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.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Looking at Letran’s ouster from defending its NCAA championship

No tears at the end of the road for the former defending champions. Perhaps the writing was on the wall for some time. The inevitable happened.

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Looking at Letran’s ouster from defending its NCAA championship
by rick olivares

With four minutes and thirty seconds left to play, Letran point guard JP Calvo missed an ill-advised three-pointer. Letran was down 49-38 at that point and they paid for it with a Mapua bucket in the next possession.

In their next offensive set, Calvo lost his mind further when he drove hard against Mapua’s Allwell Oraeme who was in a great position to swat an weak shot. Calvo twisted and tried to will the ball into the hoop but because Oraeme made it difficult to get a shot off, the Knights’ court general missed. 

Mapua’s Denniel Aguirre scored from close range and the Cardinals’ lead swelled to 15 with 3:40 left in Letran’s flickering, faint hopes of staying alive for at least a crack at the Final Four. The crown that they had fought so hard to win last season after multiple years of frustration, was slipping off their collective heads.

Things looked even more bleak when main man Rey Nambatac had to be helped off the court and into the locker room.

Incredibly and perhaps as always, the Knights, the NCAA squad with the biggest heart of them all, banged up, misfiring, came roaring back. Calvo scored. Jom Sollano hit a medium range jumper. Bong Quinto repeatedly went at the defense of Oraeme. And just like that, the ballgame was tied at 67-all with 2:20 left. 

Nambatac made his way back to the bench, this time under his own power.

While there is life there is hope, as the old saying goes. 

During Mapua’s next possession, the Cardinals’ Darrell Menina drilled a wide open triple from the right corner pocket to deflate the few Letran faithful who had made the trip to the Filoil Flying V Centre in San Juan to support their beleaguered squad that needed to win if it wanted to stay alive in the tourney that is rapidly approaching its conclusion. 

One botched play later, a double team on Oraeme dumped more cold water on Letran as the Cameroonian center found a cutting CJ Isit who laid the ball in without any opposition. Five-point Mapua lead with 1:37 left to play. It all went downhill from there as the Cardinals made good on former King Cardinal-now-turned-head-coach Atoy Co’s promise to send the defending champions packing, 77-72.

And for the third time this new millennium, Letran will not be attending the post-elimination round party. They too will be the first defending champion in recent memory not to be in any post-season chase. 

Where did it all go wrong?

You will have to trace that back to the time that former head coach Aldin Ayo split Intramuros for Taft. You will have to look at how long it took for Letran to find a replacement. And ultimately, you will have to look at the fact the coaching staff wasn’t able to replace heavy cogs in the Knights machine in Mark Cruz and Kevin Racal.

Almost every year, players come and go for a variety of reasons. Yet they weren’t able to find replacements for Cruz and Racal. Worse, point guard McJour Luib who was expected to step up his game this year actually regressed. 

The 2015 Knights scored 81.6 points per game. This year’s model averages only 71.5 while holding down opponents to 70.0 points a game. That leaves very little margin for error. Furthermore, their shooting woes also saw a drop in assists from 16.5 last year to 13.2 this campaign. 

Jeff Napa’s Knights actually improved their rebounding from last year’s 37.8 to 41.4 caroms this year. They also had 3.4 blocks; that’s 0.4 more than last season. They also had one fewer turnover this season when compared to their championship run.

So what went wrong aside from the fact that other teams either still have their veteran core or are have re-loaded?

Here’s more of the problem — their pressing, opportunistic full court press under Ayo saw Letran pilfer the ball 9.5 times a game last season. This year, they have opted for a token press and as a result, their steals averaged dropped to 3.8 per outing.

Was surprised at this formation. Normally, they press from the opposite side. Mapua is the third best fastbreaking team while CSJL is like fifth. During this match, the Cardinals finished with only four fastbreak points while Letran had 10. Either they wanted their defense set at the half court of they didn't want to take any chances especially since Mapua was leading by close to double digits at this point. But I don't know.

The other problem is a huge disparity in the minutes of the key players with practically no one stepping up from the bench.

The starters were overworked.
Rey Nambatac played five more minutes a game this year.
Bong Quinto, eight more.
JP Calvo and Jerrick Balanza both added a whopping 13 minutes more of playing time!
Jom Sollano added four more minutes to his playing time.
Felix Apreku, five while McJour Luib was steady at 23 minutes a game. 

Now these seven players all saw heavy action last year in what was more or less a nine-man rotation. No one picked up the slack this year.

The question is, why wasn’t anyone prepared to step up?

To make up for the deficit in scoring, Nambatac had to score seven more points this year from his total from last campaign. Look at the other numbers: Quinto scored 5 points more, Calvo had six more, and Sollano had 2 points additional. That’s expected, right? Unfortunately, with Apreku and Luib not scoring much that proved to be an even bigger problem since they stuck largely to a seven-man rotation.

If you look at their stats from the Filoil Flying V Premier Cup, only Nambatac and Calvo added to their scoring totals. Everyone else’s numbers went down.

In summary, Letran wasn’t able to replace the missing firepower and the bench, well, what bench?

From the time that they played during the summer leagues where they looked really vulnerable, nothing had changed.

Except the fact that they didn’t look as fearsome as they once were.

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