With the first round of UAAP Season 85 in the books, each team – including the ones at the top of the pile – faces their own dilemmas and points for improvement.
UP, NU, and Ateneo seek to stay ahead of the rest and earn a twice-to-beat advantage in the Final Four, while the rest of the teams are in a logjam for a Final Four slot and an outside chance for a twice-to-beat advantage. There is a lot of stake in the remaining games on the schedule, and for teams to remedy what ailed them in the first round and to achieve their desired results, they would need to extract production from certain players beyond their stars.
Adamson: Cedrick Manzano
The boost could come from a litany of players. Joem Sabandal (currently shooting 33.3 percent from the field and 23.1 percent from deep) could see a leap in efficiency to ease Jerom Lastimosa’s load. Didat Hanapi was similarly cold in the first round at 21.1 percent from three and could just as easily heat up. They could also see the return of AP Manlapaz, who only saw less than two minutes of action in a single game.
But the player who could make the leap is their big man, Cedrick Manzano.
When Manzano is playing, his team beats opponents by 8.2 points per 40 minutes. When he’s off, the Falcons lose by 10.0 points per 40 minutes. This means that during Manzano’s time on the floor, there’s an 18.2-point shift in their favor. Basically, Manzano minutes have been very good for Adamson. The issue? He has trouble staying on the floor. He’s tied for second in fouls per game and he gets whistled 3.1 times a game while playing less than 20 minutes. In terms of foul rate (fouls per minute), he’s third among all rotation players (10 minutes or more per game), just behind La Salle’s Bright Nwankwo and Ateneo’s Geo Chiu.
Although he has been beaten off the dribble and was forced to foul to recover, Manzano’s fouls have generally been an issue of discipline on his part rather than an inability to keep up on defense. He tends to target the ball while contesting shots as opposed to jumping straight up to protect the rim. This leads to trouble, as he often fails to properly aim his hands at the ball and ends up hitting his wrist or arm.
If he can stay on the court, Adamson gets their best finisher and a good interior defender on the floor more. Manzano has the best offensive rebound rate among rotation players, which should provide Adamson’s below-average offense second chances that it desperately needs. He’s productive in limited minutes due to his fouling, but if he can learn to stay on the floor, he would be incredibly valuable to his team.
Ateneo: Dave Ildefonso
Many people predicted Ildefonso to be a potential MVP candidate and to be one of the, if not the, best scorers in the UAAP. But things haven’t exactly turned out that way. Despite Ateneo possessing the best offense in the league, they’re still a bit worse than they were last season on that end while retaining a similar level of defensive performance. A lot of the diminished offense happened because of the departures of key players, but it doesn’t help that Ildefonso has had a rough go to start the season.
Note: Points, Assists, and Turnovers are Per 30 minutes; 3PAr = how often a player shoots a three vs a two; FTAr = how often a player shoots a FT vs a normal shot; TS% = shooting efficiency and the UAAP average is roughly 47%
Ildefonso has improved as a playmaker with Ateneo, both in terms of sharing the ball and keeping it safe. He had a smaller scoring load last season given the talent on the roster, especially on the perimeter, but he’s had to carry a similar scoring burden as his days with NU this season.
The difference between Ildefonso’s scoring with the Bulldogs and now is how he’s putting points on the board. He’s taking the most triples he’s ever taken in his collegiate career and he’s had trouble getting them to fall down. He’s having the worst shooting year of his college career. However, slumps are normal and should be expected from time to time. He will probably shoot better as the season goes along, but there’s a real problem.
The biggest reason why his efficiency is down is that he’s stopped going to the line at all. He’s not the best free throw shooter, but a below-average trip to the line is still a more efficient option than most shots in basketball. He’s 27th in the UAAP in free throw attempts per game, which is by far the lowest mark he’s posted. This is a far cry from his Season 82 performance where he placed in the top five of the competition.
Nearly 70 percent of all Ildefonso’s attempts have been jumpers, and this has led to a very drastic decrease in free throws, which contributed to a less-than-stellar (for his standards) first round. On non-jumpers, Ildefonso has shot 57.7 percent from the field and has netted him most of his few trips to the line. If he learns to avoid settling and becomes more aggressive, he can return to the level of efficiency volume scorer that we know he’s capable of bringing.
De La Salle University: Penny Estacio/Mark Nonoy
On paper, the Green Archers have the best team in the UAAP – or at the very least, close to it. They have the best player through the first round in Schonny Winston, the best point guard so far in Evan Nelle, and one of the best defenders in the league in Michael Phillips. Yet, they find themselves in a dogfight for a Final Four spot instead of a place above the rest of the teams.
There are many issues that coach Derrick Pumaren can look into to improve their play. They can weigh the cost/benefit of focusing on forcing turnovers and prioritizing transition attacks over rebounds. They can maximize shooting in their rotations at the expense of defense and overall talent. But that’s not what we’ll be talking about.
One of the reasons why they find themselves lagging behind the leaders is because they sort of fall apart without Schonny Winston. With Winston on, the Archers regularly outscored their opponents. Without him, they’re the ones who find themselves outscored. The Archers were 21.8 points better with him on the floor per 40 minutes. With an offense centered around the best shot-maker in the league right now, La Salle looks great. They need someone to steady the ship when he takes a breather.
Most of the minutes without Winston have come with Penny Estacio or Mark Nonoy on the floor and leading the offense. Kevin Quiambao is usually put in with La Salle’s second unit to act as a playmaking hub and to rely on him to create shots for himself and others, but he’s been streaky and inefficient as a scorer, which makes it hard to generate consistently good offense. If Estacio and/or Nonoy can step up and have Quiambao play a role where he doesn’t have to carry the offensive load and instead have someone create advantages for him to use his passing wizardry to exploit gaps (as he did with Gilas), their second unit could be very hard to stop.
Estacio has been the most productive of the La Sallian backup point guards. He’s averaging 5.2 points and 2.2 assists in 17.5 minutes per game, but the Archers would do well to get more production from him.
La Salle’s other backup point guard, Nonoy, is going through a major slump. Nonoy is averaging 3.0 points, shooting 12 percent from the field, and 10 percent from three. Never an efficient shooter, Nonoy has been bordering on historically bad this season in terms of efficiency. His defense has been good, but he’s been a non-factor at best and a liability offensively at worst so far. Better play from either of these two could give La Salle the stability off the bench that they need to play to the best of their ability.
Far Eastern University: Xyrus Torres/Bryan Sajonia
RJ Abarrientos’ departure to the KBL has played a big part. His ability to create decent looks for himself and get paint touches that collapse defenses and frees up his teammates have been sorely missed. This, plus a shooting slump for FEU’s best shooters in Xyrus Torres and Bryan Sajonia, have resulted in FEU going from the second most accurate shooting team in the UAAP to being in seventh (only ahead of the UST Growling Tigers, who have been shooting at the worst rate from deep based on my records).
In Season 84, Sajonia and Torres combined for 3.7 made triples a game. Sajonia made his shots from distance at a 42.9 percent rate and Torres made his shots at a 41.4 percent rate. Sajonia was 18th in makes per game and Torres was second (behind Abarrientos).
In Season 85, they’re combining to make 3.5 triples a game, but the efficiency at which they make these shots have plummeted. Sajonia is shooting only 18.8 percent from distance and Torres is making his shots at a 26.2 percent rate. Sajonia is 20th in makes, and Torres is 3rd. The volume is there, but the accuracy has been sorely lacking.
We can attribute the decrease in efficiency to the loss of Abarrientos. His on-ball gravity forced defenders to help and left his teammates open. But that’s not all there is to it. A lot of their shooting woes have just been because the shot refuses to fall. They’re getting good looks, but it doesn’t go in. It’s a slump that could end at the drop of a hat and if it does, FEU is going to be one of the more dangerous teams in the second round.
National University: Kean Baclaan
In the preseason, Kean Baclaan looked like a star. He was slicing up defenses to the tune of 15.6 points and 5.5 assists in just 23.1 minutes with UST. Since transferring to NU and facing UAAP-level defenses, his numbers have gone down to just 9.0 ppg and 3.9 assists alongside 4.3 turnovers and a poor 38.6 percent True Shooting (nearly eight percent below league average).
These are fantastic numbers from a true freshman who came to the league straight out of high school, but Baclaan isn’t your regular freshman. He’s a guy who looked like he would be a highly impactful star from the jump. The turnovers are a mix of being bothered by the length of the defense and learning what he can get away with at the level of play.
Slightly undersized, teams tend to send two players at Baclaan in the pick-and-roll to bother him and force a turnover. He has trouble seeing over the top of these defenses and can’t make them pay by sending the ball to the open man. He also loves trying over-the-top passing ideas, which is a trait that should be encouraged. He hasn’t completely factored into the equation the much-improved length of the competition he faces which leads to tipped passes and tough situations. He’ll probably figure out what he can and can’t get away with real soon.
A big part of the struggle has been the inability to finish inside. He’s shooting 27.8 percent from two, which lands him in the bottom five among rotation players in the UAAP. He’s shooting better from deep (28.6 percent) than inside. Part of this stems from his lack of a viable floater off the dribble in the short midrange and his propensity to attack the rim against taller and longer defenders. His lack of height has made finishing at the rim a problem despite his ability to get there and collapse the defense. His floater to score in the in-between area is crucial for his growth as an offensive player.
University of the East: Harvey Pagsanjan and the defense
Pagsanjan led UE’s scoring last season and he averaged 13.4 points per game in 26.2 minutes on a 43.3 TS% (3.6 percent below league average). This season, he’s taken a step back due to the rapid development of the Paranada brothers and the arrival of Luis Villegas and CJ Payawal. Now, he averages just 7.5 points per game in 29.1 minutes. Despite the smaller role, his efficiency hasn’t improved and he’s only at 40.6 percent TS%. UE has the second-best offense in the UAAP, but they also have the worst defense.
If their defense fails to improve, the offense that Pagsanjan could generate would be very important for them as improved performance for him is one of the more attainable ways that the team can better their performance in the first round. If they can’t start defending better, then maybe even more offense could do the trick for them. Simply hitting the same types of looks he gets as he plays off of the Paranadas and Villegas would be very helpful for the Red Warriors’ Final Four aspirations.
Speaking of their defense, opponents shoot 61.3 percent against them at the rim. This is the worst mark in the league and their failure to hamper the easy shots has been the bane in their losses. It’s up to their big men to deter shots at the rim or alter them and make them harder when they do come.
University of the Philippines: JD Cagulangan
UP’s offense in the halfcourt has led to multiple close games and early deficits for the Fighting Maroons. They’re at the top of the pile due to the strength of their defense led by Malick Diouf and the talent and depth of the team that has seen great contributions from its second unit. Still, they’ve been struggling against presses and scoring outside of fastbreaks and early offense opportunities.
This is where Cagulangan comes in. Unlike the other players on the list, UP doesn’t need Cagulangan to do more or play better in the second round. UP just needs him to be available and on the floor, and that should be enough for them to improve. Cagulangan provides UP two things: a stable point guard that can beat the press with elite ball control and an advantage creator who can get inside the paint, collapse the defense, and find the open guy resulting from it.
Terrence Fortea has filled in admirably for Cagulangan. In a new role that he wasn’t really supposed to be playing at all, Fortea has been more than passable. His shooting has been elite and he’s made nifty passes in transition and flashed the ability to play the pick and roll very well. But the thing is, he’s not quite there yet in terms of quarterbacking a team and managing the flow of their offense. Turnovers have been piling up for UP in Cagulangan’s absence. At 21.0 turnovers per game, they’re the only team averaging more than 20 thus far.
Last season, UP was the third best offense after the elimination rounds (just barely behind FEU). Cagulangan, who led the league in assists, was a huge part of why. He’s the smartest passer in the UAAP. He’s capable of reading the defense and manipulating them with his eyes and pass fakes to create open passing angles for easy shots. These easy shots that he creates for them have been missed and could be the key to maximizing the talent on their team and making UP an elite offense in the UAAP.
University of Santo Tomas: Anyone other than Nic Cabanero and Adama Faye
Nic Cabanero needs help. UST is, by far, the worst offensive team in the UAAP. With a 77.3 offensive rating (points per 100 possessions), they’re the only team that has a rating below 80. They’re nearly 11 points behind the seventh place team, NU, and 17 points behind the average UAAP team. They’re also the worst shooting team in the UAAP (again, by far). They’re shooting 19.9 percent from deep. If this continues, they’ll be the only team (in my records) to have shot below 20 percent from three in a season. On the bright side, their defense ranks sixth because of Adama Faye. They were ranked a bit higher before Faye missed a game, but their defense allows them to stay in the game and have a chance when Cabanero is hot offensively.
Other than Faye or Cabanero, no one on the Tigers averages more than 6.4 points per game. To make matters worse, no one (other than Alvin Mantes, who’s played only one game so far) is scoring at a league average efficiency, and no one is more efficient on the team than Cabanero. UST is the only team in the league whose top scorer is their most efficient scorer.
Why does that matter? Because increased scoring volume usually leads to a decrease in efficiency due to more defensive attention. Given the defense’s focus on Cabanero, his teammates expect to face less defensive pressure and should, in theory, shoot at a decent clip. In actuality, Cabanero, who constantly faces double teams and intense defensive pressure, shoots more efficiently than anyone on his team. It kind of does not make sense.
If they want to better their 1-6 record, the Growling Tigers need to take advantage of the pressure defenses put on Cabanero and help lighten his load. Their offense is historically bad and things won’t change until they find some way to improve. Which Tiger will step up and answer the call? The likely candidates are Miguel Pangilinan, Paul Manalang, and Ivan Lazarte, who have shown flashes of scoring potential. Whether or not they will rise to the occasion has yet to be seen.