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, July 24, 2016

NCAA Season 92: More questions than answers for the Arellano Chiefs

This appears in the Monday, July 25, 2016 edition of the Business Mirror.

More questions than answers for the AU Chiefs
by rick olivares

The Arellano University Chiefs’ 101-86 loss to the San Beda Red Lions last Friday, July 22, says more about them than the latter.

You can say that this young Red Lion team has heart. Yet even if they aren’t the defending champions, San Beda has been the model basketball program in the NCAA for well over a decade now. As for Arellano, in their old stomping grounds, they were champs. Ditto in the Fr. Martin II competition. In the tougher NCAA, they have teased with their talent and they’ve had some terrific players like John Pinto, James Forrester, Prince Caperal, and Keith Agovida. Now they have Jiovani Jalalon who had made the youth national teams in the past few years. The team as a whole, at least in this league, have been underachievers. 

For Arellano to nail its first ever NCAA crown, they must address their propensity to surrender huge leads and run out of steam in big games. And they must play as a team with not only two players contributing but other key players getting in on the act.

Arellano has been tabbed as a favorites to win this year’s NCAA Men’s Basketball crown. They’ve got a veteran crew. They’ve got a deep bench. Yet therein lies the problem as the Chiefs have taken two losses in this first round. Although it’s still a long season with only five matches played thus far, the latest loss is galling and disappointing. Furthermore, it reminds me of their Filoil Flying V Premier Cup finals crash against La Salle about two months ago.

During the finals that had all the looks of an easy La Salle victory, you had to rub your eyes in disbelief as Arellano befuddled them with a choking press, nifty passing, and incredible shooting in the first half. The Chiefs behind Jiovani Jalalon and Kent Michael Salado led by as much as 11 points, 32-21, early in the second quarter. They were running, gunning, and putting on a show with playground moves. 

A spate of errors saw the Green Archers cut the lead down, 42-40, at the halftime break. By the third period, DLSU seized control and never let go. The fourth period was a formality as the Archers won, 86-74.

This NCAA Season 92 against San Beda, Arellano coughed up a 22-point lead when their second unit was unable to hold or pad the lead. As is always when a team is up by a lot, the Chiefs began to settle for outside shots and mysteriously turn the ball over and give up stupid fouls. 

There was a point where Brylle Meca inexplicably fouled Ranbill Tongco when he wasn’t anywhere near the basket or shooting range. That sent the Red Lion point guard, who played long minutes with Dan Sara out with a fractured hand, to the line as AU was in penalty situation. For a team that was leading for the entire first half, how on earth were they the first team to get into penalty ahead of the other squad? In the first period, that allowed San Beda back in the game. The Red Lions shot more free throws, 36-26, than the Chiefs. 

And later still in the fourth period, forward-center Lervin Flores lost his mind when he looked to pound AC Soberano on the head with the ball after grabbing a defensive board. There was no need for that. Soberano hit the technical free throw then in the ensuing possession, swingman Davon Potts drilled a triple and San Beda went on an 8-0 run, 83-75. The Chiefs got within three, 85-82, but that was the closest they would get the rest of the way.

To complete the reversal, Arnaud Noah dunked the ball with 17 seconds left to lift San Beda to a 15-point victory. In the end, it was Arellano that got blown out in an embarrassing and demoralizing fashion. 

The Chiefs are a veteran team that is both talented and deep. Yet where was that in those losses to La Salle and San Beda? Losing to a young Red Lions squad that utilized only four players from last season; two who only got meaningful playing time with one of them, Dan Sara, playing only five minutes, is beyond me.

I also cannot help but be reminded of the way the Philippines also played during the recent FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament where some players went for the razzle dazzle play instead of something simpler but no less effective. It was the same for the Chiefs. The playground ball got trumped by simple execution. 

More to the Chiefs’ loss, in both the Filoil Flying V Premier Cup Finals and NCAA Season 92 first round encounter, it was Jalalon and Salado who led Arellano while sniper Zach Nicholls and underused center Dioncee Holts weren’t much of a factor. Why do I say underused? He doesn’t play much; doesn’t shoot much, and only makes an impact once in a blue moon. And this isn’t the first time I am saying this. I think I have been like a broken record harping on this the past three years.

Sure Letran showed you can win all-Filipino but that is the exception rather than the norm. And yes, I like the fact that Arellano isn’t dependent on its foreign players. Jalalon and Salado can tow Arellano to some wins but against the top sides, you’ll need all hands on deck. AU coach Jerry Codinera regularly uses almost his entire bench but what they need to do is get consistent and regular contributions from other players.

Does this mean the Chiefs do not have what it takes to win? Of course not. It’s still early. But I will always maintain that the need more than their dynamic duo to win. Yes, Allen Enriquez and Lervin Flores chipped in. That’s good. Again, I will maintain that Nicholls needs to bust that zone wide open while Holts needs to have a greater impact on the match to give AU a fighting chance to win it all.

For now, it really is back to the drawing board for both the coaches and the players of Arellano University.

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