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.

Friday, July 7, 2017

NCAA Season 93 Preview Part 2: LPU Pirates and AU Chiefs

NCAA Season 93 Preview Part 2: LPU Pirates and AU Chiefs
by rick olivares

Let’s get this out of the way, barring a meltdown of Chernobyl proportions, you have to award one Final Four (possibly even outright finals berth) to San Beda. So that means there are three slots that the rest of the nine-team field will have to fight for.

Who are the challengers? Let’s take a look at two of them.

Lyceum of the Philippines Pirates
Why they are challengers: The time is now. You can say that there’s a sense of urgency even if Wilson Baltazar and Edcor Marata are the only ones graduating. They’ve got a deep and talented team that is a rich blend of veteran talent and rookie potential. Championship windows are open for only so long. You aren’t really sure how long it will be open. Furthermore, why will you wait until San Beda’s young players mature even further? So you have to strike while the iron is hot.

They are no longer the slow and plodding team with clueless players. The Pirates have their veterans (Wilson Baltazar, Mike Nzeusseu, MJ Ayaay, Edcor Marata, and Raymar Caduyac), transferees (Jaycee and Jayvee Marcelino, Ralph Tansingco, Spencer Pretta, and CJ Perez), and rookie (Rich Liwag). But this team will go 15-men deep. That’s the trust and faith that the coaching staff, led by Topex Robinson, has in this team.

They relentlessly trap on defense and they know only three speeds – fast, faster, and fastest. They push up the ball not waiting for opponents to set up their defense and attack. If you ask me, what has galvanized LPU’s offense is the arrival of the Marcelino twins (from Adamson) and CJ Perez (from Ateneo). Theirs is a seamless passing game that has rubbed off on the team. Their excellent court vision and basketball IQ allows them to create and punish defenses.

Yosi Tansingco’s ability to shoot from the outside means he spreads the floor making it easy for the rapidly improving Mike Nzeusseu to attack the interior. More to the three-point shooting, this team is built with the Golden State Warriors in mind – an uptempo offense with terrific passing, incredible perimeter shooting, and well, total team play.

More to the talent available, what makes this team go is the atmosphere of brotherhood that Robinson has instilled. These Pirates play with pride. They are proud of their school. They wish to rise from mediocrity, and they are hungry. Very hungry. Plus, they are well-coached. Those are the right ingredients for a title contending team.

Now, if they can keep the score close against San Beda then have a chance.

Arellano University Chiefs
Why they are challengers: They still have a deep and talented team with loads of big game experience.

What will it take to push them over the top? Kent Michael Salado stepping out of the shadows of Jiovani Jalalon and Lervin Flores getting out of whatever funk he is in.

During the summer, Salado, with skills and talent that can rival Jalalon (save for the moxie) oft deferred and passed the ball. Only later did he start to take control and when he did, Arellano started winning. And Flores’ waking up from La La Land also changed their fortunes. With the two, you have arguably the best at their position in the NCAA.

Now they also have a deep and talented team. Kraniel Villoria can play the 1-3 spots and he had a very good pre-season. Archie Concepcion is like a clone of Allen Enriquez – an inside and outside player who can be darn good on some days and the Invisible Man on others.  

Here though are the question marks – Brylle Meca seems lost in the shuffle and a different role (defensive stopper, really?). Zach Nicholls will also compete for the Invisible Man role as his game has gone south. He was this team’s missing link in the past two seasons – shooting blanks and totally missing the side of a building even if his life depended on it. When he isn’t scoring, he doesn’t do anything. That’s gonna hurt any chances of a pro career unless you are a phenomenal lights out shooter. Ariel Aguilar can help at the combo guard spot but when he keeps looking at head coach Jerry Codinera he gets lost.

If Elie Ongolo-Ongolo can stop being pangulo-pangulo and give solid back-up minutes he will keep Flores foul free and fresh. Look Flores cannot keep all of San Beda’s big men at bay (more so since Adam Gupilan packed his bags after not seeing much playing time during the summer). They have an entire platoon of rim protectors some who can shoot from the outside. While that means Enriquez, Concepcion, and Mike Cañete will have to help, they really aren’t post players or ones inclined to play inside.

I thought that Arellano has greatly struggled in the absence of Jalalon or to a certain extent, Dioncee Holts who was banished.

So this team is a wild card. How far they go depends on themselves. Do they put it all together? Or will they crash and burn effectively closing this team’s run that saw them make the finals in two of the last four years?

It will be interesting to find out.

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