Quick memory test – when was the last time the Green Archers led in the standings?
Was it in 2007? Wait. Wasn’t that when we last won the UAAP championship with a great backcourt tandem of Ty Tang and JV Casio taking care of the ball, and dominant big man Rico Meierhoffer patrolled the paint? That team had depth at all positions, and the scoring load was balanced.
Fast forward to today’s team.
We have LA Revilla promising rookie Jeron Teng on the perimeter, with bigs Norbert Torres, Arnold Van Opstal and Jovet Mendoza manning the middle. Good scoring distribution in the first 2 games.
Another memory question – when was the last time UST beat Ateneo in the UAAP? Anwer: 2007.
Dare we establish a pattern here?
Not So Fast, Buster
Let’s remember that our 2 wins were fashioned at the expense of the “minnows”, teams below us in the power rankings, UP and UE. And that in both games, we were taken to the brink before prevailing in the endgame.
In today’s game, UE looked to erase the ignominy of their 35point loss to NU in the opener by pulling an upset at our expense, and with intent to take their first scalp of the tournament. As expected, they came out battling.
In some respects, the Warriors outplayed our team. They practically battled our taller lineup on even terms, hauling down 40 boards to our 45. They outshot us from beyond the arc, 6 treys to our 5. They rejected more shots, 7 to our 3, and took better advantage of the free throws given to them, making 11 out of 16 while we missed more than we made, 15 misses out of 25 tries. UE also capitalized on our turnovers, scoring 16 compared to our 11 off UE turnovers.
A worrying stat – UE forward Santos was able to operate effectively in the paint, pulling down 14 rebounds (10 offensive!), take 12 attempts, and fish for 9 free throws. He wasn’t the biggest or most physical player out there, but he was able to make things difficult for us. What happens when we face teams with more dominant bigs like UST (Abdul) and Ateneo (Slaughter)?
So How’d We Win?
Well, we took and made more shots, 21 out of 52 against UE’s 15 out of 44. That’s indicative of two things – our defense both limited UE’s looks, and when they did take shots, they were under pressure.
Our offense was also more aggressive in taking the ball to the hoop. While we made 1 less free throw, 10 to UE’s 11, we had far more attempts, 25 to 16. The Archers also shared the ball more effectively, assisting on 15 out of 26 made field goals while UE only had 10 assists on 21 field goals.
While we again had 17 errors, same as in our first game, we forced UE into 16 turnovers. And we took better advantage of our second chance points, scoring 11 to UE’s 5. The Archers also made better use of fastbreak opportunities, tallying 12 on the break compared to UE’s 8.
What Can We Read Into the Win?
Not much. There’s no getting around the fact that the team’s still a work in progress. Why do I say that? Turnovers – consistent at 17 per game. Foul throw shooting – 54% after 2 games on 28/52. Taking care of the defensive boards – we’ve allowed the opponents to crash the offensive boards to the tune of a consistent 16 per game.
And these are supposed to be the teams below us in the power rankings. What happens when we face the stronger, taller teams starting with FEU on Sunday?
Can We Be Optimistic?
Sure we can. After watching our first two games, there are also positives we can look forward to.
End game poise and composure – no longer are the Archers like tissue paper when the going gets tough in the endgame. In the first two games, they immediately responded to the threat by playing aggressive, attacking basketball. No shrinking violets here. There’s no running around in confusion like last year, where they were unable to properly set up the correct play. This season, they seem to know what to do and how to execute. Credit that to the coaches’ preparation and dedication of the players.
Effective patterns and play calling – the plays are different, simpler yet more effective, and seem appropriately designed to attack specific defensive schemes employed by the opponents. Good scouting? Most probably. But also appropriate to the skill levels of the players. And also taking advantage of their particular strengths. Perhaps execution is not as sharp as we’d like, but they’re getting there. Quite nicely, in fact.
Defense – still there, still solid, but without the all-game full court press that probably sapped the energy of the players by the endgame. In fact, the defense seems a tad tighter, better switching, able to handle good ballhandling penetrators, and the secondary defenses able to close gaps very quickly. Oh yeah, we now have a zone defense that actually works and keeps our opponents from scoring, unlike last year where the zone (both our opponents and ours) killed us. In our first two games, we’ve limited the opponents to 31.6% (UP) and 34.4% (UE). That’s pretty good defending.
Offense – consistent and distributed. Our shooting from the field has been consistently accurate – 40.3% against UP and 40.6% against UE today. Not bad. Our attempts are mostly under control, taken in areas where they have a reasonable degree of accuracy. The plays have been designed to get the ball to our shooters and scorers in their sweet spots, where they tend to be more accurate.
Interior play – the improvement in the skills of our bigs has been evident in the first 2 games. Norbert is now given post plays with his back to the basket, and he has developed a number of moves in the paint. Jovet and Yutien have also shown a marked improvement to their already developed inside game. What’s impressive is the defensive coverage of the bigs, who now seem to be able to camp in the paint on defense while still preventing their men from getting good looks.
Scoring – no more 2point quarters (knock on wood). The team can put the ball in the net via a variety of players, from the long distance with LA, Jeron, Luigi, Almond, and Joshua, from inside with Norbert, Yutien, Jovet, and Arnold, and via penetration from our perimeter players like Oda and Jeron who can all drive. The emphasis on skills development seems to have paid off in more effective scoring from a variety of players. Even the rookies like Mark Tallo and Thomas Torres can consistently sink their shots when given an opportunity.
Coaching – definitely an upgrade. There is now a purpose in all the moves on the court, a sense that the players know what they’re supposed to do, and are confident in their ability to execute. More attention to basics and the little details which all add up during the game. Better scouting, planning, analysis, in-game adjustments. Result? Less confusion on the court, more purpose, and continuous learning and improvement.
The team is obviously not yet at its peak, but is showing signs that it will get there in the coming games.
Our first big test is on Sunday against FEU, runnerup for the last 2 years. They’ve lost Ramos and Cawaling, but added former Green Archer Arvie Bringas. Their guard line is probably the best in the league today – Garcia and Romeo, and they have good slashers like Tolomia. They can shoot, penetrate, score inside.
While the Archers are still in their learning curve, the coaching braintrust will probably be the equalizer by preparing the team specifically for the Tamaraws. Expect our offensive and defensive schemes to target points of weaknesses that our coaches have identified from their extensive scouting activities. It will be an interesting study in strategy and execution.