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In Your Face!

Let's talk balls.

  1. Round One. And Done.

    So many exciting things happened in Round 1 of the UAAP Season 82 Men's Basketball Tournament that we are a little glad it is finally over, since we indeed need to catch our breath and look over some things.

    Let us begin by taking a look at the official team standings:

    1. Ateneo (7-0)
    2. UP (5-2)
    3. UST (4-3)
    4. Lasalle (3-4)
    5. FEU (3-4)
    6. Adamson (3-4)
    7. UE (2-5)
    8. NU (1-7)

    First things first, so we can get this out of the way already: Ateneo De Manila has swept the first round, and save for their one-point escape over UST, all of their games have been blow-outs, their biggest one of course coming over the weekend at the expense of the UP Fighting Maroons, 89-63.

    How the heck a team that is near the bottom in terms of offense - both in terms of points scored as a team, and team field goal percentage - has been this dominant can be summed up in one word. "Defense. We can always count on our defense," exclaimed Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin in one interview. "Whether we can put the ball into the hoop might be a matter of luck going game to game no matter how well we prepare, but we know consistently what our defense can give us," he added.

    That defense begins and ends with Ateneo import Angelo Kouame, all 6-feet-11-inches of him, has blocked more shots than entire TEAMS. In fact only the Adamson Falcons - as a TEAM - have more blocks than Kouame. And even this might have already changed since the Ivorian big man chocked up another seven rejections against UP over the weekend. With the giant Ivorian patrolling the paint, teams simply cannot get their usual incursions or even second chances at the basket. Kouame also has a 7-foot-6-inch wingspan, great quickness, agility, and natural instincts going after the ball. His teammates can thus gamble more freely going after steals or even doubling and helping everywhere else while he stays home in the lane that is shaded. "It is just insane how much he can cover," rued Shaun Ildefonso in one interview, the NU forward whose team got blasted by the Ateneo by 21 points.

    Everytime Kouame is on the floor his team either builds up a big lead, or they quickly turn a deficit around, and when he has to sit, the Ateneo game starts to falter like a military line in the age of muskets and grape shot. "Alam mo, huwag na kasing lokohin ni Tab ang mga tao, nadadale siya tuwi na lang inuupo niya ng pagkatagal-tagal si Kouame," remarked the ever-sage Mr. Libog. "Andami-dami niya nalalaman na hockey assist at play the right way, pero pag nakaupo si Kouame mga malalaking lamang natin, nagiging five, nagiging nine, muntikan pa tayo sa UST, kailangan mo ba ng hockey assist at play the right way para maka-putback 'yung giant import mo?" he added.

    Even the advanced metrics guys back that up, with Kouame currently a Plus 18 whenever he is on the floor, and a Minus 17 when he sits down.

    Speaking of sitting down...

    UP is still solidly in second place, but uneasy, ironically, must the Maroons sit at present. They've had a couple of one-point escapes, including their last one against Lasalle's Green Archers, thanks to a win-or-die buzzer-beating three-pointer from swingman Juan Gomez De Liano. They can also thank one-and-done Filipino-American forward Jamie Malonzo for muffing a flurry of freethrows in the last minute or so of their game, allowing the Maroons to turn a four-point deficit into a nail-biter of a win.

    These Maroons could just as easily be at 3-4 with their escape acts, but sometimes the good are also the lucky. "We're lucky we have great one-on-one talents on our team," admitted UP head coach Bo Perasol in one interview. "If things break down, as a coach i do not have to worry how to save a possession, because I have easily four or five players who can create and make things happen on their own," he added.

    Kobe Paras, the balikbayan forward, may be the primus inter pares among Perasol's talented one-on-one players with his size, length, athletic prowess, and ability to take the ball strong to the rack, aside from pulling up and also making the occasional trey. His emergence however may have cost Juan Gomez De Liano some possession time with the ball, a role he relished en route to his Mythical 5 Selection last season. Now Juan has taken a backseat to Paras, and even to his older brother Javier, averaging maybe a third of what he put up last season when he helped lead UP to the Season 81 Finals.

    Another missing link is Ricci Rivero, the other transfer student who was expected to pick up where he left off after he suddenly changed varsity address from Taft Ave to Diliman over a year ago. Rivero had a chance to strut his stuff in the first two games of the season as Paras sat out their games against FEU (close win) and UST (blown out by 16). Rivero was ...
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  2. UAAP Dominates Summer Tournaments

    Reigning UAAP champion Ateneo De Manila and emergent powerhouse National University led the UAAP in dominating the Fr Martin Cup and Fil Oil Preseason summer tournaments respectively. UAAP teams also swept the podium in the Fil Oil, with Lasalle coming in second and the Ateneo placing third. Jose Rizal University was the only non-UAAP team to finish near the top, as runner-up to the Ateneo in the Fr Martin Cup.

    Fil Oil numbers showed Ray Parks and Emmanuel Mbe of NU led the tournament in statistical points, as the duo led the Fil Oil Mythical 5, along with Ateneans Kiefer Ravena and Greg Slaughter and Norbert Torres of Lasalle. Parks was named Fil Oil MVP. In the Fr Martin Cup, Slaughter emerged as the best player there according to Gameface metrics, averaging a double-double with over 16 points and 10 rebounds per game.

    On the NCAA side of things San Beda saw its summer run ended with a four-point loss to the Green Archers in the semifinals of the Fil Oil. Julius Armon, the 6-foot-3 Filipino-American swingman who was supposed to see action for the Red Lions this season decided to remain in the United States and did not return with his team. San Beda insiders say it was an amicable enough parting, certainly not as if Armon just flaked and deliberately missed the flight back.

    Without the super athletic Armon, the Red Lions have become a noticeably slower team, far from the red and white expressway they were. Although they have talented guards and active such as Anjoe Caram, Melo Lim and Baser Amer, the perimeter game just has not been as smooth sans Armon. Armon used his superior athleticism to break down defenses and get out in transition, sometimes singlehandedly. This of course led to easier baskets on early offense opportunities. Without him, the San Beda guards look as if they are running a gauntlet instead of busting out for the fastbreak.

    As for the Heavy Bombers, they will still live and by with their guards, like Jon Villarias, Alex Almario and Nate Matute. In their game against the Ateneo, these three picked apart the perimeter defense of the now-vulnerable Ateneo backcourt. Dribble drives, drive-draws and dump passes were the order of the day for the Heavy Bombers, along of course with the long toms of Matute and Villarias. Their great guard play allowed even their undersized forwards like Jon Lopez, Ron Carampil and Ralph Monserat great opportunities against the tall Ateneo timber.

    NU for its part seems to be coming together at just the right pace this time around. Last year they seemed to show too much in the preseason and wound up losing steam as early as the end of the first round of eliminations. Now they are peaking and still picking up by all accounts. Parks has become an accomplished and more willing passer, trusting his teammates more and spreading the wealth. Mbe has benefited the most from this, getting better looks for that jump hook and even the occasional all-alone dunk when defenders get lost on the sliding door, like they did against the Ateneo in the Fil Oil semifinals.

    Lasalle for its part seems to have rediscovered their winning ways. This is a far cry from the Green Archers of last year, when Torres fancied himself a local version of Dirk Nowitzki instead of playing inside like any good big man should. Torres has learned to use his thcik torso and long limbs in gobbling up rebounds, even tough ones that seem to bounce out of his reach. Yutien Andrada has also become a defensive presence with better shotblocking, something they both showed against San Sebastian and San Beda in the Fil Oil. The duo made life tough for Mbe and Parks in the Fil Oil Finals. Mbe may have gotten 15 rebounds in that finale but he sure had to work much harder to get them.

    Jed Manguera has also emerged as a new vital cog for Lasalle. Although the former RP Youth mainstay is homegrown by way of Lasalle Zobel, he was inexplicably kept off the roster during the incumbency of Dindo Pumaren. That was rather strange considering further that Dindo's brother and predecessor Franz was Manguera's coach with the Youth squad. Now Manguera has proven to be more than the gunner he was in high school, playing tough D on Ravena and Parks with strong laterals and the ability to body up and fight through screens.

    Teams from other leagues barely registered during the summer, as Olivarez College, last year's Collegiate Development League finalist, didn't fare so well this summer. NAASCU mainstay STI joined the Fr Martin Cup but had a so-so tournament. Indeed for the summer of 2012, the UAAP reigned supreme.
  3. End of Summer

    With the start of the rainy season according to our weather bureau and the start of classes this week, that brings the summer to an official end. That means in about a month's time the college basketball season will once again commence. But not before the summer basketball tournaments wrap up though. Fr Martin and Fil Oil would have completed their respective quarterfinals by the time most of you read this. No surprises are expected, with the likes of the Ateneo, San Beda, San Sebastian, National University and maybe Far Eastern University and De La Salle somewhere in the mixed bag of teams who will compete for the two summer titles.

    Interestingly enough, the two great rivals - the Ateneo and Lasalle - may yet end up disputing both summer titles. Ateneo was playing Perpetual Help in the Gabby Severino Quarterfinals of the Fr Martin Cup at the sweltering San Beda gym in Mendiola as of this writing. Ateneo will be taking on FEU tomorrow in the Fil Oil at the Arena. Lasalle will take on University of the East in the Fr Martin quarters later this afternoon, while the Green Archers face a much tougher foe in San Sebastian in the Fil Oil quarters tomorrow afternoon. This would be a first in recent summer tournament history and would be a fitting finale for both tournaments.

    As much as that would be ideal for the rabid partisans of both schools, it will also be a boon for tournament organizers. Ateneo-Lasalle championship fights are always a blockbuster. For the record, Lasalle beat the Ateneo for the fifth straight year during their elimination round encounter in the Fil Oil just last weekend 62-59 behind the game-long heroics of prize rookie Jeron Teng. Teng, the 6-foot-2 swingman who set the new Tiong Lian single-game scoring record last season, led the Archers with 17 points, including a high-pressure three-pointer that sent the game into overtime.

    His feats eclipsed the comeback game of star-crossed Blue Eagle swingman Ryan Buenafe. Still overweight, the 6-foot-2 Buenafe, himself a former high school superstar out of San Sebastian, lead the Blue Eagles with 21 points on 62% shooting. Were it not for a last-second play gone awry with Kiefer Ravena, Buenafe might have salvaged this win for the Ateneo. Still, it was a good game for the man who lost a year in the UAAP due to some off-court drama best left to a Law & Order episode.

    San Beda has not escaped the publicity light themselves this summer. At the start of the summer preseason tournaments, the Red Lions were pretty much penciled in as the incoming NCAA champions. After all they did have the formidable duo of 6-foot-8 African import Ola Adeogun and 6-foot-3 Filipino-American swingman Julius "Juice" Armon. Having these two expatriates in the roster all but guaranteed that the Red Lions would be completing their second 3-Peat, a la Chicago Bulls in the Michael Jordan era. Armon however did not return with the team from their annual summer training in the United States. Some reports have it that Armon decided to forego with a college stint and go straight to the PBA D League when he returns to the Philippines.

    Adeogun has not been spared the nagging bite of uncertainty. Some arcane NCAA rule or other supposedly disqualifies an NCAA athlete from competing in his sport if he has been meted a venue ban in any of the other events. So if a basketball player gets into some kind of trouble at say a volleyball event. and that trouble results in him getting banned from watching any of the other NCAA events, that supposedly disqualifies him from participation in basketball or any other NCAA sport. Does that sound like someone we know? This of course is up for definitive clarification in the coming weeks in that oracular assembly known as the NCAA Policy Board. What happens next is anybody's guess. But one might be tempted to ask who, if any, would benefit from Adeogun being unable to play in the NCAA next season? Ask the nine other NCAA teams.

    Even in the face of these manpower developments, the Red Lions are going into the Fil Oil quarterfinals tomorrow an unbeaten team. They have a battle-tested and veteran core who can win it all with or without Adeogun. We will see the Red Lions in the semifinals of this tournament for sure. Check that, we will see them in the Finals. And they may yet arrange a rematch with the Blue Eagles if the Ateneo holds up its end and makes it all the way themselves.

    NU may have something to say about that though, as the Bulldogs have proven that they are a legit powerhouse now. Apart from San Beda they are the only other undefeated team in the Fil Oil. With 6-foot-3 swingman Rey Parks and 6-foot-6 center Emmanuel Mbe leading the way, these Bulldogs surely will take major bites out of anybody they face. They outlasted the Golden Stags in a rough and tumble elimination game here, and pulled the same escape act against the well-coached Adamson ...

 
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