La Salle vs Ateneo Round 1: Not Your Usual Sunday Lunch

On Sunday, the lunch time for La Sallians and Ateneans will not be their usual relaxing weekend family lunch.  Instead, most will troop to the Smart-Araneta Coliseum to fill up the rafters and catch the Green Archers and the Blue Eagles run smack at each other this early in the on-going UAAP Season 77 men’s basketball tournament.

Well, it maybe just the second game for the season for both teams but both will come from different directions.  Ateneo will look to get back to back wins this season after dispatching the Adamson Falcons very easily while La Salle will try to barge into the winning column after letting a win get away from their grasp in their season-opening game against the FEU Tamaraws.

Before everyone gets excited for the battle on Sunday, I would like to share the keys to the game for both teams which may most probably serve as the entrée, main course, and the dessert that all of you may notice (and enjoy I hope) as both teams clash not just for a win but also for bragging rights between rivals on Sunday.  After the loss to FEU last weekend, this should be a realization that everything should be worked hard upon.

Keys to the Game for DLSU:

  • Turnovers – This will be a forever reminder list perhaps for the whole season.  Not unless the team gets an average of below 10 turns a game.  Most of the teams this season have equipped their playbook with a running game in every possible opportunity and Ateneo is one of those teams that have enough personnel to run the floor every time they get an opportunity to do so.  The Green Archers should not give away possessions very easily, focus is mandatory in every movement done during the game.
  • Passing out of the double team from the post – I will not be surprised if we all see this defensive ploy every now and then against the Green Archers.  I consider this as a room for improvement for the Green Archers this season.  In the game against FEU, it seemed that Arnold is still trying to get his rhythm getting used to finding the best possible open man off the double team schemes of the opponents.  If the Green Archers can master this out of their playbook, life will definitely ease a little bit as opponents will now be forced to play zone against DLSU, just to negate the height disadvantage to them.
  • Free throws – The Green Archers missed 10 free throws in their opener against FEU and of course, it paid a lot as DLSU lost by 5 points.  I had no problems though on DLSU’s aggressiveness as it produced 30 free throw attempts for the Green Archers the last time out.  It will be good and I will be happy if DLSU will get the same number of free throw attempts on Sunday and it will be better if all of them will be converted.  Besides, any source of points that will help the team win the game is greatly appreciated.
  • Faster decision-making on offense – There were instances in the last game against FEU wherein I felt the Green Archers forced too much dumping the ball inside even if it meant that the bigs (Arnold, Norbert, and Jason) caught the pass way too far from the low block already.  It came down to playing an isolation set farther from the basket as rather than a low post play.  If there could be variations on offense, it will be better, especially if the opponents already know that the ball will go down to the post.  This point is also connected to the passing out of the double teams key as if DLSU stays with dumping the ball down low, finding the best open man will be a key in providing better scoring opportunities in half-court sets.
  • Defensive rotations – Based from Ateneo’s opening win over Adamson, the Blue Eagles love to break down defenses by beating their man as compared to playing pick and roll sets.  Having said this, the Green Archers’ defensive awareness, speed, and agility will be tested as the Blue Eagles will have to rely on their drive and drop or drive and kick sets if the ball handler’s dribble penetration cannot convert a basket once that player is inside the shaded lane or once the perimeter defense collapses.  During the game against FEU, the Green Archers allowed open looks from the perimeter and this cannot be the case on Sunday as Ateneo can surely bury it from deep.

What to expect from ADMU?

  • Defensive disruptions – What I noticed on Ateneo’s opening win over Adamson was their increased speed on their defensive intensity.  The Blue Eagles were decisive and very aggressive on trapping the ball handler once it crosses the half court line.  This rule applies on whether the Blue Eagles perform their 2-2-1 full court trapping defense or just playing their normal half court defense.  The length and athleticism of Tolentino, Ravena, and Newsome provides avenues for Ateneo to be disruptive on passing lanes to force turnovers and get extra possessions or easy baskets for the Blue Eagles.  This is why I mentioned that the Green Archers cannot be lackluster or lose their focus on the ball because Ateneo can simply get steals and run on the break because of those three mentioned players.
  • Spread offense – Ateneo does very well in spacing their offense allowing their drive and drop and drive and kick plays to work.  In their starting unit, Elorde, Ravena, Tolentino, and Newsome can all bring the ball and make off the dribble moves to beat their defenders and once the primary defense gets beat, it opens up a lot of options on offense, not to mention, those players can also attack the basket and fish for fouls for free throw opportunities.  Yes, DLSU is the bigger team here but if the Green Archers do not hustle up rotating to their man, chances are, it will result to open baskets for the Blue Eagles.  They have proven that they can hit their open medium to three-point distance shots if given to them.
  • Motion offense – If there is no option to breakdown their defenders one-on-one, Ateneo likes to run their motion offense to set up and position their players properly to get into a more comfortable scoring position.  They also love to run pin-downs from the baseline to set up their shooters from hand-off screens, just like what FEU did to free up Mike Tolomia and the rest was history as Mike killed DLSU with four treys from that hand-off play in the process.  Ateneo does this normally to Elorde, Ravena, Pessumal, and Asistio (to some extent against Adamson).  Newsome normally likes to catch the ball at the top of the key off a screen to put himself in a better scoring position.  This will test DLSU’s defensive communication as everyone inside the court should be able to communicate where the screens will come from and who will come out to better position themselves defensively and not give the Blue Eagles any seam to find the open man on offense.

These are just the technical or tangible aspects of the game that we may or may not see depending on how the teams prepare for each other on Sunday.  Personally, there is another key in the game that both teams need to have in order to win, which is composure.  Everyone knows the gravity of a rivalry game and composure is an important key to win this type of a ballgame.

Whoever plays with more composure definitely will have the advantage to win the game.  We have seen good players who all of a sudden cannot perform in a pressure-packed game and we have seen seldom-used players who have performed fantastic, way above from a starter’s performance in a rivalry game.  With a packed arena to watch their performance, for sure, these young gentlemen will be all out not just to make their alma mater proud, but also to etch their names in this rivalry’s history.