Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Bleachers' Brew #282 Rivalry & Adversity in the NCAA Finals

This appears in the Monday October 24, 2011 edition of the Business Mirror.

Rivalry & adversity in the NCAA Finals
by rick olivares

I picked San Beda to win the NCAA title this year with Sudan Daniel in the lineup. It was obvious that as good as the San Sebastian Stags were, the loss of Pamboy Raymundo, Gilbert Bulawan, and Ray Maconocido were too huge without any particular immediate help coming in from their high school or Team B.

When the American center went down before the start of the season, I still felt that the Red Lions were still good enough to defend the title. There was even more motivation to win it because the criticism levied against the Red Lions that they had won largely because of their foreign reinforcements rankled them. This year is a statement year for the Red Lions. Without the Big Guy, players like Dave Marcelo, the Pascuals, and the Semerads stepped into the gap and got the job done. Other players have done well too. And they remain the best team that can go deep into their bench.

Of course, there were times when the Red Lions didn’t look particularly sharp. Whether by boredom or the opposing team playing them tougher, SBC knew that they could still pull it out no matter what.

When San Sebastian won their first round encounter with San Beda, it came down to the final play of the game. But it could have gone either way as Marcelo had the chance to win it with San Beda’s last shot. However in the last two matches between the Red Lions and the Stags, the results have not been close.

During the Stags’ 15-game win streak they also alternated between overwhelmingly good and a team going through the motions. The only real teams with a decent chance of breaking the lock of SBC and SSCR for the finals were the Letran Knights and the Mapua Cardinals.

The Knights were better than expected and I thought that they matched up well against Baste because they play physical teams better, hence their handing the Stags two loses. But against a deeper squad like San Beda, the Knights needed a little more help in scoring despite the incredible improvement of Raymond Almazan and the solid play of rookie Mark Cruz. I liked the blood and guts play of Kevin Racal and Veejay Espiritu but they don’t score enough to ease that load. Games are won on defense but if you cannot put that ball in the basket then you aren’t going to win it either. Sure Kevin Alas became a better player but he could afford to shoot a little more because Almazan was there to clean up the glass and the bench was there to receive the kickout.

The Cardinals on the other hand are one team that let their locker room issues affect them. They had so much promise in the pre-season but once the NCAA tipped off the word used to describe them – disappointing – is actually an understatement.

Back to the Stags, these guys are like the Miami Heat in a sense because they had their own version of the Big Three to carry them. But SSCR needs all three to play well to win. Of course, bench production is important but when the Big Three played well and were not saddled with fouls, they were devastating. Plus, they made their bench look a whole lot better.

Now that’s where the comparisons to the Heat end. I do not think that the Heat’s triumvirate took nights off or seemed bored unlike these Stags. I recall how first year head coach Topex Robinson sounded off warnings in the first round that their lack of focus (especially against weaker teams) would eventually tell on them.

When Letran snapped their win streak, the illusion of harmony came crashing down. Some quarters from within blamed Robinson for the loss and took shots behind the young coach’s back (it has also been said that these backstabbers only came to practice prior to payday so as to show that they worked for their paycheck). They became the NCAA’s version of a team with a bunch of head coaches. You don’t even need to be an insider to see how that affects their team. It was all played out in front of the cameras and on the court. You could see team management calling timeouts and some players who would instead follow them rather than the head coach.

How bad has this become? There was a team dinner the other day and Robinson was not invited or informed about it.

And you thought Mapua had problems.

Without much help in the off-season, Robinson has done a good job with so little. With only so few top caliber players in their roster, SSCR has mostly dominated the league. If anything, that underscores the great divide or disparity if you will, regarding the talent of the top tier teams and the lower level ones.

Nevertheless, the Stags dispatched Letran in the second match of their Final Four series to set up a Beda-Baste finals for the third year in a row. It’s the rubber match you can say unless SSCR brings more weaponry to their lineup next season so they can continue this incredible finals rivalry.

The win over Letran was good and as in anything else, winning covers up a lot of things. It would be interesting to see how San Sebastian responds to adversity and the Red Lions who really crushed them in their last two matchups.

For San Beda to win the championship, their entire team has to contribute. Their starting unit is good enough to carry them but they are a tough matchup when everyone’s firing on all cylinders. Strength in numbers is the word for San Beda because the Stags can only count on three players to put points on the board. Lanete can match Ronald Pascual point for point. Dave Marcelo, Rome dela Rosa, the Pascuals, and the Semerads will battle Calvin Abueva and Ian Sangalang up front. That sounds like a mismatch but unless the Red Lions are running, their points can cumulatively match up against what Sangalang and Abueva can put up.

If the Red Lions’ point guards – Anjo Caram, Mar Villahermosa, and Baser Amer – can control the game and dictate it to the halfcourt game that they prefer, then that’s good for them. San Sebastian likes to step on the accelerator because that’s where Abueva, Pascual, and Jovit dela Cruz can get easy baskets.

For San Sebastian to win, their Big Three have to play well and some bench players – Lyle Antipuesto, dela Cruz, Michael Miranda, Dexter Maiquez, and most especially team captain Anthony del Rio – have to take their game to another level. If del Rio, who has mostly been a non-factor this season (and more so since the team lost Jon Semira to an knee injury early in the year) those reserves can spell quality minutes while the starters cool their heels on the bench then that keeps the Big Three fresh for the endgame.

Make no mistake, in spite of the loss of big time contributors from their title team of two years ago, this is still a very good team. They can still win it all. But they bring so much to the table other than basketball. Maybe they thrive in adversity.

And two more things that should help the Stags’ cause… Abueva must not get into early foul trouble and… management should just support their head coach this finals. If they want to coach then they can either wait ‘til the season ends or they can take over Robinson’s job right now. 

1 comment:

  1. read my own preview blog. good read btw