Friday, June 28, 2013

Blue Eagles v2013

Soon after the dust settled on the 5th straight championship of the Blue Eagles under Norman Black in September of 2012, there began whispers about the chances of the next batch to snag a 6th diadem. The 2013 version of the Eagles certainly had a lot of work to do.
Much has been said about the loss of Greg Slaughter, Nico Salva, Justin Chua, Oping Sumalinog and Tonino Gonzaga. Between them, they have a 21 UAAP Championship rings under their collective belts. Add 3 more CESAFI rings for Slaughter. Ditto about the coaching change as Norman Black was being re-called up to the PBA and as of September 2012 no one had any idea who was taking his place at the helm.
There was enough cause for concern and I, for one, couldn't wait for the Fil-Oil games to start. Sure, people used to say that the games in this tournament cannot be compared to the intensity of the UAAP games; lately though, I would have to beg to differ. Aside from tweaking their line-ups and rotation as well as scouting opposing squads, most teams have been taking these games a lot more seriously. Quite a number of games were disputed until the final seconds and a number of confrontations between players had to be quelled.
In a nutshell, the Fil-Oil games usually gave the fans a glimpse of what can be expected of their teams when the NCAA and UAAP seasons began. Ateneo played 8 closely packed elimination  round games. These games had to be squeezed so close to each other because their annual training camp to the US was scheduled 2 weeks after the tourney started. They played 1 game against a CESAFI team (SWU), 4 against NCAA teams (San Sebastian, EAC, Letran & LPU), and 3 against UAAP teams (UE, UST & DLSU).

Ateneo had a very small line-up. Small in the sense that they only played 11 players each game; and with Erram, Porter, Capacio and Babilonia out nursing injuries, the line-up was certainly height-challenged. In the end, often times through sheer will-power, they still managed to compile a 7-1 win-loss record. The lone loss to UST came a day after a hard fought win against San Sebastian. If you ask me, they could have won that game against UST if they had fresher legs.
In the tournament however, new  Head Coach Bo Perasol felt that games against UAAP teams would give him a better gauge of their progress. With that requisite, they ended up with a 2-1 record.

I tried to put things in perspective by checking on player averages (scoring, rebounds, assists and steals) for last years UAAP games and Fil-Oil 2013. By comparing them I hoped to get a better picture of the team's progress.

In terms of scoring, I tabulated the averages of the top six players of UAAP 2012 and Fil-Oil 2013.

         UAAP 2012 Player   Avg.          Fil-Oil 2013 Player      Avg. 

               Ravena         15.69               Ravena               21.75
               Salva            14.31               Newsome            10.13
               Slaughter      13.38               Pessumal              9.5
               Tiongson         8.47               Tiongson               9.29
               Buenafe          6.31               Elorde                   9.13
               Chua               5.31              Golla                     6.5    
          Total                  63.47                                         66.30

One can see that there is an increase of almost 3 average points for the present crew. One should also take note that Buenafe, who only saw action in one Fil-Oil game, was not included in the scoring tally. This is significant in pointing out that there may not be a deficit with the present teams ability to score.

We can also see increases in the scoring contribution of Ravena, Tiongson, Pessumal (.5 to 9.5), Elorde (2.81 to 9.13) and Golla (.77 to 6.5).


Here are the comparative rebounding numbers:

        UAAP 2012 Player   Avg.          Fil-Oil 2013 Player      Avg. 
            Slaughter          9.63           Newsome             10.13
             Ravena             5.44               Ravena                  6.75
             Salva                4.81               Golla                     5.75
             Buenafe            4.81               Pessumal               4.43
             Erram               4.21               Tiongson                4.14
             Sumalinog         2.6                 Elorde                   2.75   
        Total                    31.5                                            33.45

Rebounding has also increased by an average of 2. Erram only played one game and was not included in the Fil-Oil 2013 tally. I fully expect his 2012 numbers to increase significantly once he gets his basketball rhythm.

This should be a good time to bring up Chris Newsome, who will be playing in his first UAAP campaign. He will be a force to reckon with. A smart and intense player who loves to run and jump, he has already had an impact with an average of 10.13 points and 9.63 rebounds. That's .37 rebounds short of a double-double AVERAGE. He was also able to contribute to the bottom line in assists and steals.

The next two tables are the comparative numbers in assists:

       UAAP 2012 Player   Avg.          Fil-Oil 2013 Player      Avg. 

          Ravena               3.5                Ravena                 4.25
          Tiongson             3.33              Newsome              3.38
          Buenafe              2.56              Elorde                   2.5
          Slaughter            1.75              Tiongson               2
          Salva                  1.69              Golla                     1.63
          Sumalinog             .93              Pessumal              1      
       Total                    13.76                                        14.76
 and steals:
        UAAP 2012 Player   Avg.          Fil-Oil 2013 Player      Avg.

          Ravena               1.0                Ravena                  1.37
          Tiongson              .73               Newsome               1.13
          Sumalinog            .67               Tiongson                1.0
          Buenafe                .44              Elorde                      .25
          Salva                    .31              Golla                        .25
          Elorde                   .13              Pessumal                0       
       Total                      3.28                                            4.0

There are also increases in averages for assists and steals. Juami Tiongson had a slight dip in his averages in the last two categories but something tells me he is just waiting for the more intense games of the UAAP. The fire will burn hotter.

Ravena, the spiritual leader of the team, has upped his numbers and has led the team in 3 of the 4 statistical groups. I know he has a lot of energy and is physically strong, I just hope that he will be able to pace himself for the duration. The team needs him on the court and at his best.

Another point guard who will make a big difference this year is Nico Elorde. His confidence has increased and so have his numbers. He will be very important to Ateneo's offensive and defensive plays. The toughness of this 4th year player cannot be questioned.

I am very glad  that Frank Golla was persuaded to  rejoin the team! He has certainly showed a renewed interest in scoring and I sincerely hope that this continues and his shoots the ball with more and more confidence. Of course his experience playing defense in the shaded lane should create a lot of offensive difficulties for opposing centers.

Aside from Coach Bo, the coaching staff is essentially intact and I can see that the communication lines are good. They have always talked about the continuity of their basketball program and this has greatly helped in developing team unity and focus.

I also have a lot of faith in Coach Bo's coaching style and philosophy. Expect him to be a calm center in the huddle when the situation gets tough. It also helps that this early he has been able to get the players to trust in him and his system.

Speaking of "System"...With Slaughter gone and with Erram just starting to get his basketball legs, it will be difficult to lob the ball to the middle and expect a double team in order to get someone open. Having a shorter line up may mean having to rely on more perimeter shooting in order to open up the middle. Coach Bo may have to resort to shooting a bit more from beyond the arc. Not having Pingoy suit up for Ateneo this year may put a crimp on things. His outside shooting will be missed but will be something to look forward to. However, the present crew has shown an improved ability to shoot the 3. During the Fil-Oil Games , these 5 players have put up impressive shooting percentages from the 3 point line:

              Player                      3 Pt. Percentage         
                Pessumal                  57%    (15 of 26)
                Newsome                  42%    (3 of 7)
                Elorde                       40%    (10 of 25)
                Tiongson                   30.3%  (10 of 33)
                Ravena                      25%    (5 of 20)

Von Pessumal has found a deft and deadly touch from rainbow country. Games against Letran (3 of 4) and UE (5 of 7) just showed how proficient his shooting the 3 has gotten. Word on the street is that his injury sustained in the LPU game has not affected his shooting skills.

Two of the core team players failed to see much action in the build-up to the UAAP games.
Buenafe is and always shall be Buenafe. He is in fighting form and should be all over the court. You can always count on him to contribute on an "as needed" basis. If he had a magic mirror just like the evil queen in Snow White, it would tell him that he is still the player with the highest basketball IQ in UAAP land.

Erram, even at half efficiency, is still going to be a reassuring presence in the middle. His toughness and hustle will surely make a big difference. This would be a great opportunity for him to emerge from behind the shadow of Greg Slaughter.

Having a competitive core is one thing. The support that will come from players off the bench is also going to count very heavily on how deep the team will go into the post-elimination round.

Aside from the usual suspects who will be getting a lot of minutes (Ravena, Buenafe, Tiongson, Elorde, Erram, Golla, Newsome and Pessumal) I also feel that Capacio and Babilonia will contribute a lot early on.

There were two rookies who showed glimpses of what they can do with the basketball. Earl Murphy, a 5'10'' shooting guard showed a lot of quickness and spunk on the court. In the game against a rugged (some may say "dirty") LPU team, he held his own and scored 9 points, most coming at a crucial juncture of the game that helped seal the win.

Anton Asistio, a lightning quick guard also managed to put up 5 and 6 points in games against LPU and DLSU despite limited time on the court.

Sophomore point guard Ice Lim is also expected to come off the bench, but with a team heavy on guards he should make the most of the minutes he will get. Possessing impressive upper body strength, on court smarts and offensive capabilities, Lim always comes to each game mentally ready for any challenge.

 Expect Vince Tolentino to show his wares. This rookie forward can bring the ball, rebound, defend and shoot. With an undermanned team, Tolentino got a good amount of playing time during the summer league and although he played  very steady  he needs to add more intensity to his game.

I don't know much about the last additions to the roster. Ivan Enriquez, a 6'4'' power forward was surely brought in to beef up the front line. He reminds me a lot of Jason Escueta, a tough and hard working player who can body up when defending the basket.  The last player, but by no means the least is Fran Asuncion a 5'8'' point guard who I think will have to work double hard to earn a place in this years rotation.

Now people are whispering something very different. The doubts have definitely decreased and talk of the possibilities of another banner year are getting louder. I don't expect this team to be as dominant as the other recent champion teams, although there are  holdover players who have championship experience and know what it takes. If they manage to make it to the post elimination round, then all bets are off. they will have a very good chance of going all the way.

This years version of the UAAP sees a more level playing field. All the coaches have a consensus that 7 of the 8 teams have a good chance of winning the championship. The 8th team (which will remain un-named) can actually also snatch the crown from the rest with the right breaks and attitude.

After their performance in the Fil-Oil games, I would say that the Blue Eagles have a very good chance of nailing a sixth straight title. I got a change to ask Coach Bo Perasol a question recently. I managed to interview him around March of this year when he started to hold team practices and back then he was unsure of what to expect from the team. My question to him was "how did he like his chances now after seeing his teams performance the past few months in practice and in competition?". This is what he said..."although there are still a lot of unknowns and there is a lot of work to do, there is a lot more optimism at this point".

Coaches are usually more guarded of expectations, and I think that the players are happy with their chances. One thing is for sure, everyone is raring to get on the court and play. 

Let the games begin! One Big Fight!
Apologies to Gwyne Capacio, Ivan Enriquez and Francesco Asuncion as I do not have any stock photos. This will hopefully be rectified soon.

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