La Salle vs NU Pregame Primer: The Battle for tournament leadership
Both the De La Salle Green Archers and the National University Bulldogs lead the UAAP Season 76 senior’s basketball tournament second round standings at 5-0. In the overall picture, the Bulldogs are currently at the top of the standings at 9-3 while the Green Archers are in close second with one game behind at 8-4. Sunday’s clash between the two will be another important, pressure-packed match.
The Bulldogs are poised to maintain their lofty position in the standings (since I assume that FEU will beat UP on Saturday to improve their record to 9-4, second place in the standings) as the top seed going into the Final Four while the Green Archers are looking to make things more interesting as should they beat the Bulldogs on Sunday, there will be a triple tie for first place with win-loss records of 9-4.
The Bulldogs got the Green Archers’ number back in their first round encounter because of NU’s team defense. La Salle could not get their rhythm going on offense until they switched into a 2-3 zone defense in the third period, enabling the Green Archers to get easy baskets off the Bulldogs’ turnovers. But being a brilliant and tough team they are coming into Season 76, the Bulldogs regrouped and adjusted on La Salle’s 2-3 zone defense and it was an easy coasting win for Coach Eric Altamirano’s wards then.
Still, nothing has much changed for the Bulldogs. They are the top dogs (no pun intended) on defense in the tournament, allowing only 63.8 points per contest on their opponents. NU also forces its opponents to just 36.4% shooting from the field. NU is capable of doing such because of their deep line up. I have to say it is not just a deep line up; it is a complete line up wherein good players can be interchangeable in multiple positions. This allows the Bulldogs to sustain its defensive energy for the rest of the game.
NU’s height, length and athleticism allow them to be active defensively. Alolino, Porter, and Rono hounding opposing guards while Parks, Javillonar, Villamor, Del Rosario, Khobuntin, and Neypes matching the opposing wings (including the power forwards), and Mbe of course patrolling the paint. Maybe not all of them are getting a greater chunk of the playing time but every time Coach E calls their number, it seems that everyone is so ready to fill in their designated roles for the team.
NU gets its offense going through fastbreaks because of their tough defense. The Bulldogs are the tournament leaders with averaging 12 fastbreak points per game. Once Alolino or Parks run the break, it is almost sure that the Bulldogs will get points out of it with athletic wings such as Villamor and Del Rosario finishing the break. Alolino and Parks, more importantly, can also finish the break aside from issuing the dime to their running partners.
On half-court offense, the Bulldogs have three creators namely: Parks, Mbe, and Alolino. The rest are living from the feeds that they can get from these three mentioned creators. Rono, Javillonar, and Villamor can all hit it from the three-ball region while Del Rosario, Khobuntin, and Neypes can finish inside off drop passes or hit the mid-range jumpers if given the space. These hybrid wings of NU can also crash the boards and get second chance opportunities for the Bulldogs.
Personally, I am more wary of NU scoring a lot off their defensive pressure compared to their half-court sets. On offense, Parks’ decision-making is still suspect at times as he’s prone to playing hero ball, so if La Salle can take advantage of these NU mistakes to get easy baskets on the break, it will be very much better rather than to bleed on half-court sets for points. I would like to see the Green Archers win the game on Sunday because of their defense, not so much on offense because of my impression on NU being a tough defensive team.
On offense, the Green Archers must do a better job of taking care of the basketball to prevent NU from scoring quickly on the break. Norbert, Arnold, and Jason must be on the lookout on swipes once they get the ball down low and make sure that the ball rotates quickly so that the Bulldogs will not be able to recover right away defensively. NU thrives on defending teams that have ball-stoppers in it so personally, I think the Green Archers must be aware on the positions of their teammates on the court so that they can make better decisions in finding the open player for better scoring opportunity.
If Norbert, Arnold, and Jason will be able to spot the open man amidst the long arms of NU defenders trying to stop them, it will be a big plus for La Salle to score baskets on half-court sets and it will put the Green Archers in a better position to win this game. If the Green Archers also will be able to limit NU to a perimeter shooting team, instead of getting the ball down low to Parks and Mbe, it will also allow La Salle to grab those boards and start running the break for easy scoring opportunities.
Rebounding also will be the key in this game. Villamor, Javillonar, Del Rosario, Khobuntin, Neypes, and even Alolino are all very good crashing the boards, giving NU second-chance opportunities via putbacks or another set offense. Limiting NU to just one shot per possession will also be crucial in this game. Facing a tall, athletic team will and can always bring foul trouble concerns so the Green Archers, especially Norbert, Arnold, and Jason should be careful putting themselves into foul trouble to give La Salle a better position to compete and to win the game.
NU is a team that has shown tremendous strides through the years especially on defense. Honestly, in all of La Salle four defeats in the first round, the loss to the Bulldogs was the only loss that I considered legit in the sense that during the course of the game, it can be seen that NU controlled and dictated the tempo of the game, compared to the other Green Archer defeats in the first round, La Salle was very much in the thick of the fight to win the game. I felt otherwise against the Bulldogs so I consider the game on Sunday as the toughest test for the Green Archers for the second round of the tournament.
With both teams really in the groove and in-form as of the moment, it will be interesting to see the adjustments both coaches will apply for the game on Sunday. Hopefully, there will not be any additional names added to the line ups one hour before the game but anyway, I know both teams will prepare hard (even harder) at this point of the tournament. I will not be surprised if this will turn out into another gritty, grind it out game for both teams not just for Final Four qualification but for that precious twice to beat positioning as well.