#UPWithdraw: Can Unity Minus #2 beat the Ateneo Blue Eagles?

During the weekend, Isko Moreno, Norberto Gonzales, and Ping Lacson had a press conference that dominated discourse on Social Media. The agenda of their press con was simple: show that they would unite in not withdrawing their candidacies for president, and instead, asking the #2 candidate according to the surveys, Leni Robredo, to withdraw instead.

It was an interesting press conference that forced Filipinos to rethink their lessons in Mathematics. It was even more interesting because some UAAP fans started to picture the idea of UP withdrawing this UAAP season so the other teams could beat Ateneo.

So let’s add some color to that picture, shall we? Let’s try to answer whether Unity Minus #2 can beat the Ateneo Blue Eagles. 

What’s the blueprint to beat Ateneo? 

Ever since Coach Tab Baldwin’s taken over head coaching duties for the Blue Eagles, Ateneo’s offense has been all about flow, discipline, and patience. The best way to counter this is by disrupting their attack by putting a ton of pressure and forcing them to make quick decisions in tight situations. This was how S81 FEU and Adamson, and S80 La Salle beat them during their title run.

Of course, you need to put the ball in the basket more times than Ateneo, so bringing a potent offense to the table is key. Limiting Ateneo’s defense will require trying to foul out Angelo Kouame to increase a team’s chances of scoring more. If that won’t work, stretching the floor is your next best bet. 

The Starting Lineup of Unity Minus #2

C – Justine Baltazar, DLSU Green Archers

PF – Michael Malonzo, NU Bulldogs

SF – Xyrus Torres, FEU Tamaraws

SG – Kurt Lojera, DLSU Green Archers

PG – Jerom Lastimosa, Adamson Soaring Falcons 

From the onset, I have to say this: it was extremely difficult to create a potent starting 5 that covered all the bases against the Ateneo Blue Eagles. The number one problem in this exercise was getting a good amount of reliable 3 and D players to include in this fantasy lineup. If there was a player that knew how to shoot, his defense was a tad questionable. For players who could defend and put pressure, they were often too small. Lastly, those who had size often had inconsistent strokes. With that being said, here’s the best five I could come out with.

Justine Baltazar feels like the obvious pick in this exercise. For the record, he is probably the best player in the UAAP not named Angelo Kouame. The challenge with Baltazar was figuring out where to slot him. Would we use him as a power forward, or as a center? I opted to use him as a center to make way for Michael Malonzo, NU’s underrated but very valuable athletic forward.

With those two on board, you get a frontline that has plenty of length. They aren’t supreme shooters by any means, but they stretch the floor well enough to make life hard for Ateneo’s front line. 

Their true value lies in motor. Baltazar is a skilled workhorse who will make life hard for Kouame, while Malonzo has an engine that will tire out even the most conditioned of players. With those two moving relentlessly, you force Ateneo’s frontline to move as well. Eventually, that movement will create some form of space that will allow your lineup to thrive.

Which brings us to the backcourt. Jerom Lastimosa was an obvious choice here, given the leap he’s made this season as a playmaker, creator, and scorer. He is likely a Top 10 UAAP Player right now, with a pro stock that’s rising by the minute. 

Kurt Lojera might be the surprise piece in this lineup, but he’s arguably the most important one. Lojera might just be the best perimeter defender in the league not named Gian Mamuyac. He’s a stock bulldog that hounds opposing offenses, and he has a good enough offensive package to boot. 

The value of these two lies in speed, creativity, and just like your frontcourt, a lot of motor. Lastimosa’s ability to create off the dribble will be key in keeping this offense afloat, while Lojera’s IQ and effort on defense is needed to stifle Ateneo’s guards.

Lastly, we have the piece who will tie both parties together; Xyrus Torres. It was tough deciding on this final position, because you could have went with a faster player or a bigger one at the three spot. But we opted with Torres, because aside from his shooting which can tie a lot of the loose ends, his defense is solid enough to compliment the guards and bigs. Torres, my friends, is going to be a pro. A very good one. And he fits in very well in this fantasy lineup of ours. 

The Key Bench Pieces of Unity Minus #2

C – Emman Ojuola, FEU Tamaraws 

PG – LJay Gonzales, FEU Tamaraws

SF – John Lloyd Clemente, NU Bulldogs

Of course, you can’t win without a solid bench, and we went with these three key pieces. To balance the motor of your starting lineup, we went with one large body for added big man depth, a speedy creator as a reliable backup to Jerom, and a large wing who can thrive with the right pieces.

Emman Ojuola was admittedly a no-brainer to add to this lineup. His exclusion from the starting lineup was because of strategy (motor, plenty of speed) rather than his competence as a player. Speed can only do so much and you need some heft to back that up. Enter Ojuola.

LJay Gonzales also should have been a no-brainer, but Lastimosa got the nod over him due to more consistent creation in the halfcourt. But you couldn’t have chosen a better back-up point guard. LJay has the strength and speed to make life hard for the Ateneo Blue Eagles.

John Lloyd Clemente was a tricky player to consider in this exercise. He could have gotten the nod over Torres, but his shooting has been too inconsistent. On the other hand, his upside and size are too valuable, so leaving him off the lineup completely felt criminal. A bench role seems fair enough. If he heats up, you’re in for a very fun night. 

The Coach of Unity Minus #2

Coach Jeff Napa, NU Bulldogs

This was the easiest choice to make, outside of Justine Baltazar’s inclusion. Coach Jeff Napa has been the UAAP’s Coach of the Year (for those not named Tab Baldwin), and a lot of that has to do with his principles as a basketball coach.

Play hard. Keep things simple. Play together. 

Those may sound like very basic principles, but he gets his players to execute and embody those to a tee, and that deserves a lot of praise. He’s a floor-raising coach who has also proven capable of handling talented rosters (at least in the Juniors Division). Plus, his system that puts a premium on pressure defense and forcing turnovers is perfect for the game plan needed to beat the Blue Eagles.

Can Unity Minus #2 beat the Ateneo Blue Eagles? 

This will probably be a close game, given the amount of talent Unity Minus #2 has. But the fact of the matter is, to beat the Blue Eagles with this lineup, you will need to play the closest thing you can get to a perfect game. That’s quite a feat, so I wouldn’t bet on this roster to slay the Blue Eagle machine. 

The biggest problem is size in the wing position. While Xyrus Torres and JLC are capable defenders, they lack the strength to capably defend Dave Ildefonso. Plus, they’d need to contend with 6-foot-5 Chris Koon in spurts. 

And of course, the Angelo Kouame problem. He’s the best player in the UAAP for a reason, and there’s reason to believe that he can withstand the pressure of Baltazar and Malonzo. Ojuola can try to use his size, but Ange is too fast for Emman to handle in the post. 

Should we instead unite with UP at the helm to beat Ateneo? 

Well, it’s the obvious choice. While it isn’t a 100% full-proof plan to beat Ateneo, you need to take your chances by maximizing the second-best team in the league. Zavier Lucero and CJ Cansino are players any team would want thanks to their versatility, while Carl Tamayo is a centerpiece any coach would dream of having. With UP, ABL.




But then again, we’re talking about Ateneo here, a proven commodity in college basketball, with a track record that you cannot question. I could continue to write 203 billion words on combinations to beat their squad while requesting for recounts when need be, but even that may not be enough.

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