|The first step to four straight? Or the end to 28-zip? (photo source)|
The Ateneo Blue Eagles have owned the Adamson Falcons since the Ramos administration in the early 90's. With the Falcons on the sorry end of a 25-game losing streak entering last season, they emerged down 28-zip, thanks to three heroic games by Emman Monfort, who beat Adamson late in the elimination rounds on free throws, 69-66 and 55-52, and in the Final Four by waxing hot from the field, 68-55.
Ateneo Storyline : The Eagles enter this season on a quest for a four-peat, and the prestige of being the first host school to win a basketball title since the FInal Four era began. After a slew of controversies saw one player (Ryan Buenafe) opt to sit out this season, and two players transfer (Art Dela Cruz and Mark Tallo), Ateneo fans breathed a sigh of relief when the UAAP Board finally cleared 7'0" Greg Slaughter to play. On paper, this might be the most talented Ateneo team in the span of the streak to face off against Adamson, but that's the sort of attitude Ateneo head coach Norman Black heads off with cries of "No yabang!"
Ateneo Stat to Watch: Opponent's field goal percentage; Ateneo just seems to have Adamson's number defensively, constantly managing to force the Falcons into bad shots. Last season, the Eagles managed to shoot better from the field by margins of 4, 3, and 15 percentage points, with Adamson never shooting better than 35%. More than the offense, it'll be Ateneo's defense that will key an opening day victory.
Ateneo Player to Watch: Though it was Emman Monfort that terrorized the Falcons last season, sending them home with a 22 point, 7 rebound, 3 assist, 3 steal performance, forward Nico Salva had a trio of good games against the Falcons, averaging 11 points and 10 rebounds. He seems to give Jan Colina and Eric Camson match-up problems because of his range, which he extended all the way to the three-point line over the summer, making him even deadlier, but given how the Falcons might need to bring a man to double Greg Slaughter in the paint, Salva might find himself a lot of space to shoot 15-footers with impunity.
Adamson Storyline: Short of a fluke game where one side catches fire or gets extremely cold, this season will be Adamson's last best shot for a while at ending their losing streak against Ateneo, given that it's the last season for Lester Alvarez, Jerick Canada, Janus Lozada, and Jan Colina. Those four vets will undoubtedly fire up their teammates, but whether or not that will be enough to carry them to a win will only be known on Sunday.
Adamson Stat to Watch: Turnover points; the Falcons forced a league-best 19.8 turnovers, off a league-high 7.20 steals last season, and it was those easy buckets that carried them through dry spells when their offense fell cold. Last season, Adamson normed 5.67 steals and 14 forced turnovers against Ateneo, a decent enough number, but they'll have to pick it up unless they want to be drawn into another battle at the charity stripe at the end game.
Adamson Player to Watch: Alex Nuyles had a roller coaster ride of an offseason as he struggled to regain his mojo after a separated shoulder injury early in the new year, averaging just 9.5 points on 35% shooting, plus 4.5 rebounds. He is unquestionably the most athletic Falcon on their roster, but if he settles for long jumpers instead of attacking the rim, even if the shots go in, that's just playing into Ateneo's game plan.
Prediction: Ateneo Blue Eagles