Title Defense Looks Promising for the Ateneo Blue Eagles

Coach Tab Baldwin says the Blue Eagles will have lots of talent next season

The dagger shot was nailed. The final buzzer has made its final sound and was followed by a rain of confetti, flooding the court. These were the scenarios as the Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagles began to celebrate their championship victory against the De La Salle Green Archers after a classic Game 3 win which was not sealed until the final minute of the game. A classic indeed.
It has been a week already since that exciting Sunday night and to celebrate that championship along with other achievements that are made by the other Ateneo teams in other UAAP sports, the entire Ateneo community joined together and held a bonfire at their Quezon City campus. Present there were members of the UAAP Season 80 Men’s Basketball champions headed by Coach Tab Baldwin and Team Captain Vince Tolentino who played his final year for the Blue and White alongside Chubueze Ikeh.
Now that the celebration was done, let’s go straight to the next thing the Blue Eagles will need to focus on after winning their first championship since Norman Black led the team to 5 straight championships: defend the title. Despite the fact that the Blue Eagles will no longer have Tolentino and Ikeh around come Season 81, the core of the championship-winning team will remain intact. In fact, they will even get more powerful- at least on paper when Season 81 opens next year.
That if you will believe Coach Tab Baldwin.
Ateneo has tons of possible players who can suit up for next season. 
Aside from former Blue Eagle, Adrian Wong who is set to hopefully return after missing a season due to injury, the Eagles will have a new foreign student-player in Angelo Kouame. 
Isaac Go, the hero of Season 80, will be expected to play a bigger role next year and so will Raffy Verano. 
Also, former San Beda Red Lion, William Navarro and Fil-Kiwi player, Patrick Maadenberg are included in the choices. 
And lastly, three Blue Eaglets are set to graduate next year namely, Dave Ildefonso, SJ Belangel and Jason Credo. So, this is a headache Tab Baldwin will want to have: choosing among the players whom he believes will lead the Eagles to another championship.

Conclusion

Season 81 will not start until September of next year. Until then, Isaac Go and the rest of the Blue Eagles can have the luxury of enjoying this championship. After all, it has been five years since the last time they’ve won one, right? But at the same time, Tab Badlwin will be working behind the limelight as he prepares the Eagles for its title because of the fact that La Salle will still have 2-time MVP, Ben Mbala next season- for one final season. 

A Wheeler’s Opinion: Will the Blue Eagles Recover?

Or will the Tamaraws bury Ateneo’s 13-1 season for good?

Can FEU prevent another Ateneo-La Salle Dream Finals?
The Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagles had a chance to go straight to the Finals had they swept the elimination rounds. They failed to do so. They also had the chance to go to the Finals during their first Final 4 match-up against the Far Eastern University Tamaraws. And yet, they failed. Horribly. Now? The Tamaraws have the one chance to do something unique: eliminate an Ateneo team that swept the season’s first 13 games before losing to the De La Salle Green Archers in their final game.
The question is:  Can the wards of Olsen Racela finally overcome the twice-to-beat disadvantage?
The answer is:  Yes.
If you look back at how FEU defended Ateneo in the first game, Ateneo did make 10 shots from three but missed 22 shots. All in all, the Blue Eagles shot 36% from the field and that was one of the things that lost them the game.
Another thing that enabled FEU to forge a sudden-death match later was the notable contributions from Arvin Tolentino and Hubert Cani- both used to play for Ateneo before transferring to FEU. Tolentino, a Rookie of the Year awardee, scored 13 points while Cani provided the additional firepower off the bench to score 11 points. If anything, both former Eagles caused the biggest problems for Tab Baldwin and they will be a problem anew should Ateneo fails to defend later.

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The question now for the Blue and White: Can they recover from their 2-game losing streak?
The answer is: Yes. Assuming they go back to how they won the season’s first 13 games- by scoring more and shooting more efficiently.

Don’t Count Ateneo Out. Just Yet.

After FEU handed out Ateneo its second consecutive defeat last Sunday on an 80-67 victory, some people were saying that Ateneo has already lost their killer instinct. While this may be true, we shouldn’t be throwing Ateneo out of the picture. Just yet. Why? 
Sure, Thirdy Ravena and company shot mostly bricks during the first game but once the shots start to drop for Anton Asistio and the rest of the shooters, they will be hard to stop. The key for Ateneo is really simple: Take as many open shots as you can. Build up confidence as they say.
For FEU, defense is an important key to beating an offense-oriented team like the Blue Eagles. 

Conclusion

Ateneo fans can only hope that their team will rediscover how good their team was during their 13-game winning streak. Why? It will help them win later. And it will help them against La Salle in the Finals- should both teams meet again.

A Wheeler’s Opinion: Why Ateneo won’t Win in the Finals against La Salle?

That’s assuming Ateneo sweeps the elimination rounds. And La Salle goes to the Finals, Too

The Blue Eagles are aiming for a possible sweep of the elimination rounds heading into their last 2 games: one of them is against La Salle. 
Sure, Thirdy Ravena soared up for a posterizing dunk in the dying minutes of the Blue Eagles’ 102-83 victory against the still winless UST Growling Tigers. 
Sure, the Blue Eagles were able to keep their undefeated slate with 2 more games to play. 
Sure, they can relax a little bit against the UP Fighting Maroons whom they will face next on Wednesday but knowing Tab Baldwin, he wouldn’t do it. 
It’s not in his character especially being recognized as an international coach. And if you’re facing a team like the Maroons, you should play as if you’re playing against the Ben Mbala-led Green Archers of La Salle because in case you haven’t been watching the UAAP, UP has accumulated 5 wins this season: one of them is against the Green Archers themselves so UP is not the team that Ateneo should be laughing at especially if they want to go straight to the Finals.
Now, La Salle, despite not being the who is on a verge of sweeping their way into the Finals, remains as the favorites to repeat as champions. 
Why? For one, they have the reigning MVP, Ben Mbala who is averaging 26 points per game this season and nobody in the league can match-up against him. 
Another reason why La Salle is still a better team than Ateneo is Ricci Rivero. Rivero has been playing impressive basketball aside from his high-flying dunks. 
Sure, Anton Asistio can knock down three after three after three but when it comes to athleticism, that’s where Ricci Rivero comes into the picture. In fact, it was Rivero’s 19 points that led the way for La Salle against the Blue Eagles back in their first-round encounter which Ateneo won, 76-75.
If there’s one team who is capable of going to the Finals aside from the defending champions, it’s the Blue Eagles. 
Why? They surprised everyone last season when they reached the Finals when everyone thought they wouldn’t even reach the Final 4. They were also the only team to beat La Salle last season. And they gave La Salle everything they had during the Finals and despite La Salle winning the championships thanks to the heroics of eventual Finals MVP Jeron Teng, everyone knew from that moment, Ateneo will be back in the Finals. 
The question is: Can they finally get over the hump and beat La Salle?

The answer is no

Why no? Below are the reasons:

Big Ben is a Big Problem

Sure, Chibueze Ikeh has been playing his best season with the Blue Eagles but Ben Mbala won last season’s MVP for one reason: he caused the biggest problems for his opponents. 
Sure, you can throw two or even three defenders against Mbala but given the fact that La Salle is also loaded with perimeter shooters, it’s not a strategy any coach would employ regardless of Mbala’s performance.
Ateneo may have an emerging Ikeh plus an improving Isaac Go but defending Mbala is entirely a different thing. Big Ben may have scored 18 points against Ateneo back in the first round but we all know he can score more and we can expect to put up an MVP performance come the second-round encounter between both teams on November 12, 2017. And he will be haunting Ateneo should both teams meet again come the Finals. 

Ateneo’s Dangerous Tendency

If there’s one thing that could doom Ateneo’s chances of winning the championship for the first time since the Norman Black era, it’s their bad habit of letting their opponents stay within striking distance before finally stepping on the accelerator late in the game and breaking the game open. This was visible during yesterday’s game between Ateneo and UST where the Growling Tigers were actually within 5 points during the early goings of the Finals until Ateneo stepped on the gas and were never threatened the rest of the way. 
The good thing was: it was only UST. It could have been worse had Ateneo was playing against La Salle. And Ateneo can’t play this way most especially against La Salle because whether Ateneo likes it or no, they were lucky against La Salle back in the first round. They allowed the Green Archers to actually take the lead in the 4th quarter only to win it thanks to a sorry La Salle turnover plus a pair of charities from Mike Nieto. 

Conclusion

Regardless if Ateneo sweeps the elimination rounds or not, we can expect both Ateneo and La Salle to meet again, at least two more times after November 12. For the Blue Eagles, it’s simple: Shut down Mbala and clamp down on defense and you beat the champs. Let the Archers hang around and you can say goodbye to a thrice-to-beat advantage in the Finals. 

Chot Reyes returns as Gilas coach

Vincent “Chot” Reyes is back in mentoring the Team Gilas Pilipinas as he was being recalled to be the head coach of the men’s national team.

Reyes, who spearheaded the former Gilas pool to a silver finish in the FIBA Asia Championship in 2014, replaced Ateneo head coach Tab Baldwin, who was named as the team Consultant.

He even tweeted about being back in coaching the Gilas, in which he refer to as “hot seat”.

Online reports have stated that Reyes’ top requirement for the players who will be representing the country must have an experience in the professional league, which is the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA).

However, this will affect current roster of the national team, as most of them are being pulled out from the UAAP and the NCAA right after they ended their stints in college basketball.

In 2005, Reyes was hired by the PBA as the head coach of the Gilas Pilipinas, leading them to several victories outside the country like the Brunei Sultan Cup, William Jones Cup, and FIBA-Asia Champions Cup.

But in 2014, he was removed from the post and was replaced by Tab Baldwin, to lead the new set of players representing the Philippines in the international stages.