It’s the end of the first round and each game suddenly becomes more important. When you had the excuse to say “We still have 13~10 games more”, you can’t have that excuse right now. Half of the season is about to pass and each passing game will either push you farther and farther away from the Final Four or into it.

With the histrionics out of the way, let’s get into the teeth of things: this game is a “rematch” of the Finals last year, but only in name (more so for the Eagles). With a total of seven players leaving for both teams (five for Ateneo, two for UST), this game could not BE anymore different *insert Chandler Bing voice*.

Ateneo and UST are both equally capable defensive teams – UST allowing just 89.3 points per 100 and Ateneo not far behind allowing just 89.6 points per 100.  And they do it in two different ways.

Ateneo, despite their size, has been successful at defending the most important shots in the game – shots near the rim and shots from deep. They may not force opponents to take a lot of midrange shots, probably because they trap a lot and they don’t have an intimidating presence inside (they allow the opponents to take just 19.9% of their shots from midrange), but they do know how to force misses with usually crisp rotations. Ateneo allows the lowest percentage near the rim (teams are shooting just 44.2 percent from that area) and they are third best at defending the three-point line (teams are shooting just 27.3 percent from deep). The league average in both areas are 48.9 and 27.7 percent, respectively. Despite their size, Coach Bo has been magnificent in putting a solid defensive product out there.

Meanwhile, the Tigers don’t offer as much resistance from the rim despite their superior size and length (they allow opponents to shoot 50.3 percent). What they do know how to do is to gamble on passing lanes with their length – the Tigers force the highest turnover rate in the league (18.3 percent, league average is 16.5 percent) and forces the highest steal percentage – or the percentage of an opponents possession that a team or player steals – by taking away almost 7.9 percent of the opponent’s possession.

So how will the Eagles eke this win out? Let’s dig in.

Keys to the Game

Crisp Passes

Because UST is such a long team, their hands always gets in the hand of passes and they’re really good at making passes uncomfortable. That’s one of the reasons why UST is among the best teams at forcing turnovers and steals. Needless to say, when Ateneo runs their sets (which do require a lot of passing to encourage ball movement), they need to make the passes crisp and straight – no lazy passes and no flashy passes. If they don’t, UST will have a field day – between Lo (3.1 steals percentage), Abdul (2 steals percentage), Mariano (1.9 steals percentage) not to mention Daquioag and Ferrer (both at 1.2 steals percentage), UST can pick from anywhere and by anyone on the court. You have been warned!

Special mention to Nico Elorde, who sometimes struggles with UST’s physicality up top, and Frank Golla, just because (no seriously, his turnover rate is now at 20.1 percent. Horrible for a player who never handles the ball).

More Erram/Tolentino, Less Golla
Ateneo

Erram and Tolentino are rebounding well this season (Photo Credit: Fabilioh, Philip Sison)

I want more Erram and more Tolentino, less of Golla. Why?

Well, Golla’s main asset right now is his big, strong body. Against the likes of UE (Mammie), Adamson (Sewa), La Salle (N. Torres) and NU (Mbe), Golla will have value as a banger who pushes (or at least tries to) these guys farther from the hoop and out of their sweet spots. Against the other three teams who feature quicker and noticeably less bulkier bigs, Golla’s value decreases by a lot. Watch Abdul play and he rarely, if ever, takes his man on the block and back his way down to the hoop. More often than not, he faces up and uses his midrange jumper and superior quickness to get a good shot for his team. Golla would be a liability (even more so now!) against UST.

I hope Coach Bo uses Erram and Tolentino – both more talented perimeter defenders – more. Golla can start (and he probably will to maintain some semblance of stability in the Eagles’ opening lineup) but I’d like the team to make use of Erram and Tolentino more. Erram is a talented player even at 70~80%. He’s a better rebounder, an equally-“abled” midrange shooter than Golla (not to say both are good, just saying they are both on the same level), he blocks more shots and he’s long.

Tolentino, on the other hand, knows how to crowd an opposing player. He’s aggressive (in his traps and in his stance) not to the point where he can easily be faked out but he’s smart. He’s also (I think) quicker than Golla so that will help.

As an added bonus, both are better rebounders than Golla. In Ateneo’s two wins, they outrebounded the other team, 38.6 to 30 (offensive rebounding rate). In their four losses, they were manhandled, 28.1 to 37.2 percent. Three birds with one stone (offense, defense, rebounding).

Never Fear, Kiefer is here

Kiefer finally came into his own last game. In my post game, I detailed his already very good postup game. Can Kiefer do the same this time around?

Kiefer’s post game is more advanced than what people think – he doesn’t just rely on his strength advantage (but that helps too) and instead uses simple concepts of physics to gain an advantage (NAG-AARAL TO! Hahaha). He goes to his spot, usually in a sort of I’m-going-to-run-through-screens motion, only to turn around, go low and use his low center of gravity to maintain an already good position. (Minimal strength needed. Am I right, physics peeps?) Once there, he uses an assortment of moves – most of which he can execute well even at his limited state. Up-and-unders (it doesn’t matter if it’s going right or going left), the shimmy move (reminiscent of KG), the fadeaway or the faceup pullup. I expect him to torture opponents once again here – despite the added bulk or length of his defenders (Lo, Daquioag or Ferrer).

Defensively, he still has lapses either due to fatigue or lack of attention. That will, hopefully, correct itself with more game time. But his perimeter ball hawking is top notch (this used to work when he had a moHAWK, get it?) and that will only get more consistent with time.

Never Fear, Kiefer is (90%) here (or you know, close to 100%, whatever number Kiefer decides on).

Prediction

Oh man, so far I’ve missed on five and got only one! So I’m feeling kind of squeamish. I’ll go out and say I’m guessing a win. Golla’s going to score 30 points and grab 10 rebounds and posterize Abdul out of his socks.

I’m kidding, but I’m still guessing a win by the slightest of margins (it’ll be a close game and the ending score will be around +/- 5).