(This post was co-authored with Charmie Lising.)
The Ateneo Blue Eagles have been a mystery to all before their debut game against Adamson last Sunday. Because they skipped all preseason tournaments, it’s the first time that we saw their newest lineup in action. Coming off their worst season in six years, Ateneo showed last Sunday that they are ready to claw their way to the top once more – well at least back to the Final Four as they clobbered the Adamson Soaring Falcons, 79-57. Of course this is just the first of their many hurdles and this victory was at the expense of a rookie-laden team (almost 80 percent of Adamson’s roster are rookies!). As Coach Bo said, this game is not an indication of how the Blue Eagles will perform the rest of the season.
Nevertheless, winning by 22 points and not allowing Adamson to come even close is still a good way to put their message across.
Reviewing the Keys to the Game
I saw everything I needed to see when Ateneo went fullcourt press on the Adamson for 30 of the 40 minutes (approximately, maybe). And it wasn’t a soft press at that — it was a hard, suffocating press that forced the Falcons into 22 miscues, including three shot clock violations in the first quarter alone. Nico Elorde, Von Pessumal, and Kiefer Ravena hounded the Falcons’ point guards, not giving them enough space to breathe and stealing the ball when they’re not looking (or even when they are).
Meanwhile, Ateneo’s relatively small “Big Men,” Giboy Babilonia, Arvin Tolentino, and Alfonso Gotladera took care of defending the paint and denying shots under the basket. They fought on possessions and were generally an improvement over last year’s crop of who’s-who bigs (sorry Frank the Tank). The rebounding on missed free throws was disheartening and Arvin Tolentino’s general demeanor on the court was, disappointing to say the least. But if anything, I was happy with what Thirdy Ravena and Clint Doliguez showed as rookies. Thirdy, although contributing nothing offensively, showed great promise defensively – especially as a one-on-one defender. I don’t think he will be a 7~8 point scorer at any point this season (honestly). But he can become a defensive stopper. Clint Doliguez was another guy who hustled his way into my heart (lelz). So many times Doliguez was able to get a hand on a play when he shouldn’t have been able to do so. Those are intangible stuff that you only notice when you watch games.
Offensively, Ateneo ran some of their typical sets under Bo. The “C” Hawk Set play was back in full effect. It didn’t have the same fluidity as the one I remember from last year, but that was probably because of teammates adjusting to teammates. Another one that was back was the back screen plays to get Kiefer the ball in the post. It’s a nifty little move that either gets Kiefer the ball near the rim, isolating against a guy he can take in the post or gets mismatches when teams decide to switch (which Adamson did on occasion). I’m surprised they’re using Arvin as a safety valve on the weakside instead of being a fulcrum in the high post (he did perform a ballerina twist to get an open basket sometime in the second/third quarter). I’m excited to see Ateneo’s offense under Bo and all these weapons and how it adapts and changes based on defensive coverage, assignments and circumstances.
Defensively, Ateneo employed a full court press that rattled Adamson to a turnover rate well above 20 percent (23.7 percent). Those turnovers became 22 easy points, none more emphatic than Kiefer’s breakaway dunk. In the halfcourt setting, Ateneo liked to switch a lot of ball screens. This left a lot of undesired matchups that Adamson was not able to take advantage (I mean, not as much as they should). There was the Axel Inigo anklebreaker against Kris Porter (RIP Porter’s ankles). And mini-Ken Bono matched up against pencil-thin Thirdy. What about Gideon Babilonia versus Rios from the top of the arc?
This won’t do against a smarter and more prepared team (like La Salle). They have to fix this moving forward.
A solid block on one side and a jumper on the other – that’s how Kiefer Ravena started the ball rolling. For most of the game, he acted as floor general for the Eagles, directing the team’s offense and at some point, even their defense. He visibly gives instructions on the court, telling his teammates where to position and setting them up for easy baskets. He scored 22 points (which ties with his Season 76 season high, including two highlight dunks, one posterizing two Falcon defenders and one coming off a steal.
There are lapses here and there like missed free throws (which before last season was hardly a problem for him) and a couple of turnovers. But overall, Kiefer played a good game that should be telling of how hungry he is to bounce back.
Game Notes and Other Observations
- I’m pretty excited about Thirdy. Everything I watched, everything I heard and all the preconceived notions I had of him were true. He won’t be a scoring machine and he will have some pretty awful nights offensively. But defensively, Thirdy is going to be a rockstar.
- Arvin Tolentino’s handles surprised me. When everybody had impressive handles for a guy his size, I chalked it up as inferior competition. Well, Adamson really wasn’t the cream of the crop in the seniors division but still — Arvin made a good attempt at a Eurostep (before flailing for a foul), made a ballerina twist for a contested layup, did a left-to-right crossover to leave his defender in the dust. Offensively, he’s the real deal — talent meets physical profile meets potential. Defensively though is another story.
- So that Kiefer point guard experiment never really took off? I mean, sure – Kiefer directed most of Ateneo’s offensive traffic. But he wasn’t responsible for bringing the ball down off a dead ball. He was still playing that secondary ball handler role that he’s been playing since his rookie season. Nothing to complain here. Just saying Kiefer’s transition full time to a “point guard” is not yet to be seen/not yet over.
I’ll take this game as a giant grain of salt. It was against an unprepared, undermanned, under-experienced team. Anything but a blowout would have been disappointing. However, there were a lot of key points that we can muse on – the performance of the rookies, Kiefer’s explosive return and tons more. I’m more excited about the 11 AM game on Sunday against La Salle, the defending champs. We give them a good fight (despite their apparent talent and size advantage) and I’m going to feel good about this team :)