Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Butiki Bullets: Thursday October 29

  • The PBA is considering banning Smart Gilas reinforcement CJ Giles for "missing games". I know games against Gilas count in the standings, and that those throwaway games they played sans CJ gives sister team TNT and Ginebra a slight advantage over the teams who might have to play a full-strength SG team. And yes, conspiracy theorists, it is possible they sat out Giles against TNT so that MVP's other team could gain a little foothold on top. But really, you guys can't give the benefit of the doubt to a guy who may be emotionally distraught after learning his kid might be in a life-threatening situation? If he sprained an ankle and missed two games, would the PBA be banning him in those circumstances as well? Doesn't make enough sense to me, but hey, I don't make the rules.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

KFC PBA Philippines Cup Power Rankings: Week 2

Biggest jumps: TNT, SMB (3 spots); Biggest drops: SLR, ROS, BAR (2 spots)

1 Talk N Text Tropang Texters (Last week: 4; 3-0)
For a team that has their offensive firepower, it’s a little surprising that TNT is getting it done on the defensive end. They’re allowing only 77.4 points per 100 possessions. Only two other teams are allowing less than 90, and no team less than 85. That crazy depth at point guard is also impressive, with starter Jimmy Alapag and reserve Jason Castro combining to average 24.4 points, 10.4 rebounds, 11.7 assists and 2 steals at the position. That’s quality production from that spot.

2 Alaska Aces (Last week: 1; 4-0)
The Aces, as expected, are looking like a top team on defense, but don’t let those points per game fool you. It’s that extremely efficient offense that’s keeping this team on top of the standings. 106.8 points per 100 possessions when the league average is only around 92.5 is fantastic. Alaska has three guys (Willie Miller, LA Tenorio and Reynel Hugnatan) averaging over 15 a game each and three others averaging 9-10 a game. This team has plenty of weapons.

3 Brgy Ginebra Kings (Last week: 2; 3-1)
Mark Caguioa is back on the shelf, but the Kings barely miss the star guard with Ronald Tubid picking up his production. Tubid is averaging 22 points in the last two games and 17.5 for the season. They also got some nice production from JC Intal off the bench this week (12.0 pts, 6.5 rebs). If they keep getting contributions like this, this team will be dangerous when Caguioa and Eric Menk return to active duty.

4 Purefoods Giants (Last week: 5; 2-1)
The Giants pick up an easy win over Barako Bull this week behind 17 points apiece from James Yap and Kerby Raymundo. Purefoods tinkered with their lineup quite a bit in the off-season and the moves look like they’re paying off. Rookie Rico Maierhofer is giving them steady numbers (9 points, 7 rebounds) and has shown the ability to get to the free throw line. Paul Artadi had a nice 8-point, 9-assist game. And while fellow returnee Marc Pingris isn’t putting up the numbers, you know he’ll be big if this team makes it to the Finals. Pingris saves his best for the big games.

5 Sta Lucia Realtors (Last week: 3; 2-1)
With injuries to key guys and some rotation players traded away, nobody really knew how this season would pan out for the Realtors. So far, so good for Sta Lucia. Kelly Williams is flashing a 17-13-3-2-1 line. Gabby Espinas is averaging a double-double. And Joseph Yeo has a nice rounded arsenal, averaging 14 points, 5 rebounds and 6 assists. This new rotation looks solid, especially if Marlou Aquino can ever find his place in it. The 6’9 center is averaging just 2.7 points and 2.7 rebounds in 15 minutes per game.

6 San Miguel Beermen (Last week: 9; 1-2)
It took all of one game for the Beermen to erase all of the doubts about their ability to compete for the championship. Arwind Santos (28 points, 18 rebounds against Burger King) looks like he can replicate Gabe Freeman’s role in the previous conference, if he can just keep his decision-making on the offensive end under control. Denok Miranda gives them plenty of flexibility in the backcourt. As is the norm, chemistry issues will decide where San Miguel finishes this season but talent-wise, they look deadly as ever.

7 Burger King Whoppers (Last week: 8; 2-2)
The Whoppers may have all the weapons they need on offense with Ronjay Buenafe and the always dangerous Gary David on board, but man, are these guys sorely missing Wynne Arboleda right now. While they have lost none of the toughness that has defined this franchise since Yeng Guiao was hired, the defense just isn’t there so far this conference. Losing Arwind Santos in the off-season and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Arboleda to a suspension will do that. Allowing 100.5 points per 100 possessions isn’t going to do, not with so many loaded teams gunning for the championship this year. Burger King will compete, surely. But a deep run into the playoffs look doubtful at the moment.

8 Rain or Shine Elastopainters (Last week: 6; 0-3)
This team is better than their record indicates. They lost two heartbreakers last week, an overtime game to Sta Lucia and a 2-point decision to Burger King. The team looks promising this conference. Gabe Norwood looks very aggressive. Former UAAP MVP Jervy Cruz is solid down low. Despite his lack of size, he’s averaged 8.3 rebounds a game. They’re one of the top defensive teams again this season, but they need Sol Mercado to get healthy and return to form to help save that bad offense they have right now.

9 Barako Bull Energy Boosters (Last week: 7; 1-2)
Barako Bull is tough to play if only because you don’t know who to guard on the team. They’ve been led in scoring by a different guy every game. Of course, they aren’t really that tough to play considering they’ve been led by Yousif Aljamal, Magnum Membrere and rookie Ogie Menor. That lack of talent is going to do them in this conference, and every conference after this if they don’t get new management anytime soon.

10 Coca-cola Tigers (Last week: 11; 0-3)
Coke with Asi Taulava isn’t great. Coke without Taulava is just plain bad. The coaching staff needs to figure out what they want to do with this roster. They seem to want to run, but those lumbering dinosaurs Taulava and Dennis Espino might get in the way. They only have one guy averaging double figures in scoring. That translates to the worst offensive rating in the league, a nasty 78 points per 100 possessions.

11 Smart Gilas National Team (Last week: 10; 0-3)
This team has much more to worry about than just losing PBA games. The CJ Giles situation could be a huge blow to their FIBA campaign. It isn’t a secret that this team of greenhorns can’t compete without a naturalized player, especially this early in their formation. Smart Gilas has averaged an ugly 71 points per 100 possessions in the two games without Giles. The positives? Some guys are already proving they belong in the league. Japeth Aguilar is averaging 13 points, 10.3 rebounds and 3.0 blocks for Gilas. Mark Barroca is norming 18 points, 5.5 rebounds and 9 assists in the last two games. And even Rabeh Al-Hussaini has come up with a big 14 and 10 in his last game. If the bigs can stop turning the ball over and the guards can start hitting outside shots (JR Cawaling, Dylan Ababou and RJ Jazul are a combined 8 for 41 from the field), this team should start competing in the PBA. But that Giles situation needs to be resolved if this team has any plans to go anywhere in international play.

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Butiki Bullets: Monday October 26

  • The San Sebastian Stags won the NCAA title over the weekend. The hardworking boys of Baste came back from a 10-point halftime deficit to pick up the sweep over the three-time champions San Beda. Jimbo Aquino picks up a much deserved Finals MVP trophy after being disqualified from winning any of the elimination round individual awards. Plenty of 4th quarter drama in this game, even with the Stags comfortably ahead. Aquino landing on teammate Calvin Abueva's foot was a scary sight. But not nearly as scary as the image of a bleeding Borgie Hermida after taking a Pamboy Raymundo elbow to the face late in the game. Excellent defensive battle, though. The Stags held the Red Lions to zero field goals in the 4th quarter and that pretty much ended all of their title hopes this season.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Butiki Bullets: Tripleheader Thoughts

  • The Sta Lucia win over Rain or Shine was the first overtime game of the young season. That game reminded me of something Wayne Winston said in an interview over at Truehoop. For the statheads out there, you might know Winston (along with Jeff Sagarin) as the creator of the Winval system, which is basically a sophisticated form of plus-minus. Winston and Sagarin are also the main stat guys behind the Dallas Mavericks. Anyway, he made the argument that when a team is down by two and has the last shot the best math is to go for the win with a three-pointer. He says that a team, on the average, makes a two-pointer about 50% of the time. Teams also generally win overtime about half the time. That means that if you go for two, you only have about a 25% chance of winning the game. Meanwhile, teams that go for three will make it 30% of the time. Sure, his argument ignores other factors like the player match-ups, what the defense gives and if you actually have a shooter who can make threes at a 30% clip. The logic also goes against everything most of us know about basketball. But hey, it’s hard to argue with the math. Case in point, Rain or Shine was down two with 8 seconds to go in this game before Gabe Norwood made a terrific play to force overtime. The Elastopainters went on to lose anyway. So maybe there is something there, after all.
  • Smart Gilas lost by 31 to a very sharp Talk N Text team as they played without three key players. Giles played in limited minutes. Chris Tiu and Rabeh Al-Hussaini were also out. Some positives from the game? Mark Barroca broke out of his funk, tallying 16 points, 8 rebounds and 9 assists. Japeth Aguilar, obviously uncomfortable without Giles beside him, was going after every rebound and loose ball. He finished with 14 and 14. And while the defense is really bad without CJ, it was guys like Dylan Ababou and RJ Jazul who chucked Gilas out of this game. The system takes time getting used to, and hopefully, these guys can learn when they can get their shots in flow of the offense like JV Casio and Tiu, rather than forcing up jumpers at the first sign of daylight.

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Butiki Bullets: Wednesday October 21

  • NCAA player awards are out. John Wilson of JRU is the newly-minted NCAA MVP. Joining him in the Mythical Team is San Beda's Sudan Daniel, San Sebastian's Calvin Abueva, Arellano's Gio Ciricruz and Letran's RJ Jazul. Longtime MVP candidate Jimbo Aquino of San Sebastian was, of course, barred from receiving any individual award after his ejection from the Stags game against San Beda.
  • And not really RP-related, but if you're a fan of the game of basketball, I highly recommend you watch this. Sonicsgate is a new documentary that chronicles the way the city of Seattle lost their beloved NBA franchise. Oh, and available for full viewing for free.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

KFC PBA Philippines Cup Power Rankings: First Looks

College basketball season is almost over, although you can expect to see at least one more NCAA UAAP Power Ranking to tie everything up after the NCAA championship. Meanwhile, the PBA is in full swing. It’s been barely a week and it’s already been the most eventful conference in recent memory. See how the teams stack up.

1 Alaska Aces (2-0)
While most teams retooled during the off-season, the Aces stood pat on their roster. And why not? This is basically the same team that came one game away from winning the All-Filipino conference last season. Willie Miller opened the season with a triple-double, then followed it up with 25 points in a win over San Miguel. Backcourt mate LA Tenorio is backing him up beautifully, averaging 16.5 points over their first two games. Their triangle offense, as always, has been humming. Now if they can only sustain that defense.

2 Brgy Ginebra Kings (2-0)
Ginebra is deep this year. I mean 11-12 man deep. They have nine guys averaging at least eight points per ballgame. And that guard rotation, now that Mark Caguioa is back, is just unreal. Can you believe Powerade Team Pilipinas member Cyrus Baguio is only averaging 13 minutes a game? Eric Menk may have returned to the injured list after just one game, but the team can afford to give him some rest with Jayjay Helterbrand in MVP form (norms of 18 pts, 6 reb, 9 ast) and backup bigs Willie Wilson and Billy Mamaril holding the fort down low.

3 Sta Lucia Realtors (1-0)
The Realtors were impressive in their opening game against Coke. Both Kelly Williams and Ryan Reyes look like they’ve recovered from the injuries that kept them out of Tianjin. Joseph Yeo (14 pts, 10 ast) looks ready to emerge as the third option (and willing creator) after they shipped out former starter Denok Miranda. New recruit Gabby Espinas also looks like a great fit beside the Sta Lucia stars, getting a double-double in his first start with the team.

4 Talk N Text Tropang Texters (1-0)
The usually offensive-minded Tropang Texters struggled on that end early, but ended up with an impressive win over Rain or Shine anyway. Mac Cardona looks ready to lead the league in scoring again. It’s nice to see Nic Belasco on a team that matters again. He’ll be a big help on the defensive end, which is something they really needed to shore up after last conference.

5 Purefoods Giants (1-1)
The Giants look like a better rounded team this season. Rafi Reavis, Marc Pingris and Rico Maierhofer make them a force on the boards. Paul Artadi gives them a pure point guard they can rely on, although the Ginebra experience seems to have made him rather un-shy to take three-pointers. Verdict is still out whether that’s a good thing. Still, this new crew looks good beside the uber-talented James Yap and Kerby Raymundo. This is a very promising product on the court.

6 Rain or Shine Elastopainters (0-1)
They may have flubbed their first assignment, but TNT looks dangerous this season so Rain or Shine gets a pass. New acquisition Mark Telan and Jervy Cruz look like they can help ROS clean glass this season, but they’ll need Sol Mercado, who missed a good chunk of time last season, and Jay-R Reyes to play better than they did in their first game. 13 points combined for those two stars is not going to get the job done.

7 Barako Bull Energy Boosters (1-1)
Barako Bull surprised many when they pulled off their first win this early in the season over Coke. They look like a system team this year, and man, are they going to need it with the severe lack of talent they’re suffering from. When you need a double-double from Yousif Aljamal, you know you’re in trouble. This looks like a team full of role players, but if they can be good enough at their roles, maybe this can work. At least enough to keep them out of last place.

8 Burger King Whoppers (1-1)
The Whoppers haven’t looked all that bad this year, although the loss of Arwind Santos forces a change of philosophy. Last season, they manufactured a lot of offense off of their superior defense. This year, with Ronjay Buenafe taking his place beside Gary David, they look much better on offense. The question mark will be the defense, though. That, and the fact that they’ll be losing Wynne Arboleda for the season after his courtside assault on a PBA fan.

9 San Miguel Beermen (0-2)
Surprised to see them this low after winning the last available championship? So am I. However, they’ve looked a totally different team from the one that won the previous conference. I suppose trying to replace Jay Washington and Marc Pingris with chuckers Arwind Santos and Lordy Tugade will do that. J-Wash and Pingris would never combine for 0 for 17 from the three-point line over the first two games. Washington is too good a shooter for that. And Pingris would never even dream of attempting that many.

10 Smart Gilas National Team (0-1)
They dropped their first assignment, a highly physical (and dirty?) encounter with the BK Whoppers. However, there were plenty of positives for this very young squad to take away from the game. They were able to compete for most of the game with CJ Giles in limited minutes (foul trouble) and the bench totally out of sync. And the 105 points they scored was the most by any team this season, with the exception of the team that beat them. Also, 41.7% from three-point range.

11 Coca-cola Tigers (0-2)
The Tigers not only get dubious distinction of being Barako Bull’s first victim, they also lost Asi Taulava to injury. I’m not sure how much time it’s going to cost the Powerade Team Pilipinas stalwart, but Coke definitely looks like it needs all the help it can get. I wonder, would it be more discouraging to be the first victory of Barako Bull or the first victory of Smart Gilas. Well, maybe Coke can end up being both.

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View from the Backboard: did anybody see that one coming?

San Sebastian is a terrific team.

A legitimate MVP candidate in Jimbo Aquino. The second-best big man rotation in the league with Ian Sangalang, Gilbert Bulawan, Calvin Abueva and Dave Najorda. A natural scorer off the bench in rookie Ronald Pascual. Plenty of veteran shooters in Pamboy Raymundo, Anthony del Rio and even Raymond Maconocido. 15 consecutive wins in the elimination round.

This is a very talented team, with a fantastic coach that has brought everything together. Ato Agustin may be new to the coaching business, but he knows his basketball. In a year where they lost their top scorer in Jim Viray and the likely MVP of the NCAA if not for a rule that bars players from non-Final Four teams to win the prize in Smart Gilas National Team member Jason Ballesteros, this should have been a team that would get weaker, and not stronger.

But now they’re heading into the NCAA Finals.

San Sebastian no doubt has the tools to blow any team in the league right out of the building. Still, did anybody expect them to get into the finals as easily as they did? Right off the bat, the dangerous Stags built a 19-point advantage and spent the rest of game keeping the JRU Heavy Bombers at bay.

A little anti-climatic?

I guess, but it wasn’t like the Heavy Bombers weren’t trying. They worked hard, but the outside shot just wasn’t falling for them tonight. JRU shot 1-20 from the three-point line as a team, missing their first 18 attempts. That one conversion was made less than two minutes to go in the game when Jhe Agas banked in a three from the left elbow.

Yes, he banked it in. And I don’t think he meant to at all.

We talk quite a bit about the law of averages on this blog, especially when the UE Red Warriors are involved, but it just wasn’t there tonight. After going 0 for 9 in the first half, even Butch Maniego expected them to start making their threes in the second half. No such luck.

JR Sena showed up tonight, sort of. And I know he turns the ball over a lot, and he’s prone to making offensive fouls. He hasn’t been a guy who makes the most of his touches. Not this year, at least. But they should have pounded it more to him.

His midrange game was on target. He drew a nice number of fouls. And in a game where the three-point shot just wasn’t falling, they should have just went for the high percentage shots and gotten to the line.

For a brief stretch to open up the third, that strategy worked. Sena, along with John Nchoutu Njei and Marvin Hayes, pounded it in the paint. (They had to, since none of these guys can stick a three). The Bombers got to the line. That big lead shrunk down to just eight. And then John Wilson and Agas came into the game and pretty much chucked their team out of the game.

By the time the quarter ended, the Stags had it back up to 20.

It was just an ugly game, from the opening tip. I guess the final score indicates that. San Sebastian 79, JRU 64. Low scoring games aren’t usually pretty. But kudos to the Stags for knowing how to win ugly.

Abueva was his usual self, grabbing every rebound and loose ball. He roughed up Hayes quite a bit, too. His game personifies ugly, but that gets the job done. The consistency of his energy is unmatched. This guy looks like he never gets tired, and that’s huge for this team.

Everybody chipped in. Bulawan played his hard-nosed brand of defense. Raymundo was making the nifty passes that were missing in their games against San Beda. Pascual and del Rio hit big threes whenever their team needed it. Even skinny point guard Eric Gatchalian made a couple of big plays against the JRU defense.

And Jimbo? He started the game off right, putting his full arsenal of offensive moves on display. He missed his share of open threes in the second half, but by that time, they had a big enough lead that it didn’t matter.

But it doesn’t do to talk about what each individual did, because these Stags are much more than just the sum of their parts. The crisp ball-movement was there. The spacing on offense was just right. They challenged every shot and battled for every rebound.

And they won; which is the important thing, really.

So now, it’s down to two. The San Beda Red Lions and the San Sebastian Stags. Number one versus number two.

This should be interesting.

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Butiki Bullets: Monday October 19

  • Did anybody think that Barako Bull would get its first win of the season before San Miguel would? Well, they did.

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Butiki Bullets: Saturday October 17

  • Lost in the headlines of the Wynne Arboleda incident is the result of yesterday's NCAA Final Four games. San Beda stormed into the finals for the fourth consecutive year. Meanwhile, San Sebastian and JRU are playing for the other spot in a do-or-die game on Monday. Both losing teams, San Sebastian and Letran, got fantastic performances from rookies. Kevin Alas finished with a career-high 24 points in a performance reminiscent of LA Tenorio's gutsy exploits in the 2001 UAAP Finals. Stags rookie Ronald Pascual, meanwhile, is quickly establishing himself as a star. He has good size, nice scoring ability, and a lot of quickness. Kind of reminds me a little bit of Kevin Durant. Both in looks and in game.

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Looking for Someone to Ban? Here’s Wynne Arboleda

wynne arboleda and a fan

It’s almost funny, now, the way the Burger King Whoppers front office was hurling threats of a lifetime ban at rookie Japeth Aguilar for refusing to sign a contract with the team that drafted him. If you’re looking for somebody to ban, someone who really deserves it, look no further than your own bench.

In what was one of the more surreal moments in PBA history, Burger King point guard Wynne Arboleda went charging into the front row of the stands and threw a kick and several punches at a fan, later identified to be Alain Katigbak, during a game against the Smart Gilas National Team. Katigbak, a fan of the Smart Gilas, was said to be hurling invectives at Arboleda and the Whoppers all game long. At some point, the highly physical BK point guard just cracked, and maybe put his career in jeopardy by going after the fan.

It was shades of Malice at the Palace, the infamous brawl that involved then-Indiana Pacers forward Ron Artest. Anybody who saw that frightening scene, where Artest was surrounded by panicked fans, throwing punches at whoever was close enough, would never forget it.

The Arboleda incident was much of the same. Wynne claims after the game that Katigbak was “not there to cheer for (Smart Gilas)” and was instead “looking for a fight.” TV replays clearly show he was not. When Arboleda attacked Katigbak, not once did the fan hit back. He threw up his arms over his head and defended himself.

Arboleda is also quoted as talking about fan responsibility. That was a topic widely discussed in the aftermath of the Palace brawl. And while I agree that there should be a certain level of decorum that spectators should observe, players like Arboleda should be the last people responsible to bring them to justice.

This issue is less about fan responsibility, and more on player responsibility. After all, this is the third time in the calendar year where a player has had an altercation with a fan. This, though, is the first time TV cameras witnessed a player putting his hands on the spectator and dish out physical abuse.

Arboleda can say what he wants about fans “crossing the line” with their comments. Both Marlou Aquino and Danny Ildefonso claimed that insults were directed to their families, which prompted them to action. But one can respond in the like, verbally, and we can all go on with our lives. Arboleda “crossed the line” literally when he went over the divider and into the stands and attacked Katigbak.

Utterly unacceptable.

If a fan were to rush onto the court and hit one of the PBA players, we would be crucifying the person on the spot. There is no reason for us not to do the same with Arboleda.

Ban him from the PBA.

Artest got away with a lengthy suspension. Teammate Stephen Jackson, who followed Artest to the stands, was given a suspension, too. Arboleda should not be allowed to get away with the same. The case is different. In the Artest incident, TV replays clearly showed the fan initiating the melee by heaving a cup of beer at Artest. That crossed the line. While I don’t condone Artest’s actions, I can understand it. It was, in terms we basketball fans can understand, second motion.

Arboleda’s was not. Ginebra team manager Allan Caidic, who was present at the venue, says that the fan truly was abusive with his language towards Burger King. But foul language and physical attacks are two different things. And especially so in the context of fan-player interaction.

Ban him from the PBA.

And consider how it all played out. Smart Gilas came into the game ready to play basketball. Burger King, it seemed, came ready for a fight. Arboleda, in particular, looked like he was out to end somebody’s playing career. There were four flagrant fouls called on the Whoppers in the first half of action. One was on Gary David, a call I disagreed with, actually. David hit his guy hard, but it was not a dirty play. The others, though, were.

Arboleda got away with only a regular foul when he clotheslined former DLSU Green Archer JV Casio on a drive. Later in the half, he threw an elbow to Casio’s face while fighting through a screen. That was his first flagrant foul. BK rookie Ronnie Matias got in on the action when he sent Smart Gilas captain Chris Tiu sprawling with a well-directed hit to the chest off a rebounding situation. And it all blew up on a play when Mac Baracael got out on the break with only Arboleda to beat. Instead of going up to challenge the taller Baracael’s shot, Arboleda chose to go under, what we like to call “sahod”, to keep the Smart Gilas forward from scoring.

At this point, no one except the staunchest of Burger King supporters were being fooled into thinking this was a basketball game. This was a message, plain and simple, to the Smart Gilas boys masquerading as men as a guest team in the rough-and-tumble PBA.

Don’t mess with us, Burger King said.

And it worked. Tiu later blogged that they “expected (the physicality), but we didn’t see it coming this bad” and “our players became hesitant to drive to the basket and dive for loose balls.” Burger King turned a 13-point Smart Gilas lead in the 2nd quarter into a 10-point victory at the end of the game. Tiu called it “a fitting initiation for us in our debut game in the PBA.”

It’s difficult to take Arboleda seriously, then, if and when he attempts to show remorse over his actions with Katigbak. If anybody was out there looking for a fight, it was Wynne.

And that’s no surprise, considering who was coaching him. Yeng Guiao was the coach once caught on TV giving instructions to his players to intentionally hurt the opposing team. Yeng Guiao was the coach once thrown out of the game after he elbowed Dondon Hontiveros when the SMB player hit a three in front of Guiao’s bench. Yeng Guiao was the coach who nurtured the now-notorious Jimwell Torion, famous for breaking Jimmy Alapag’s nose in garbage time. And yes, Yeng Guiao was the coach humiliated by Rajko Toroman and Smart Gilas during the charity game rout over Powerade Team Pilipinas.

Katigbak may have his faults. And so does the Araneta Coliseum management for not doing more to prevent the situation. Had they kicked the fan out when he began to be abusive, this whole thing would never have happened. Had the big guys in yellow, the supposed “bouncers”, stepped in earlier, Arboleda would not have had the opportunity to take so many cracks at Katigbak.

(Apparently, there’s a rule that the bouncers are not allowed to touch players.)

Regardless, Arboleda crossed the line, plainly and simply. He was wrong, and he deserves much more than a slap on the wrist for this. He is a professional basketball player. And he has a responsibility to remain professional. His actions last night, both on the court and off it, exposed him as a goon. Not a professional.

There is no place for people like that in this league. There is no excuse for those kinds of actions in this league. Don't give him a suspension or a big fine. His actions don't deserve that kind of leniency. This is an unprovoked player, going into the stands and beating up a fan. Yes, a fan. That could have been you, and that could have been me. Because apparently, for guys like Wynne Arboleda, that barrier that separates the stands from the court does not exist.

His actions don't deserve any leniency. Ban him from the PBA.

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Wynne Arboleda Hits Fan

There is no place for this kind of behavior in a PROFESSIONAL basketball league.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Butiki Bullets: Thursday October 15

  • Have we seen the best of Ryan Buenafe? Rick Olivares of Bleachers Brew briefly touches on the topic of the talented sophomore. He says Buenafe has "played two different roles on (Ateneo's) past two title teams." Last year, he was a pretty reliable finisher. This year, he was a regular ball-handler for the second unit. He also expanded his range to beyond the three-point line. In the finals, he also emerged as a decent defender. Seems to me like he could eventually end up doing pretty much everything.
  • What do you suppose the Ian Sangalang versus Sudan Daniel match-up will look like three or four years from now? San Sebastian's Sangalang is already a terrific finisher in the paint, and San Beda's Daniel is a special shot-blocker. How much better will both get with one guy pushing the other year after year? I, for one, am interested in finding out.

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NCAA Final Four: Time to Get Real

Well, one league has wrapped up its season, but college basketball is very much alive. After a very long season (10 teams make for plenty of games) of easy wins for the NCAA elite teams, the difficulty level is kicking up a notch. No more blowouts and gimmes for anyone now, it’s time for the Final Four.

Viewers already got a small taste of the action as the scheduling gods squeezed in many of the match-ups between the top 4 teams into the final playing dates of the eliminations. And if those games are any indication, here’s what to expect from the semifinal round: lots and lots of physicality.

San Beda Red Lions (1; twice to beat) vs Letran Knights (4)

Now this series would have been much more interesting pre-Rey Guevarra’s injury. The Knights have been bothered by depth concerns all season long, even with the high-flying Guevarra on the roster. However short their rotation is, one thing Letran won’t be short on is heart.

RJ Jazul is one of the better talents we’ve seen in the NCAA in a while. But after him, there’s a pretty significant drop in talent and experience. Jam Cortes is a nice option down low, if he can only keep himself out of foul trouble. Kevin Alas and his bag of dirty tricks will be on full display. For a freshman, he sure has veteran trickery down pat. John Foronda is a serviceable big man. He’s no star, but he can get the job done in the paint. Sometimes. Kirk del Rosario is tough. Junjun Alas is a wide body. And that’s pretty much it. I know it doesn’t seem like it, but I’m already being generous with my praise as it is.

The Red Lions, meanwhile, will be rolling out what is arguably the deepest bench in the NCAA. Sudan Daniel is head and shoulders above the competition, athletically-speaking, although he’s still raw in many aspects of the game. Garvo Lanete has turned himself into a pretty sweet scorer. Borgie Hermida is returning to his old dangerous form. And the other names I’ll roll out? You don’t have to know what they do well, but know that they will, indeed, do it well. Dave Marcelo. Jake Pascual. Bam Gamalinda. Rome dela Rosa. Jay-R Tecson. Anjo Caram. That’s a whole lot of depth right there. And ‘Baby Shaq’ JR Taganas isn’t even dressing of late.

(On a side note, can we stop calling him and every other chunky big man who was any good in high school ‘Baby Shaq’? His game is a lot more Glen ‘Big Baby’ Davis than Shaq, anyway. I propose we start calling him ‘Big Baby’ Taganas instead.)

But if the second round meeting is any indication, this series will be no cakewalk. Oh, it may seem that way in the scoreboard. But San Beda is going to have to bleed to get their points, maybe literally, this time. The Knights’ championship aspirations may have faded a while back, but there’s plenty of motivation for this ragtag squad. Aside from the fact that these two schools have been rival teams for a while now, the two games they’ve had this season have been physical affairs. The first game almost turned into a brawl at the final buzzer while the second game had the Lanete stomping incident on Aloysius Taplah, which ended up ironically, into the ejection of Letran coach Louie Alas. Oh, and Guevarra’s injury happened in that same game. Yes, plenty of motivation for both teams.

Still, too much talent for the San Beda side. I’m guessing San Beda in one.

San Sebastian Golden Stags (2; twice-to-beat) vs JRU Heavy Bombers (3)

Now this is an interesting match-up. Both teams spent much of the season on top of the standings with San Beda, but one of them won’t even get past the Final Four. In one of those few years where there are three legitimate contenders for the championship, nobody wants to be remembered for coming in third.

Both teams are deep, physical, athletic and have size. Also, these two teams are the only teams who have beaten San Beda this season. That says something about the quality of both squads. In terms of head-to-head meetings, the Stags hold a 2-0 edge, although that second round meeting was pretty close. However, Baste has lost two in a row, and three of their last four games. Momentum, I guess, is on neither team’s side.

Some nice personnel match-ups, too. The series will feature two of the top scorers (and MVP candidates) in the NCAA in Jimbo Aquino and John Wilson. There’s the bizarro Marvin Hayes and Calvin Abueva match-up. Abueva plays like a younger version of Hayes (although, if the overage rumors are true, Hayes might actually be the younger version of Abueva). The battle of the beanpoles in Ian Sangalang and Etame Joe. Veteran guards in Mark Cagoco and Pamboy Raymundo. John Nchouto Njei against the laws of physics. JR Sena versus himself.

(Seriously, what’s up with Sena this year? Love the dude, but he’s got to start playing better if he wants to make the San Miguel Beermen roster after the NCAA season.)

Baste edged out of JRU in the second round despite having Gilbert Bulawan ejected and Abueva fouling out in the third quarter. However, that was a strange game in that the usually hot-shooting Heavy Bombers couldn’t hit a three-pointer to save their lives. Don’t expect for that to happen again, although the Stags defense might have something to say about that.

San Sebastian will be toting a twice-to-beat advantage, but will likely play that first game without Aquino, who was ejected from their playoff against San Beda. Ejections usually come with a matching one-game suspension. Without Aquino, the Stags are still dangerous as they showed in the San Beda game. Still, they’re a better team with Jimbo than without so this is going to hurt.

JRU’s success will probably depend on how quickly they get adjusted to Etame Joe’s presence. His only significant court time has come in the last two games, after spending most of the season sidelined by injury. Now’s not the best time for tinkering with lineups, but at least they’re adding talent, rather than subtracting it. The FEU Tamaraws tried the latter, and see how that turned out.

It all probably comes down to who shows up. In San Sebastian’s pair of losses to San Beda, main guns Aguino and Raymundo weren’t their usual selves. For the Bombers, Wilson also has a penchant for disappearing in big games.

Still, when push comes to shove, someone from the Stags always seems to get ejected (Bulawan against JRU, Jimbo against Beda). I don’t know if this Baste team is as prepared to handle adversity as well as they can hand out beatdowns to the rest of the NCAA. I’m going out on a limb by saying JRU in two. But much respect for the San Sebastian team. I would not be surprised if they prove me wrong.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Butiki Bullets: Wednesday October 14

  • Early thoughts on the PBA season. Alaska is looking good. They struggled at the beginning of their game against Barako Bull, but were impressive as they closed out with a 16-point win behind a triple-double from Willie Miller. San Miguel, meanwhile, has plenty of chemistry kinks to work out. They look a long way from the team that won the Fiesta Conference last season. Gabe Freeman (import), Jay Washington (injured) and Marc Pingris (trade) are out and Arwind Santos, Denok Miranda, Danny Seigle and Lordy Tugade are in. Also, Samigue Eman looks like he's finally cracked the rotation. Meanwhile, Ronald Tubid is still Ronald Tubid. He drew flagrant fouls on two separate instances in the Ginebra win over the Beermen.
  • Caught some more ABL action as the Brunei Barracudas faced the KL Dragons. It was nice seeing Don Camaso, Kiko Adriano and Leo Avenido in action again. All three are imports for the Barracudas, who won 94-76.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Two Steps Ahead

Does Franz Pumaren have it all planned out, or does he make things up as he goes along?

The multi-titled DLSU coach has just resigned from his longtime post, leaving the reins to brother Dindo. Pumaren will be pursuing further political aspirations, and his focus has to be on the 2010 elections. Now, Dindo is a decent coach, (albeit ‘cursed’?) but he’s no Franz Pumaren. So you can expect some repercussions.

The most glaring will probably be in recruitment. Many young players make their decisions on which school to attend based on who their coach will be. And really, Franz Pumaren is one of the coaches that can sway a prospect one way or the other. There have been rumors, for example, of Ateneo Blue Eaglets phenom Kiefer Ravena leaning towards attending La Salle because of the coaching he can get under Pumaren.

(There are also rumors about Junior Archer Gwyne Capacio leaning towards attending Ateneo, for opposite reasons. FEU head coach Glen Capacio, and father of Gwyne, is said to be not too fond of the Pumarens. That would make a great story, if Ravena and Capacio somehow face each other in the finals again, only this time, they’ve swapped jerseys.)

So don’t expect the Green Archers to have the strongest recruiting pitch in 2010; not without Franz at the helm.

But here’s the thing, DLSU couldn’t care less.

No blue-chip recruits? No problem. This is the perfect time for them not to have any. Pumaren has already stockpiled on rookies both from the RP Youth Team he once coached (and quit coaching after he got commitments from his boys to go to Taft for college) and from the high school ranks. Arvie Bringas, Sam Marata, Joseph Tolentino, Yutien Andrada. With that kind of youth, you can afford not to have rookies for at least another year.

And it isn’t like Pumaren doesn’t have guys coming in as rookies this year either. RP Youth stalwart Norberto Torres spent last year establishing residency at the DLSU campus and will be eligible to play next season. Former JRU high school standout and NCAA Jrs MVP Keith Agovida is also rumored to have been part of the DLSU Team B as early as this year, even though he wasn’t scheduled to graduate high school until March of 2010.

In fact, the more you think about it, the more it makes sense that Franz went out of his way to coach the RP Youth team and went on that recruiting frenzy last season. Pumaren knew what his political plans were, and maybe all that was in preparation for this upcoming season; a season he knew he wouldn’t be around to help recruit for.

The man thinks a step ahead.

But there’s more. Rumor has it that his resignation from the head coaching position at DLSU isn’t quite what it seems. Think of it as a leave of absence, because Pumaren is said to be returning to his old seat at the bench after the elections. Meanwhile, it wouldn’t do his brother, the new head coach, any favors if they know he’s just an interim head coach. Thus, the resignation.

Yes, they say Pumaren will be back in green by 2011. Right in time to attempt to pry Ravena away from Katipunan.

Let me correct myself. The man thinks two steps ahead.

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Butiki Bullets: Tuesday October 13

  • Japeth Aguilar is on his way out of Burger King and on his way to TNT. BK, as usual, is looking to acquire draft picks instead of players who can actually help the team win. Rey Joble of Manila Standard guesses that the Whoppers are looking at Barako Bull's draft pick, which is owned by the Tropang Texters from a previous deal. If this pushes through, BK potentially owns the top three picks of the 2010 PBA draft.
  • Frankie Lim and Ato Agustin deserve credit for leading their respective teams to a playoff for the top spot in the NCAA. But man, how fortunate are these guys with their rookie classes? Usually, rooks take time to get used to playing in the league but San Beda's Sudan Daniel and Rome dela Rosa and San Sebastian's Ian Sangalang, Calvin Abueva and Ronald Pascual are all such gems that both teams barely even miss last year's veterans.
  • Nice little feature on UE mentor Lawrence Chongson on Bleachers Brew. I may have given coach Lawrence a lot of flak this year, but the man is a class act. Remember their Game 2 win in the UAAP finals? Instead of dribbling out the clock, UE guard Paul Zamar decided he wanted in on the scoring action and took a last second three-pointer to beat the buzzer. Chongson was visibly upset at his ward for not taking the higher road. After rushing to Norman Black to say some quick apologies, Chongson went right at Zamar and chided the youth for the act. Shots when the game is out of reach has been a common practice in Philippine basketball, unlike in other countries where it is perceived as a lack of sportsmanship. Still, it's nice to see a coach that taking so strong a stand on the matter.

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Butiki Bullets: Sunday October 11

  • The RP Patriots win their first assignment in the ABL. Rob Wainwright made ABL history by scoring the very first basket in league history en route to a 76-69 win over Indonesia Satria Muda. Brandon Powell led the Patriots with 18 points while Wainwright finished with 15. Rensy Bajar, an import for the Indonesian team, scored 11.
  • Some interesting information about the PBA's current rookie class. Quinito Henson of the Philippine Star reports that out of the 18 rookies selected in the 2009 rookie draft, three did not make their team's lineups. JR Sena, Edwin Asoro and PJ Walsham are not part of the teams that drafted them. Undrafted free agents Bryan Faundo and Jim Viray made the Barako Bull team while Josh Urbiztondo was picked up by Sta Lucia. Former San Sebastian star Jam Alfad, who joined the PBA draft in 2004, will also be a rookie this year.

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

UAAP Finals: Discipline Wins Out

They almost had us fooled.

Everybody knew going into the championship that the Ateneo Blue Eagles were the stronger team. They had the personnel. They had the system. They had the championship experience. UE never stood a chance.

But by Game 3, the upstart Red Warriors had us convinced that they could take it to the defending champs. That, after years of choke jobs and heartbreaks, they were finally ready to win it all.

***
The UE Red Warriors had a heck of a series. Despite the Game 1 loss, they proved they could hang with the Blue Eagles under the toughest circumstances. In Game 2, they showed they had the tools to blow out what was widely considered to be the best team in the league. There was no doubt in anybody’s minds that they had transformed into a very real threat to the win the crown.

However, the warning signs were there.

If you followed the UE team this season, you know this is a team that can defy logic. They take some really ugly shots, shots that will have you screaming for these players to be benched as soon as they release the ball. Then, they’ll have you sitting back down in mild embarrassment as the ball swishes through the net. They take the worst shots, but they convert. And on the next possession, they’ll do it again.

But if there’s one law that UE has never been able to defy this year, it’s the law of averages.

That has been the number one thorn on the side of UE all season long. Remember how they built a 17-point lead on Ateneo in their first round meeting in the eliminations, only to see it turn into a 15-point Blue Eagle victory. They can turn it on and hit every shot from anywhere on the court, but they can turn it off just as quickly. This team has players that, in stretches, can play outside of their normal capabilities; heck, outside of anybody’s capabilities in Paul Lee’s case. But the law of averages always finds a way to balance it all out.

And in the series, UE had been playing really well.

I don’t mean everybody, of course. Lee and Val Acuna were playing as usual; spectacular in stretches but averaging a dismal 21% from 3-point range combined in the first two games. For two players who have proven again and again how good they are as shooters, 21% just looks like a horrible number.

But in Game 2, Elmer Espiritu and Pari Llagas were making everything from the outside; 16-24 from the field, and a mind-blowing 5-6 from beyond the arc. They turned the perimeter into their own high-percentage playground and the results were fantastic: a 20-point victory over Ateneo. Meanwhile, UE guards Rudy Lingganay and Raphy Reyes were averaging 16.5 points, 11.5 rebounds and 6 assists combined for the series. Those are fantastic numbers for what has looked like UE’s weakest point on the floor.

But this is exactly the kind of thing they’ve done all season. Go nuts and torch the opponent; then lose all steam and let them climb their way back into the game.

I always thought that a UE victory was dependent on the timing of their big run. Every game, they had that huge run that would either blow the game wide open in their favor or allow them back in the game after falling behind big. Sometimes, the run falls short and they lose the game. Sometimes, like in the earlier referenced first round meeting with Ateneo, it comes too early and the opponent has time to get back in it. Against FEU in the second round, they made a huge run in the second half that the Tamaraws couldn’t recover from. The timing had to come at just the right time, if the Red Warriors wanted to escape with a victory.

The championship series, of course, was three games long. And it seemed like UE was able to pace the series as if it were just one game. The big run came in the form of the Game 2 blowout. But one had to be concerned if they had anything left for Game 3.

***
Over on the blue side of things, things must have been a little shaky. After losing only one game all season long, in a lackluster effort against the surprising UP Fighting Maroons, the Game 2 loss was a harsh wake up call for the Blue Eagles.

This was a team that had three players (Rabeh Al-Hussaini, Nonoy Baclao and Eric Salamat) that could start on any other team in the league. Usually, that’s an exaggeration, but Baclao’s ability to slide to either center or power forward and Salamat to either guard spot makes the statement true. I checked.

They have a fourth player, the incredibly talented Ryan Buenafe, who at times, looks like he should be starring on his own team. They have one of the best shooters in the league in fifth-year guard Jai Reyes. And they have a platoon of role players who know exactly what they’re supposed to be doing out on the floor.

And yet, they were one game away from elimination.

This was a team that was known for its discipline. I’ve many a time commented on how impressed I’ve been with their patience in setting up Al-Hussaini in the post. This was a team that picked its shots carefully. No surprise then, that they were the number one field goal shooting percentage team in the league. They were tops in three-point shooting percentage, too.

And that made the Game 2 loss even more mind-boggling. The most disciplined team in the UAAP settled for 34 three-point attempts. Despite the fact that Al-Hussaini was hitting 8-11 from the field, the shock troopers took it upon themselves to chuck up shots instead of setting up the big guy, the reigning MVP.

That wasn’t going to happen in Game 3.

That there I think is the most interesting stat in the series. Much has been said about rebounding, but I find myself drawn to three-point shooting. This has been such an important factor all series long.

In the three games, the winning team has averaged only 18.3 three-point shot attempts per game. The losing team averaged 30.6 three-point shot attempts.

In Game 1, the Blue Eagles rode on Reyes’ 5-6 from the three-point range to keep defenses clean on Al-Hussaini. That allowed Rabeh the freedom to score 28 points down low. In Game 2, Espiritu’s 4-5 from three-point range forced Baclao out of the paint, allowing the UE guards plenty of offensive rebounds and scoring opportunities.

In Game 3, the Blue Eagles refused to settle for outside shots. They pounded it to Al-Hussaini for 27 field-goal shot attempts, the most he’s had in any game in the series. Buenafe repeatedly took it inside to draw contact. On his own, he had 7 free-throw shot attempts. In the previous game, the entire team had just 8 attempts from the stripe.

And the Red Warriors? Acuna went 2-11 from beyond the arc. Lee 1-6. Espiritu 1-5. Llagas went missing, shooting 0-for-8. Lingganay and Reyes came crashing back to earth, combining for 1-8 from the field for 5 points. The team settled for three-pointers (28 attempts) and even when they didn’t, Baclao was there to make life miserable for anybody in red.

***
And that’s where the discipline comes in. Right when it matters the most, the Blue Eagles kept to their game plan and went right for the high-percentage shots. Even when Al-Hussaini was shooting his worst percentage in any game in the series, they pounded it to him in the post.

The Red Warriors, meanwhile, were back to their old habits. I’ve long complained about the UE system not making things easy for Acuna and Lee. These guys are capable of making three-pointers, but they shoot such horrible percentages. It all comes down to the quality of shots they take. UE loves making contested, in-your-face jumpers. Ateneo likes their three-point shots wide open.

The clash in coaching philosophies was an interesting storyline. Ateneo coach Norman Black preached discipline. He has a very structured system, that doesn’t allow for a lot of freelancing. Even super-sophomore Buenafe struggled through the early part of the season, trying to find his role on the team. This was a guy used to having the ball in his hands all of the time.

Meanwhile, UE coach Lawrence Chongson allowed his wards to make their decisions on the floor. He gave them freedom on the court, and more importantly, he gave them confidence. That confidence translated into Lee sinking four three-point shots in the 4thquarter against FEU in the Final Four. That confidence translated into Espiritu knocking down 4-5 from three-point range in Game 2. That confidence got them one win way from the UAAP championship.

On this particular day, that confidence betrayed them. They were missing shots they thought they could make. They were making plays they knew would work. But there was no big run waiting in the wings that could give them a shot at the buzzer.

On this particular day, discipline wins out.

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Friday, October 9, 2009

Japeth To Play For Burger King

According to ABS-CBNnews.com, Japeth Aguilar has decided to play for the Burger King Whoppers through the intervention of SBP President Manny V Pangilinan. It is reported that Aguilar will play in the PBA opener that will showcase the battle of the top two picks of this year's Rookie Draft. However, there are still some issues unresolved in my head. The most important question is: Will Japeth be able to play for SMART-Gilas in the upcoming PBA Conference? For those of you who don't know, the SMART-Gilas National Team will be playing as a guest team in the PBA. One of the main reasons for doing this is for the team to develop chemistry. How will that chemistry develop if you're missing one of the most important players on your team? Aguilar figures to play a major role on this squad, as exhibited in the SMART-Gilas victory over Powerade Team Pilipinas in the charity game last Monday. His absence from the squad would hinder the preparations of the SMART-Gilas team.

I cannot fully analyze this piece of news until we receive the full details of the agreement. And as a fan of the SMART-Gilas National Team program, I'm not sure how to react. On one side, the PBA is now "happy" that Japeth will play in the league. But then, how much time will he have for SMART-Gilas now? This will be a small sacrifice for Aguilar for the sake of stability in the local basketball scene, but can he still pull through with his commitments to the national team? All we can do for now is play the waiting game.

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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Butiki Bullets: Smart Gilas vs Powerade

  • Smart Gilas coach Rajko Toroman put on a coaching clinic against Yeng Guiao, as the younger national team whipped the all-pro Powerade team, 98-69. Jaemark Tordecilla of Fire Quinito commented on Toroman's performance: "I finally figured out why he’s so good, and it’s not because he has arcane coaching technology or that he has a higher basketball IQ than our local coaches; it’s because he outworks them. It’s obvious in their product on the court. The crisp cuts, the pinpoint passing, the excellent communication, the perfect defensive rotations (with their tiny guards knowing where to funnel their men) – these were all drilled meticulously during boring, monotonous practice sessions." Now that's a kind of coach I can get behind.
  • Do you remember the last time you saw Mac Baracael and Jason Ballesteros play on a basketball court? Forget that, because you will barely recognize these guys. They have developed quite a bit since they've started training with Gilas, and the fact that these guys are no slouches, makes it that much more impressive. Remember, Ballesteros would have been last year's NCAA MVP if his team could just have won one more game. Baracael, before the shooting incident was one of the better players in the UAAP. Honestly, I had little expectations from these two at the beginning, but you have to feel good about their presence on the team now. And on an extra note, Mark Barroca and Dylan Ababou are only beginning to practice exclusively with Gilas. How much better are these two going to get?
  • Interesting anecdote from Rick Olivares of Bleachers Brew. On one instance in the game Baracael drew contact and yelled 'foul' out loud. As he shot his free throws, Powerade players Kerby Raymundo and Wynne Arboleda were said to have exchanged looks of contempt and the words "angas, ah." Curious, then, that a few possessions later, Raymundo hammered Baracael with a flagrant foul.
  • Can either CJ Giles or Japeth Aguilar, under the tutelage of Toroman, keep their NBA dreams alive? Remember, after a solid stint under the same coach, Iran's Hamed Haddadi cracked the roster of the Memphis Grizzlies. Hopefully, one or both of the big guys can do the same.
  • And as a final side note, the UAAP/NCAA vs Liga Pilipinas/PBL game was ineresting not so much for the outcome, after the more experienced Liga/PBL selection crushed the college stars by 20+ points in the second half. But I enjoyed it when the Liga/PBL team had James Mangahas guard Joshua Webb of UAAP/NCAA unit. There was some tension between the two, and both were banging all night long. Mangahas, of course, was expected to be DLSU's main man, the King Archer, so to speak. But a bad season had the La Salle community turnng on Mangahas and his fellow veterans in favor of the rookies and sophs, led by the emerging Webb. Was James trying to prove a point? Maybe, but it sure was fun to watch.

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Monday, October 5, 2009

Adjustments Matter

The nice thing about a basketball series, whether it's a best-of-three, or a best-of-seven, is there's always room for adjustments. It is not uncommon to see a team losing the first game of the series, and bouncing back in the second. After getting a glimpse of what went wrong, the losing team gets to tweak their strategy for the next game knowing full well what they have to work on. The danger for the winning team is that they don't have a clear idea of what they can improve on since they came out with a W. That makes them vulnerable targets for the second game.

Just like the Ateneo Blue Eagles.

UE coach Lawrence Chongson knew what went wrong in game 1. So he addressed it in the second game. Rabeh Al-Hussaini punished them for 28 big points. Nonoy Baclao forced their bigs into offensive struggles. The Red Warriors got beat on the glass.

So he made adjustments. He tightened up on Rabeh, even if meant giving up a lot of three-pointers. He took Baclao out of the paint by having his big men hoist up shots from the outside. With the big men out of position, he had his guards outhustle the Ateneo guards to get plenty of rebounds.

It was a high-risk, high-reward situation for UE. Giving up open threes to the #1 3 point shooting team in the UAAP isn't an easy decision to make. The Red Warriors were fortunate that the shots didn't drop for the Blue Eagles (20% from 3 point range). Elmer Espiritu and Pari Llagas operated mainly on the outside, forcing Baclao to move out of the paint. Yes, they felt that the high-percentage shot was the one from a further distance. This also neutralized Ateneo's rebounding edge by forcing the guards to fight for the boards, and credit goes to guys like Rudy Lingganay, Raphy Reyes and Lucas Tagarda for battling all night long.

It was a risky strategy, yes. But it paid off. Man, did it ever. UE won 88-68, handing Ateneo coach Norman Black his worst loss in his four-year collegiate basketball coaching career. The risks were there, but really, it doesn't at all feel out of character for these Red Warriors to gamble in this sort of situation. That's what got them here.

Now, the shoe is on the other foot. UE may have to momentum, but the Blue Eagles have the advantage of making adjustments.

In other words, it's your move now, Norman Black.

And after he makes that move, somebody will be in checkmate. Whether its UE or Ateneo that comes out on top will depend on Black getting this move right. Just like how Chongson got it right in Game 2.

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Saturday, October 3, 2009

Where have all the good players gone?

Just caught recently caught a glimpse of the lineup that the combined UAAP/NCAA representation will be fielding for the charity game on Monday, and I have to say, WTF?

Really? This is what you guys came up with?

Look, I can understand the idea of Ateneo and UE not participating seeing as its the UAAP finals and all. And those four NCAA teams that have a game scheduled for that day, okay. You get a pass, too. And it's a bit of a stretch, I guess "preparations for the Final Four" counts an excuse for San Sebastian, San Beda, JRU and Letran, although that sure shows where their priorities are at right now.

But considering all that, this still can't be the best you can come up with, UAAP and NCAA.

So that leaves Adamson, FEU, La Salle, NU, UP and UST for the UAAP. CSB and Mapua for the NCAA. Not a lot to work with, but it's something.

But I'm with Trix of Driball on ths one. Where's Jeric Teng and Khasim Mirza? RR Garcia, anyone? And I wouldn't mind seeing James Mangahas pair up with little brother Allan out on the court.

Look, I understand equal representation. But when eight of your 10 teams back out (and yes, I'm talking to you, NCAA), shouldn't the other league get to put in some replacements? You have two teams participating. TWO. And while I can't argue with the picks from Mapua (although Erwin Cornejo would be a nice addition), four reps from CSB? Really? The same CSB team that's been forced to sit out its best players (Jeff Morial, Illie Johnston) the past few games?

Would it hurt so much to reschedule Monday's NCAA games so at least we get a Gio Ciriacruz or an Argel Mendoza out there? Throw the fans a bone here. It's not like we're asking for Sudan Daniel, Jimbo Aquino and John Wilson here. At least, not anymore.

The opening game had a lot of promise. It isn't everyday you see a combined UAAP/NCAA team. Too bad this was the best they could do.

(PS to the players, no disrespect meant to any of you. Thank you for taking part in this very good cause.)

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Butiki Bullets: Saturday October 3

  • How's this for a statline? Kiefer Ravena had 33 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals and 3 blocks as the Ateneo Blue Eaglets take Game 1 of the UAAP juniors basketball finals over the DLSZ Junior Archers. Can you say fantasy stud?
  • Hoping Rey Guevarra is okay after the injury scare. That was a bad fall he took in the 4th quarter after Sudan Daniel blocked his shot. Haven't heard any updates from the Letran camp yet, but hopefully, it was nothing serious.
  • What do you think of the AUF Great Danes (1-16) remaining in the NCAA past this year? They showed that they couldn't compete, basketball-wise. They've set a record for most consecutive losses at 15. And in yesterday's game against Mapua, they almost instigated a bench-clearing brawl after Chucky Gomez threw a forearm at Cardinals rookie Andretti Stevens with 4 seconds to go in the game. That can't be good for the school's chances.

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Friday, October 2, 2009

Butiki Bullets: Friday October 2

  • Curious refereeing at the NCAA games today. The San Beda-Letran match was supposed to be a thriller, but turned into one of the strangest games I've seen in a while. Now, everybody knows that the Knights play physical. So it's a wonder why the refs would call the game unnaturally tight, taking away whatever game plan Letran had prepared for the game. And even more curious was the play that saw Garvo Lanete stomping on Aloysius Taplah's chest. Not only was Lanete not ejected after the act, he ended up getting free throws and possession for his team after the refs threw techs all over the place. Letran coach Louie Alas was ejected for a second tech in that scuffle, and things went downhill from there. The decision-making of the zebras were questionable, at best. At worst? I'd really rather not go there, lest be threatened with libel.
  • The last few playing dates in the NCAA schedule looks very intriguing. SSC-R vs JRU on Oct 7 and SSC-R vs SBC on Oct 12 will decide which of the Big Three takes the top seed and which one goes into the playoffs on the wrong end of a twice-to-beat advantage. Yes, the record-breaking Golden Stags can still finish 3rd, and that goes to show just how tight things are at the top of the standings right now.

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Red Warriors Gone Wild



Hate to see what the post-game party will look like if they actually win the Finals. (via Nonoy for President)

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Butiki Bullets: UAAP Finals Game 1 edition

  • Rabeh Al-Hussaini was easily the best player on the floor as he punished the UE frontline for 28 points and 14 rebounds last night. Unfortunately for UE, that's not exactly a great performance for Rabeh. Against the Red Warriors, that's par for the course. He's averaging 28.3 points, 12.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists and a block in three games against UE this season. I haven't yet seen any reason for that to change.
  • Speaking of Salamat, what a disappearing act this guy made. Interesting note about him, he's scored a total of just 10 points in 6 games in the UAAP finals, including yesterday's game. For a guy with plenty of championship experience, he sure does act like he's new to this kind of stage.
  • UE gunner Val Acuna shot 3 for 11 (.277) while Lee shot 1 for 8 (.125) from beyond the arc. Sound familiar?
  • Elmer Espiritu and Nonoy Baclao, the last two Defensive Player of the Year winners, pretty much cancelled each other out. Espiritu has 8 points (on 25% shooting), 7 rebounds and 2 blocks while Baclao has 3 points (on 12.5% shooting), 12 rebounds and a block. That has to be a good thing for the deeper Blue Eagles.
  • Amidst the 19-1 UE run in the 2nd quarter, was I the only one not worried about Ateneo? Eman Monfort was missing open threes, but UE's zone overplaying Rabeh made those open shots available. On the other end, the Red Warriors were forced into difficult, contested shots (that they happened to make). If I can get my pick, I know what kind of shots I'd like to take. Apparently, Ateneo coach Norman Black was similarly unnerved. "It wasn't like we were doing someting wrong. We had a lot of open shots that just weren't falling," he says about the UE blitz.

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Thursday, October 1, 2009

UAAP Finals Preview: Ateneo vs UE

Frontcourt:

The Blue Eagles boast of what is very likely the best frontcourt pairing in the UAAP in Rabeh Al-Hussaini and Nonoy Baclao. Both are dominant on their end of the floor (offense for Al-Hussaini, defense for Baclao) and do just enough on the other end to complement their frontcourt mate perfectly. The Rabeh-lation, last year's MVP, is very difficult to stop, particularly for the lean UE frontline on whom Al-Hussaini has averaged 28.5 points against this season. Baclao, last year's Finals MVP, is a game-changer whose contributions will never be properly quantified by a box score. Joining them in the frontcourt will likely be defensive specialist Kirk Long, who will be tasked to keep tabs on Paul Lee and share in the ball-handling duties from time to time.

UE, likewise, has a very potent frontcourt in the insanely athletic Elmer Espiritu, the rock solid Pari Llagas and the no-one-can-stop-him-when-he's-hot Val Acuna. Espiritu is the league's top shotblocker and one of the best help defenders in the league. This guy will make the paint a no-fly zone for the Blue Eagles. Llagas is a do-it-all forward/center who can score, grab boards and defend for the Red Warriors. Neither of these guys, though, have proven they can stop the big fella underneath. Acuna is an explosive scorer who can light up even the best defenses. He's got plenty of length, which comes in handy whenever he takes contested shots over smaller defenders or challenges opposing shooters on defense. Acuna can be the X-factor in this series, but they need him to be less explosive but more consistent if they want to win the title.

Advantage: Ateneo Blue Eagles

Backcourt

Eric Salamat and Jai Reyes are such dangerous weapons. Salamat is a great two-way player who can create instant fastbreak situations off of opponents' turnovers. Reyes is one of the best shooters in college basketball, knocking down 39% of his three-pointers, upwards of 40% since the second round. They also energize their side of the crowd with their trademark theatrics after big plays: Salamat with his salute and Reyes with his shotgun move.

UE, meanwhile, has the uber-talented Paul Lee. Lee might be the best player in the league right now. He is simply a joy to watch, whether he is breaking ankles with his crossover or blowing minds with his video game-like three-point barrages. He's also a great passer and an above-average rebounder. Oh, and the guy is clutch. Rudy Lingganay mans the other backcourt spot. Lingganay is a poor man's Jai Reyes. He can knock down open threes and drive the lane when the defense is off, like Reyes, but with less consistency and impact.

Advantage: UE Red Warriors

Bench

This Ateneo bench is loaded. It has future stars in Ryan Buenafe and Nico Salva, two guys who can probably have starting jobs on more than a few other teams. The two sophomores are averaging about 14 points between them. They have decent role players in Eman Monfort and Bacon Austria. And they have plenty of talent to develop at the end of the bench in Oping Sumalinog, Chris De Chavez and the sweet shooting Juami 'Magic' Tiongson. They have size, too, in Justin Chua and rookie Frank Golla.

The UE bench is less impressive. Raffy Reyes and Paul Zamar are nice energizers off the bench, but the rest of the guys aren't really players you'd want to count on when gunning for the championship. No disrespect meant, but guys like Lucas Tagarda, Fhadzmir Bandaying and Garrick Ayala don't exactly strike fear into the hearts of opposing teams.

Advantage: Ateneo Blue Eagles

Coaching

Norman Black of Ateneo is a veteran coach who has been in the finals twice before. He has plenty of experience, including last year's championship run. Black also has instilled plenty of discipline into the current Ateneo squad, and knows he can count on his players to run the system. He also knows how to develop big men, turning Al-Hussaini and Baclao into the monsters they are today.

UE's Lawrence Chongson is a rookie coach with plenty of passion. He has turned the game fun and easy for his boys, and that has paid off as the Red Warriors have played inspired ball for him. The free-flowing offense has played to the strengths of his most important players, and that has taken them all the way to the finals. Still, the system is a little over-dependent on Paul Lee's skills with the ball in his hands and that might not be the ideal way to take on an elite defensive team like the Blue Eagles.

Advantage: Ateneo Blue Eagles

Intangibles

Baclao is the ultimate intangibles guy. He brings the hustle, the great positioning, the shot-changing defense that never makes the stat sheet. If it's intangible, Baclao is bringing it. The fact that the core of this team won the UAAP championship a year ago is huge, too. You can't teach championship experience.

UE has a bunch of guys playing for the school's first championship in, what, two decades? These guys are going to be wanting this title bad. Plus, Norman Black and the Blue Eagles lost the 2006 championship series to a UST Growling Tigers team bannered by a rookie coach and a bunch of then-no names. There are some similarities with this 2009 UE Red Warrior team, but we'll see if that actually translates to anything in this series.

Advantage: Ateneo Blue Eagles

Overall

Looks like the Blue Eagles have the advantage on just about every front, although I wouldn't count out an out-of-this-world performance by Paul Lee in this series. It's very difficult to see UE winning the title, not until they can prove they can stop Al-Hussaini in the post. If they can't, then this is going to be a long series for the Red Warriors. Or at least it would feel that way, even if it ends in two games.

Prediction: Ateneo in two

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