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The Short Corner: A peek at the well-oiled Ateneo machine heading into another ‘Battle of Katipunan’


The elimination round of UAAP Season 84 is set to end with a bang, as the league’s top two teams—the Ateneo Blue Eagles and the UP Fighting Maroons—face each in a potential preview of the finals.

Ateneo comes into the match with a 39-game win streak dating back to Season 81, while UP is coming off of a dominant 96-67 victory over the UST Growling Tigers and having already earned their third consecutive trip to the Final Four.

For this, we’ll look at how the two teams stack up against each other and look at a few fun things we’ve picked up from watching both Ateneo and UP throughout the year. In this article, you’ll be able to read the version looking at the Blue Eagles.

The Stats

UAAP84-Mens-Basketball-ADMU-vs-UP-Belangel-Samjosef-2-scaled The Short Corner: A peek at the well-oiled Ateneo machine heading into another ‘Battle of Katipunan’ ADMU Bandwagon Wire Basketball UAAP UP  - philippine sports newsOn paper, this is a matchup between the two best teams in the league.

Ateneo holds the distinction of being the best offense in the league with a 109.0 offensive rating and the best defense in the league with an 84.4 defensive rating. It has peppered opponents from deep by averaging the most threes made per game while also being the most accurate shooting team (33.3 percent). Their team’s offense is also defined by how well they move the ball. Through 13 games, the Blue Eagles averaged 20 assists per game (first in the league) with 63.6 percent of their shots being assisted. On defense, they’re similarly elite. They hold opposing defenses to just 42 percent from inside the arc (second in the league by a hair) while suffocating perimeter shooters to the tune of a league-low 24.5 percent from deep.

The kicker here is that they’re beating teams by a margin greater than they did in Season 81 and 82. In those years, Ateneo had a plus-22.0 and plus-21.8 net rating respectively (that means the team is beating teams by this much on a 100 possession basis). This season, the Blue Eagles are just absolutely wailing on teams for a net rating of plus-24.6. It honestly doesn’t feel fair sometimes.

On the other hand, the Fighting Maroons hold a 97.1 offensive rating (second) and an 88.4 defensive rating (third). Their plus-8.7 net rating is the highest of a non-Ateneo team since Ben Mbala was around for De La Salle University. On paper, they are the best team that Ateneo has faced for the duration of Ange Kouame’s college career.

UP’s offense is powered by a 64.3 assist percentage, higher than Ateneo’s mark, as coach Goldwin Monteverde has implemented a system that requires everyone to pass the ball and look for cutters. This has led to the team shooting 51.7-percent from inside the arc. The defense is very good, though not as good as their offense; they force the second-most turnovers in the UAAP and hold opponents to just 42.3-percent from the inside (second-lowest).

Ange Kouame: Center of the Universe

UAAP84-Mens-Basketball-AdU-vs-ADMU-Kakou-Kouame-2-scaled The Short Corner: A peek at the well-oiled Ateneo machine heading into another ‘Battle of Katipunan’ ADMU Bandwagon Wire Basketball UAAP UP  - philippine sports newsAteneo’s dominance is centered around Ange Kouame. The 6-foot-10 center’s impact on both ends is why this writer personally considers him to be the best foreign student-athlete in UAAP history (though of course, the naturalized big man is no longer a foreigner).

On offense, his roll gravity opens up the floor for the rest of the team. Since Season 81, Kouame has made 59.3 percent of his shots inside. On average, a roll man in the pick and roll in the league this season scores 0.77 PPP (points per possession); Kouame is currently at a devastating 1.3 PPP. Given how effective he is, teams will scheme their defense around his dives to the rim.

Take this play for example. La Salle’s Michael Phillips struggles to juggle between SJ Belangel and Kouame. This forces Evan Nelle to leave BJ Andrade to tag the roll. This opens up the three-ball. Kouame didn’t even need to score for his impact on offense to be felt:

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Just look at how UST defends him on this possession, where a literal grappling match ensues on the court between Kouame and Dave Ando. In a typical pick and roll coverage, the big (Ando) should at least attempt to cover the ball handler until his teammate can recover. Ando doesn’t make an effort to contain Belangel and just tries to avoid Kouame getting the ball at all costs. The pick gives Belangel all the space in the world to shoot the one-legged triple:

On defense, his impact is even greater. In Season 80, Ateneo was just a good defensive team (fifth in defensive rating). In Season 81, with a fairly similar rotation, the addition of Ange Kouame transformed them into the greatest defensive dynasty in Philippine college basketball history.

A lot of his impact has to do with his ability to just dismantle opponents in the pick and roll, where most UAAP teams derive most of their halfcourt offense. All teams need a big man who can competently navigate the two-man game.

Kouame just stops offenses dead in their tracks. In this play, Kouame was supposed to hedge and recover, but Dave Ildefonso couldn’t get back to his man fast enough. This forces Kouame to switch on Schonny Winston. That’s not a problem for him. His length and ability to move his feet, plus the sheer mass, makes it terribly difficult to score on him. The only real time he’s vulnerable is when he’s closing out long:

There are no mismatches when Kouame has his feet set in a stance. Usually, when bigs get switched on guards and left on an island, it’s feeding time for the guards (think Renzo Subido on Bright Akhuetie). That’s not the case with Kouame. He’s not on an island with you; you’re on an island with him. NU’s Janjan Felicilda, one of the better lead guards in the league, tries him in isolation here, and it does not end well. His size, length, and quickness just erase the notion of mismatches:

Ange Kouame bails Ateneo out so many times a game. If a point-of-attack defender commits a mistake, it’s usually fine because Kouame is there to clean up the mess. In this one, Belangel gets beat so Kouame rotates and dissuades the layup. His teammate should have taken his man to prevent the lay up pass, but it doesn’t matter—Kouame just flips hips, recovers, and swats the shot. Stuff like this happens multiple times every game for Ateneo. Someone gets beat, but it results in nothing because Kouame is there. For the season, he has held opponents to just 36-percent at the rim. To put that into perspective, the 6-foot-10 big man is taking the most efficient shot in the game (a lay up) and making it less efficient than an average three pointer:

Gian Mamuyac: Elite 3 & Elite D

UAAP-84-Mens-Basketball-ADMU-vs-UE-Gian-Mamuyac-1 The Short Corner: A peek at the well-oiled Ateneo machine heading into another ‘Battle of Katipunan’ ADMU Bandwagon Wire Basketball UAAP UP  - philippine sports newsMamuyac is in the midst of a breakout season. All of his counting stats are up on a per minute basis, which means that the improvement isn’t just a result of more playing time; he’s put in the work, and the results are showing.

The obvious thing to point out is the new and improved jumper. After going 12-for-49 (24.5%) from deep in Seasons 81 and 82, he’s made 17-for-43 3s (39.5%) this season. As per InStat, he’s shooting a remarkable 41.7% from deep in catch and shoot situations.

This is exhibited well here. Mamuyac has made a living this season by scoring off of great looks after a defensive breakdown causes him to be left open. His teammates have consistently found him, and he’s repaid the favor time and time again:

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He’s even shown flashes of more advanced shooting. On multiple occasions, the Eagles have run him off of screens for jumpers. This is a Stephen Curry special; Mamuyac sets a backpick and the Bulldogs just… get confused. Mamuyac is left open, and Geo Chiu’s man was unaware of the whole thing, which made him late. It might be a downright bad defense by NU, but if he’s able to be a consistent threat from deep on the move, he’ll be a very hot commodity in the pros:

Mamuyac remains the best point-of-attack defender on the team, but his work away from the ball has been just as good. This season, he’s already eclipsed his total steals from the past two combined (14 to 12).

This possession is so impressive. He realizes that his teammates are putting the offense in a tight spot, where the only option would be a kick-out pass. He shifts his attention to the ball handler in anticipation of where he’ll send the pass to; he watches the ball handler’s eyes, and he starts moving towards where the ball will be even before the ball is out of the passer’s hands. Then he snatches it up like a hawk:

At the point-of-attack, Mamuyac is a nightmare. He’s forced a turnover in 28 percent of all possessions that ended with a pick and roll where he was guarding the ball handler. His length and screen navigation technique put him above the rest of the league as a defender. Watch him navigate in the pick-and-roll here. Watch his hips closely as he makes himself skinny to slip through the screen. After getting through, he’s long enough to bother Mark Nonoy’s shot. It seems like a hellish ordeal to have him guard you:

It’s also not just the fact that he’s so good at navigating through screens—he’s very crafty with it too. He draws a lot of offensive fouls by exposing bad screens. In the same way shooters embellish contact, he embellishes contact as he goes around screens. Watch him at work here. Emmanuel Ojoula’s extra motions while setting the screen are emphasized by Mamuyac exposing the contact:

Dave Ildefonso: True Primary

UAAP-84-Mens-Basketball-Ateneo-vs-NU-Dave-Ildefonso-2 The Short Corner: A peek at the well-oiled Ateneo machine heading into another ‘Battle of Katipunan’ ADMU Bandwagon Wire Basketball UAAP UP  - philippine sports newsA true primary is a guy who’s able to not only score the ball, but get his teammates involved. All of history’s best offensive perimeter players—Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James—were true primaries who managed to blend getting points on the board with creating opportunities for others.

With Ateneo, Dave Ildefonso has begun his transformation into a true primary option.

Tab Baldwin has nearly completely cut isolations out of Ildefonso’s shot diet, as he’s only had 3 isos the whole year. This year, Baldwin has been running him as a playmaker out of pick and rolls and as a shooter when another guard is running the offense.

About 31.6 percent of his possessions are as a ball-handler in the pick and roll, and Baldwin’s insistence on making him a playmaker is starting to bear fruit. In the first round, he averaged 2.3 assists per game. In the second round, it ballooned up to 4.2 assists per game. By my own passer rating stat, he’s the seventh-best passer in the league and the second-best non-point guard.

We already know how good he is as a scorer. We saw him put up big point totals back when he was with NU, after all. The passing improvement is a bit more remarkable. Ildefonso isn’t just passing more, he’s passing better. He’s grown very comfortable making this bounce pass in the pick and roll, for example:

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Ildefonso has added a bit of craft to his passing game. In this possession, he rejects the screen and attacks. Two Green Archers stick to him, which leaves Matthew Daves all alone. To get the pass through the long arms of Bright Nwanko, he makes the jump pass to give him a better angle for delivery. That’s a great development if you’re an Atenean. If you’re not, you should be a bit worried:

In the pick and roll, he’s still pretty limited. Ildefonso can get it to the roller or he can try to score. He doesn’t bring other players into the attack as often as you’d want, but he’s shown flashes of being able to do so. In this possession, it was a very easy read to make. The defender covering Mamuyac rotated and the decision was obvious. If he can consistently read the entirety of the floor and involve everyone during pick and roll, he will be nearly impossible to defend:

There’s a lot to clean up with respect to his passing game. For one, other than the bounce pocket pass, his deliveries could stand to see improvement. In this possession, Ildefonso tries to feed Kouame. He notices that the defender’s hands are down so the bounce pass isn’t on the table and he tries a chest pass. It still gets deflected and the ball goes the other way. It’s good to see that he’s flexible with his deliveries (he doesn’t have just one way to get the ball in), but in this situation, a lob would have probably gotten the job done. Putting the ball where only Ange could get it (especially since the tagger is much shorter) would have made all the difference:

The last thing to note about his passing is that Ildefonso is still a scorer first and foremost. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it can hurt him sometimes. In this possession, UST gives him the easy out, as the help on the strongside corner comes. This is a defensive faux pas in most contexts, and it’s usually punished by a quick dish to the corner for a relatively open look. But that dish doesn’t come here and instead, he gets mobbed inside by four defenders and he loses the ball. The adjustment towards balancing your own offense and getting others involved is a hard one to make, but he and the coaching staff should get it done in time:

The Eagles are the Heavy Favorites

UAAP-84-Mens-Basketball-DLSU-vs-ADMU-Ateneo-scaled The Short Corner: A peek at the well-oiled Ateneo machine heading into another ‘Battle of Katipunan’ ADMU Bandwagon Wire Basketball UAAP UP  - philippine sports newsThe Blue Eagles are stacked to the brim with weapons, and they match that talent with great discipline on both ends. Only three players are highlighted in this piece, but they are seriously 16 deep. It would take a gargantuan effort to topple them.

The best thing about Ateneo is that they don’t eschew development in favor of winning. For them, the two concepts go hand in hand. We saw Kouame’s progression from his first season in the UAAP to going toe-to-toe with some of the best bigs in international basketball. This season, we’re seeing the development of Gian Mamuyac coming into fruition as he showcases why he’s the best 3-and-D player in the UAAP. Likewise, we’re seeing Dave Ildefonso transform into a scoring playmaker in real-time.

Ateneo is heavily favored to win—and by that, we mean the odds are overwhelmingly in their favor. The scary part is that they’re only getting better.

All UAAP games stream live on GigaPlay presented by Yamaha. Download it now on Android or IOS.SMART-x-Yamaha The Short Corner: A peek at the well-oiled Ateneo machine heading into another ‘Battle of Katipunan’ ADMU Bandwagon Wire Basketball UAAP UP  - philippine sports news

Written By

Does hoops math and watches too much game film. Talks a lot on Twitter (@_alba__)


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