After missing the Final Four bus in Season 76, the Ateneo Blue Eagles managed to get there ahead of everyone else this year. The trip was cut short when the NU Bulldogs, this season’s newly crowned champs, spoiled their plans of making it all the way to the Finals.
It all boiled down to the last 9.3 seconds on the clock – NU up by two points, Ateneo possession. After a dramatic 20-minute delay caused by a lighting problem in the arena, the game resumed. As expected, the ball found the hands of Ateneo’s best player and this season’s MVP, Kiefer Ravena. His quick first step got him past his defender Pao Javelona and gave him a seemingly clear path to the basket. But Alfred Aroga, who’s been a defensive beast all season-long, was able to erase his shot and secure the finals seat for the Bulldogs. A few seconds remained but a very frustrated Nico Elorde could not grab the loose ball.
Just like that, Ateneo’s road to redemption was blocked and the wait for another chance begins anew.
Looking at Ateneo’s net rating or the difference between points produced per 100 (offensive rating) and points allowed per 100 (defensive rating) in the elimination round, it’s evident that NU was the toughest matchup that they could have in the semi-finals. Ateneo may have had better chances if they faced La Salle or FEU, or if UE managed to knockout NU for the #4 seed. Ah, the what ifs.
It’s no secret that what propelled the Eagles to the top of the standings was their offense. They entered the second round of eliminations with a ORTG of 100.4. Their ability to shoot threes (second-best, next to UE) helped them spread the floor and execute their plays. They also moved the ball around with 58 percent of their team’s possessions resulting to assists. Kiefer with an assist rate of 37.3 percent led the way in creating opportunities for his teammates.
One of Ateneo’s pressing problems this season was their low bench production. They relied heavily on their starters, with three players namely Kiefer, Chris Newsome, and Elorde logging at least 30 minutes per outing. Given their lack of height and their brand of offense, fast-paced games were generally to their advantage albeit difficult to sustain because of their short rotation. They could not find a consistent spark off the bench other than Von Pessumal and Ponso Gotladera (if they’re not starting themselves).
A major factor that hindered Ateneo from achieving their ultimate goal of claiming back the trophy was their below average defense. The Blue Eagles went from being the top defensive squad in 2011 to one of the worst in the league this season. They no longer have solid interior presence that could easily pack the paint and protect the rim.
|Season||Offensive Rating||Defensive Rating||Net Rating|
|96.0 (1st)||89.6 (6th)||6.4|
|90.0 (5th)||87.6 (4th)||2.4|
|98.0 (1st)||86.2 (2nd)||11.9|
|92.0 (2nd)||75.8 (1st)||16.3|
Anemic starts plagued the Eagles this year. Often they found themselves trailing by a mile in the first quarter, forcing them to work triple time in the fourth to make a comeback. There were times when they fell short, but there were also times when they broke the hearts of their opponents and stole the win (case in point: Round 2 versus FEU). And who’s the biggest heartbreaker of them all? The King Eagle, Kiefer Ravena.
Much has been said about the Phenom and his incredible performance this season. He worked hard to bounce back from last year’s unfortunate injury and carried the team all tournament. The way he nailed crucial baskets like a madman will be remembered for years. Ateneo heavily relied on him to a fault, that the rest of the players sometimes wait for him to just work his magic on the floor.
Newsome deserves special recognition for stepping up when nobody else would. He’s the glue that kept Ateneo together. He’s the stopper that restricts the opponents’ most threatening weapons. His vital role in the team was further highlighted during the Final Four when NU heeded their coach’s call to limit Kiefer at all costs. The Phenom’s numbers dropped drastically from the eliminations to the playoffs while Newsome’s became even more awesome.
Newsome’s short but sweet UAAP stint saw him averaging 13 points, eight rebounds, and three assists, with Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 24.3.
Losing Elorde and Newsome will hurt for the Eagles. It’s good that they have Jerie Pingoy who’s serving his last year of residency waiting to suit up as point guard. But who can fill the void that Newsome will leave? Will it be Thirdy Ravena? Thirdy is yet to showcase his offensive prowess in the seniors’ stage but it’s understandable since his role this year was more focused on defense. Maybe next year will be different.
Ateneo still has a lot of underutilized players on the team especially the rookies. Rookie of the Year Arvin Tolentino, for one, had been explosive in the first round, but became more of a liability than an asset in the latter part. Once he finds his groove and adopts the right attitude, he’d be deadly as a stretch four. They have imports who’ll be eligible to play next season (if the UAAP doesn’t decide to suddenly ban foreign players on the same year that Ateneo will start fielding some in). How talented they are and how they’ll fare against the likes of Aroga and Charles Mammie are yet to be seen, but finally having legit big men on the roster is a good start.
The Eagles are still rebuilding and what they accomplished this season was already beyond expectations. The team is young and the system is relatively new. The Blue and White faithfuls have nothing to worry about because the future of Ateneo basketball is still bright.
One step at a time, one big fight.