So it’s the end of the line for the UAAP Men’s basketball tournament. This is it – the final showdown, the last dance, the swan song for another great season. FEU won Game 1 in a thriller game that saw NU having a chance to win it late. NU won Game 2 in decisive fashion — leading 12 after 1 and never really looking back (they won by 15). As I said in my pre/post game write-up for Game 2, NU needed to impose their will early. And they did that. The first part was messy, but eventually, they were able to get their bearings, dial down and grind this game out.

This game was played in NU’s preferred pace. While Game 1 showcased an almost 80 possession game (per 40 minutes), Game 2 was about 67 possessions, right in the ball park of where NU wanted it. The result?

A defensive rating of 69.5 for NU (or conversely, a 69.5 offensive rating for FEU), an eFG of 30 percent, and a grind it out game that favors NU more than it favors FEU.

Let’s look briefly at the keys of the game from Game 2:

  1. How will NU remedy FEU’s constant dribble handoffs?

Well, NU did what it’s always done – dropped low on handoffs/screens, switch when they can no longer drop low. The difference was that they were much more aggressive playing the guy away from the ball – the other three guys not directly involved with the ball but played a seminal role in getting NU’s defense out of sync. Because FEU had shooters, NU had a guilty battle with 2.9 – a colloquial term to denote a player’s time between sagging off and defending his man and avoiding a defensive three-second. 2.9, touch, 2.9, touch. Rinse and repeat. Game 1 saw FEU punish NU with well-timed passes to take advantage of this. They made 6 out of their 18 shots in the first salvo.

NU was determined though. They stuck with their principles and took advantage of 2.9 again. This time, they weren’t the team caught chasing a man, desperately trying to challenge the shot. It was FEU that was flustered – they missed 3 out of their 18 attempts. What changed was simple – there was an awareness not seen in Game 1 of the weakside action. What used to be wide open shots from the weakside for FEU became semi-challenged shots. In a tight and important game such as this one, trading a few wide open shots to challenged shots is big.

  1. Can FEU continue to shoot well from deep?

They didn’t, plain and simple. NU, for one game, was able to impose their defensive identity to the game.

Again – FEU shot 3 of 18 from deep, 17 of 61 overall (30 percent eFG). Some shots were wide open but it was a tough outing for FEU overall – Tolomia going all Romeo and hoisting 19 shots in about 30 minutes, missing 13.

  1. Who controls the pace?

Again, NU was the team that imposed their will on the game. It was a gritty, defensive, slow and, quite frankly, an unbearable game to watch (as a fan of free-flowing basketball). Good thing my eyes have become accustomed to grind-it-out games (GRIT AND GRIND BEYBE). I can hear Coach Eric say it now: That was our game, that’s who we are, that’s what will get as a championship. A 68 possessions game limited FEU to about 8~9 fewer possessions than what they’re used to.

I’m betting hard that FEU will go all Phoenix Suns, 7SOL in Game 3 – run hard on every opportunity, miss or make. It is THE game. Meanwhile, NU will dumb this shit down to a halt. Unless there’s a 90 percent chance that a fast break can yield into a score, they’ll probably slow the ball down.

Pace and 3PT shooting – both of those will definitely play a factor to who wins. So I’m putting those again as keys to the game (I know right, what a copout answer). I’m also putting the handoff/screen offense/defense tug-of-war as a key – just like in Game 2.

But I’m adding a new one, and I think this is important – which coach makes the right decisions at particular points in the game. Basketball is a game of momentum, of course. It is a game of runs and counter runs and counter-counter runs.

What adjustments do I think will be important for each coach?

  1. Calling time-outs

Time-outs have held a big part of my interest in analyzing the meta-game of basketball. Coaches usually call time-outs to set up their offense, which is in fact counter-intuitive since ATO offensive ratings tend to be WAY lower compared to their non-ATO offensive ratings.

Some coaches call time-outs during runs, some don’t. Some coaches call time-outs just to give starters they’re about to take out a longer rest.

In effect, timeout management can be a massive asset or a detrimental flaw. I said how much I’ve loved Coach Nash’s ATOs – and they are beautiful in its simplicity. But Coach E hasn’t been as bad as I thought he was in the season and that was important. Although I never quite felt intimidated when FEU cut NU’s massive lead down to within striking distance, it was concerning to know that Coach Nash has the coaching chops – stringing runs a few possessions after an important, ice-breaking moment.

  1. Substitution

Since this is the last game of the season, coaches can theoretically play their best 5 for a good stretch of the game. Coaches at this point should know their personnel – who fits well with who, who plays better starting and when each player plays their best (2 minute rest? In between quarter rest?).

A small mistake – and by small mistake, I mean a 2 minute stretch where a particular lineup plays bad – can spell the difference between a crown and a runner-up place.

I’m sticking with my prediction – NU wins this one and grabs their first championship in almost half a century. Defense will win out and despite Coach Nash (and companies) best efforts to make it their type of game, defense really does win championships.