After incurring back-to-back heartbreaking setbacks against two Final Four-bound squads despite their Gilas-esque display, the UP Fighting Maroons will have to shake off the pain and regroup swiftly as they face the NU Bulldogs, another team which aims to cement its place at the upper half of team standings.
The first time these two teams met this season, seven weeks ago, UP was able to withstand NU’s league-best defense for the first two quarters. However, the Bulldogs turned it a notch in the second half as the freaky athletic frontline of Alfred Aroga and Troy Rosario took over and decided to punish their UP counterparts, giving the Fighting Maroons its second loss in Season 77.
Keys to the Game
DICTATING THE TEMPO
These two teams are on the opposite ends of spectrum in terms of the pace they play this season. The Fighting Maroons averages 80.5 possessions per game, which is second to UE’s league-best of 83.4. This can be attributed to UP’s preference to play small-ball, given their relatively immense depth at the backcourt and the lack of at the frontline. On the other hand, NU sports the slowest pace, 72.8 possessions per game. They would rather set their offense on half court, swing the ball from one man to another, and then take a shot if they find a crack on their opponents’ defense
The tempo really matters in this affair. Should the game go fast, this bodes well for UP. However, if NU can kill the time with their half court sets, this will be in their favor. In their first round encounter, there were an estimated 74 possessions (league average this season is 78.0 possessions per game), a low number which favored the NU Bulldogs.
WHICH MIKEE REYES WILL SHOW UP?
After missing the potential game-winning two free throws with 0.8 second left, Mikee Reyes nearly stunned Ateneo single-handedly and almost gave UP its second win of the season, thanks to his fourth quarter brilliance. It will be interesting to see how he’ll perform this time. That is, which Mikee Reyes will show up in this game? When Mikee is good, he is extremely good that you would put him easily on the list of best point guards in UAAP today. But when he’s bad, he’s terribly bad. And given his league-topping 34.2% usage rate, his performance, either good or bad, will always be magnified.
THE TALE OF TURNOVERS
In terms of net turnover rate (team’s TOV% – opponent’s TOV%), UP and NU occupies the both ends. And you’d be surprised that it is NU, the superior team, who owns the highest net rate of 4.5% while UP has the lowest (-4.4%). Last time they met, NU committed more turnovers (23.0%) as opposed to UP’s impressive 14.9%.
If UP wants to keep it close until the very end, they better perform strongly in the early going. With Ateneo’s frenetic pace, UP was able to score on plenty opportunities to erase the double-digit deficit. Unlike Ateneo, NU plays their possessions very slow, which in turn would limit UP to get scoring possessions.
This game might be another close contest for UP. If lucky breaks late in the game go to their favor, this is theirs. However, NU has a plethora of guys like Gelo Alolino, Rosario, and Aroga who can close out games and can break UP’s hearts again, as if the last two losses weren’t enough.
Close one but I’ll give this to NU, the one who needs this game more as they aim for a twice-to-beat advantage.
Featured image courtesy of Mark Cristino, Pinoy Exchange