For all of the improvements the NU Bulldogs made last season, the Ateneo Blue Eagles were still able to handle them with ease, raking in two double-digit wins. In their first round encounter, a combination of great quarterbacking by Ryan Buenafe (9 assists) and pouncing on turnover opportunities (NU had 24 errors which ADMU converted into 36 turnover points), led to major to scoring opportunities for Eric Salamat (20 points), Kirk Long (19 points) and Nico Salva (14 points), as the Eagles won easy, 82-65. The second round saw NU try to pound it inside more, getting 25 from Emmanuel Mbe and Jewel Ponferrada, but it still wasn't enough as the Ateneo defense shut everyone else down, allowing just 49 points while scoring 69 of their own. The acquisition of Bobby Ray Parks changed things dramatically for NU though, as since he's been on their roster, the Bulldogs are 2-1 against the Blue Eagles, beating them in the UniGames and the Fr. Martin Summer Cup, while Ateneo took the victory in the Fil-Oil Preseason Tournament.
Ateneo Stat to Watch : Second-chance points will be crucial for Ateneo, especially if they can get them at the expense of Emmanuel Mbe, who is an excellent rebounder. The Eagles have to be wary of long rebounds, because NU will grab them and dish them to Bobby Ray Parks, who will gleefully use them to trigger a fastbreak. More made baskets means NU will be forced to set-up in halfcourt, where they're considerably less potent, given their average point guard play.
Ateneo Player to Watch : After some spectacular Fil-Oil tournament games, Tonino Gonzaga has been mediocre in the actual UAAP tournament, but in this game, Gonzaga won't be asked to channel his energy into scoring, as coach Norman Black will likely want him to stick to Parks like glue and bother the heck out of him. UST showed that a small, athletic guard (Jeric Teng) can give Parks fits as long as he can keep getting his hand in his face before he shoots, and when Long is on the bench, I expect Zags to be his reliever.
NU Stat to Watch : Eric Altamirano moved Emmanuel Mbe to the bench against UP in order to prevent him from picking up fouls guarding Alinko Mbah (oops) and to have someone to anchor the second unit. While it didn't work in that specific game (Parks had to go nova to win), Altamirano is correct in thinking that his bench needs to step up, especially when Parks has to sit. If an Ajeet Singh or a Denice Villamor off the bench can catch fire, NU might give Ateneo too many scorers to stop.
NU Player to Watch : Joseph Terso saw scant minutes in NU's first game because he was still recovering from an unstated injury, but he got the nod to start versus UP, and the veteran point guard saw decent minutes, playing 27 and finishing with 5 points and 4 assists to no turnovers. The no turnovers part is crucial, especially if he finds himself matched up against the smaller, but craftier point guard, Emman Monfort.
Prediction: Ateneo Blue Eagles