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.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

UAAP Season 78: Looking at the UP Fighting Maroons after six matches

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Looking at the UP Fighting Maroons after six matches
by rick olivares

The reverie of the early days of the UAAP season are gone. The UP Fighting Maroons, after two straight wins (by an average of 6.0 points), have crashed down to earth. They have lost four straight matches by an average of 13.5 points.

Although they have a chance to close out the first round against winless Adamson that is not assured. The Fighting Maroons have more veteran players than the Soaring Falcons but the latter look dangerous and lack only the requisite experience to compete and contend.

What happened to UP?

Let’s try to look at what has transpired.

In their first four matches, they went with the starting unit of Jett Manuel, Augustini Amar, Henry Asilum, Andrew Harris, and Mark Juruena. After taking in two consecutive losses, first to UST and then to FEU, head coach Rensy Bajar changed his starting five promoting Jarrell Lim and Dave Moralde over Amar and Asilum. They still lost to NU by double digits. Against Ateneo, in an effort to try and match up, Amar was back alongside Paul Desiderio, Person Pardo, Lim, and Gelo Vito. Still no go.

The starting five of the first four games lacked scoring punch but was a more defensive-oriented squad.
Look at their first quarters of their first two games (both wins):
Vs UE: 11-7 for UP
Vs La Salle: 16-14 for UP

When teams figured out how to play and defend them, this was the result of the first quarters:
Vs UST: 4-10 for UST
Vs FEU: 8-13 for FEU
Vs NU: 12-19 for NU
Vs Ateneo: 9-17 for Ateneo

I still think the defensive starters worked out better because look at the difference in first quarter scoring:
Vs UST: six point deficit
Vs FEU five point deficit
Vs NU seven point deficit
Vs Ateneo eight point deficit

They are better defensively this year as the previous season, they surrendered a whopping 75.0 ppg a match. Incredibly, even after four straight losses, UP still is ranked third in team defense as they give up only 64.5 points a match. This campaign, they have also allowed the fewest field goals in six matches with 34.2 a match. They too surrender the fewest perimeter points and three-point field goals with 13.0 and 19.8% accuracy respectively. 

Even of Bajar’s troops give up the most rebounds in the league (48.7), they don’t allow a lot of second chance points. They are second best in stinginess in that category only giving up 8.2 a game (UST is tops with 5.7).

If defense isn’t the problem, then is the offense to blame?

They can play defense, so is the offense the problem? 
That sounds close to an oxymoron as they have a lot of guys who can score — Desiderio, Dario, JR Gallarza, and Manuel. The sad fact is UP is dead last in scoring with 57.5 ppg.

What can they do?

They should commit to a fixed starting unit and give others more minutes if possible. I realize at first the coaches wanted to give everyone exposure and come in and leave it on the floor. They were aggressive on defense the problem was sustaining it. When the others come in as you say in the vernacular, “hindi pa pinagpapawisan linabas na.” 

Only two players average over 20 minutes a game - Paul Desiderio (25) and Jett Manuel (21). Diego Dario is the next one with the most exposure with 17 a game. Ten others play for at least 10 minutes. Maybe it’s time to give others extended minutes especially Dario. JR Gallarza who was their second leading scorer last season with 11.6ppg is now averaging 1.7ppg while playing out of position (three or the four). 

Thus far, they have had four different leading scorers. In their six matches, only Paul Desiderio has scored in double digits four times. Manuel has had three and Dario, two. 

Their starters average 21.3 points a game (lowest in the league) although the bench scores 36.2 but too often they are playing catch up. When other teams hit their stride, it is going to be hard coming back.

I don’t think they are maximizing Cheick Kone. Granted he is a work in progress but he could be a huge asset literally on both ends of the court.

After their first loss to UST (that was decided in the final minute of play), the Fighting Maroons who were averaging 35.5 points in the second half of the first three matches saw their production fall to 26.6 points per half. 

It really is about consistency.

They should make better decisions with the ball. 
For instance, passing and finding the open man. Last season, UP averaged 11.6 assists per game. This year, it is down to 9.0.

They are playing more one-on-one ball and as a result, a lot of their attempts are defended. They are at the bottom when it comes to made field goals after shots are contested at 29%.

I also think that teams have really taken them out of their comfort zone. Their bread and butter plays that they have been running successfully since the summer all the way to the first two wins of the season have been destroyed. The onus is now on the coaching staff to adjust.

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