups (although those aren’t “good” as well). I’m talking about those random pullups early in the clock that he takes or the fadeaway over contested arms or the beautifully executed but horribly finished shimmy-shimmy fadeaways.

Look, he’s our top guy and we’ll probably go so far as he can take us. He looks healthy and he moves healthy but his quickness is diminished (possibly because of the added bulk – which we have yet to fully take advantage, mind you) and his execution is not in top shape. That won’t get any easier against a team with pesky defenders like Casajeros, Olivares and Santos.

Also, can you please make your free throws now? (With the help of your #LGOptimusGProph).

Prediction

I’m going to go out and say Ateneo wins this one close. Sumang will struggle because of fatigue (he keeps on cramping late in games) and the defense that Newsome played on him. Mammie will probably dominate. Olivares’ hot shooting will come back down to earth. Buenafe will still play his usual brand of basketball – contributing every where but struggling to score and Ateneo will still struggle against a pesky rebounding team like UE.

Ateneo wins it by 1 or 2 points.