Five questions that need answering by the Ateneo Blue Eagles after eight games.
by rick olivares
I missed the second round Ateneo-UP game because I was at an event where I am heavily involved (the Clear Dream Match) so I asked people whose views and opinions I greatly value so I had a better understanding of the Blue Eagles’ struggles in that match. I wish I had a chance to watch the replay but I missed that as well.
But after eight matches, this here needs some pointing out and answering.
Can the Blue Eagles win it all again?
Of course, they can. They are at a robust 7-1, tops in the league thus far with FEU, UST, La Salle and NU right behind. Are any of those teams a lock to make the Final Four? Not at all.
La Salle 5-3
FEU is a much better team than initially advertised. They finally have the low-post presence they did not have last year with the addition of Anthony Hargrove and Arvie Bringas.
UST. These guys are a tough nut to crack. They have a small rotation but these guys deliver. The x-factor for them is the play of Aljon Mariano who like La Salle’s Jeron Teng knows how to use his body when going in for a drive.
La Salle. They have picked it up of late and can only get better. And to be led by a rookie in Jeron Teng who can only get better? Incredible!
NU. Pre-season faves to book a finals seat are fading. And they still have to play three more upper tier squads in the second round. They can actually miss the boat with their underwhelming play.
Astute basketball observers have noticed that the Red Warriors, never mind if they are in the dumps, had a different look to them during their last game even if they lost to La Salle. It is said that it is attributed to the coaching change. I feel bad for Jerry Codinera but this team should pick it up soon.
Adamson. Even without Alex Nuyles and the other players they’ve lost from the previous season, they hang tough. Leo Austria has some upcoming studs in Jericho Cruz, Janses Rios, Ryan Monteclaro, Michael Agustin, and Don Trollano. Under-sized in height but not in heart.
UP. Could very well end the season winless after it looks like their earlier victory will be overturned for using an ineligible player in Chris Ball. Ball’s okay except that his paperwork has not been fixed which beggars me. He’s been with the team since the other year so how come it has not been fixed? Hate to say this but heads should roll on this.
Is Ateneo a lock to book a Final Four seat? Sure but their record notwithstanding, they cannot afford a loss because it will drop them into a tie with the next couple of teams. Any combination of losses can hurt their standing. I certainly hate their penchant for playing Jekyll and Hyde. They get up for the good teams and wait to be threatened before they turn on the jets against the lower tier squads. It will not happen everyday when you can turn it on. Witness the loss to UST.
The bench has been erratic with their play as have some players. Yet in spite of that, they are top offensive and defensive team.
Ateneo has averaged 74.2 points and surrendered 64.0 on the defensive end.
We’re a few games away from locking up a twice-to-beat advantage slot. And that is the first objective. We’ll take it from there once we’ve achieved that.
Is there anything that I think that the team should address?
Yes, there are two things.
First, it’s some people looking too much for their own shot. When you have the Buddha in the lane as Phil Jackson once said, you feed the Buddha. And that is Greg Slaughter. It’s been two years and some cannot seem to get it in their head that when you have a massive center like that you go to him. As it is, Ateneo leads the points in the pain category with 38.3 (that was through seven matches as I was unable to get the numbers for the last match). When you go inside that means you have greater chances to score and to go to the line.
It is this same logic that one team fails to understand why they do not get the calls. When you keep bombarding from the outside who is going to foul you?
Back to getting shots, this was something that Jai Reyes understood later on and it helped him become a more lethal player as he took shots in the flow and learned to facilitate for higher percentage shots.
Juami Tiongson and Ryan Buenafe (eighth and tenth respectively) are two Ateneans with over 20 assists in the tournament so far. It’s a good sign that the first and second units have facilitators on offense. And when you think about it, the starting five of Ateneo has three players who can pass that ball in Greg Slaughter, Kiefer Ravena, and Tiongson (add Tonino Gonzaga to that number when he starts).
Sharing the rock has been on of the hallmarks of the past title teams. There is no reason why it will not work again.
Second, it’s the production from the three-spot or small forward position. That has been manned by committee with Oping Sumalinog, Ryan Buenafe, and Tonino Gonzaga.
Ryan averages 5.1 points per outing while Zags and Oping chip in 4.5 and 3.5. That’s a total of 11.1 points. The thing is, Ryan is much better than that. Ditto with Zags and Oping. They have to be more consistent with their production because it eases the load on Greg Slaughter and Nico Salva.
How does Greg Slaughter stack against the league’s top centers?
In the updated individual standings, Greg is only eighth overall and the second center behind UST’s Karim Abdul who is in fifth place.
Greg is second in scoring and fourth in rebounding. He is tops though in shot blocks. You can say that the stats are underwhelming. But
As it is, NU’s Ray Parks is leading in the statistical race for Most Valuable Player. At this point, any Blue Eagles in the running are in the bottom of the top ten. Now it has to be impressed that the individual awards aren’t important – and I do mean impressed into their heads – and that the title is more important. It was like this during the three-peat when we hardly picked up any post-season awards. But at the end of the day, the title was way sweeter.
The Big Fella has to be aware of the help defense coming from the weak side. I am surprised that there is a lack of communication when it comes to this. Greg has to quickly pass out of that double team or else he’ll get bottled up.
And one more thing he has to understand – he will not see the end of the hacking, holding, tripping, and endless mind games the others will employ against him. I spoke to him about this against FEU and he handled it fine. I was surprised to hear that he fell for Raul Soyud’s physical game last time around. When he gets bothered he’s out of the game. Grin and bear it, Greg. Just make them pay on the offensive and defensive end.
Now the onus is on the officiating to make sure the game is played the right way. Watching Sunday’s games, I can only say, “What on earth are these guys calling?”
Will Tonino Gonzaga ever find his lost jump shot?
This is the second time that I am mentioned Gonzaga as a key point.
He was supposed to be this year’s supersub but has alternately wafted being defensive stopper and fireman. His value is immeasurable because he does a lot of things that do not show on the stat sheet. I noticed that he is rushing his jump shot (that includes his three pointer). Parang gigil. Instead of being relaxed and taking the shot in the flow of things like he did last year, his release and jump are erratic.
Case in point: Zags shot at 41.1% accuracy clip last year. This year, he’s at 32%.
I have been monitoring Zags closely and we’ve had conversations about it. I believe it’s the wrist action. But I have no doubt, he’ll find the range and play more consistently down the stretch.
He scored 10 points against UP in the last outing. That’s a tournament high so far. Let’s see if that gets him untracked.
Who needs to step it up?
Everyone! But Nico Elorde and Juami Tiongson have to hit those jumpers to keep defenses honest. JP Erram needs more playing time. Von Pessumal has to produce when he gets his minutes. And if Justin Chua and Frank Golla can contribute mightily then that will see us rolling.
Eight down and six left to play.