The first round match-up between rivals Ateneo Blue Eagles and De La Salle Green Archers became more interesting because the full force Blue Eagle Squad will be against a De La Salle crew sans its Head Coach who was suspended because of a technical foul and ejection against cellar-dwellers UE and team captain Jeron Alvin Teng who is out for at least a week due to bone spurs. Ayo is no doubt the spiritual leader of the team. But his deputies are not to be discounted starting with Chief Lieutenant Luis Jose “Louie” Gonzales and former PBA great Glen Capacio. The duo together, with Coach Aldin Ayo is the architects of the “Mayhem” basketball system which is anchored on suffocating pressure defense which produce a title for the Letran Knights last year in the NCAA. Joining them in the bench is their former player in Letran McJour Luib and former PBA champion Coach Bethune “Siot” Tanquincen. Is there really a concern about the Coach Ayo’s absence for today’s match-up? I can say none for the Green Archers because the system is in place and it doesn’t matter who’ll run it.
There is more concern probably on the absence of Jeron Teng for today’s game. What does Jeron Teng bring to the table? The Archers will be 16.3 points and 3.5 rebounds less. Teng is shooting 41.7% from the field and 48.0% from the free-throw line. But more than the statistics, the Green Archers will miss the franchise player pedigree that Jeron brings. If we will look back to the game against the NU Bulldogs, the Green Archers were struggling all game long until Jeron Teng took over in the pay off period scoring 8 points and leading that charge in that crucial run that somehow gave them the ball game.
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It is now a challenge to the rest of the Green Archers to step-up for their fallen team captain. Players to watch out for aside from the league’s leading scorer and rebounder Ben Mbala are Kib Montalbo, Ricci Rivero, Jollo Go and Aljun Melecio. For the Green Archers to sweep the first round, they must continue to pressure hard on defense, stick to their usual game plan, run and tire out the opposition.
For the Blue Eagles of Katipunan Avenue, it is the perfect time to spoil the first round party over there at Taft Ave. But how will they do it? It will be the most opportune time for Thirdy Ravena to come out if his brother’s shell most especially in the big stage. The younger Ravena is only averaging 11.3 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. This game is the perfect avenue to create an identity as a leader and lift his squad. But he cannot do it alone. Coach Sandy Arrespacochaga (and Coach Tab Baldwin) must make the most of their talent. Aaron Black who after scoring 23 points against the host UST Growling Tigers, has been quiet and towards the end of the first round just averaged 9.7 points in 3 games. Only Anton Asistio among the Blue Eagles is averaging in double figures in scoring with 10.7 points in 6 games. The likes of Jolo Mendoza, Mike Nieto and Manuel Tolentino must step their game up and challenge the mayhem defense of the Green Archers. Another point of concern are the bigs of the Blue Eagles. Chibueze Ikeh who averages 6.7 rebounds and a block per game will have his hands full against the bull-strong Ben Mbala. Isaac Go, Kris Porter and Gideon Babilonia must pull their resources together to match up well in the paint against the potent bigs of La Salle in Mabala, Tratter, Prince Rivero and rookie Justine Baltazar.
Another interesting part of this match-up is the political flavor in which the administrators of both schools are urging the members of their respective communities who will watch the game live to wear black in opposition to the planned burial of former President Marcos to the Libingan ng mga Bayani. The administrators of both schools clarified that this is just an invitation and they are not mixing politics with sports.
Will the Green Archers sweep the first round despite of the cards they are dealt with for today’s match-up or will Thirdy Ravena come up with a coming out party to spoil the festivities over at Taft? Blue vs. Green where side will you be? It’s the biggest Sunday for collegiate basketball, it’s Ateneo vs. La Salle round 1.