The Games That Play Us: Live and Die

This season, it seems like "Live and Die" is an ominous theme.

The UE Red Warriors will live and die with Roi Sumang.

The Ateneo Blue Eagles will live and die with Kiefer Ravena.

Has Roi Sumang regressed?
Last weekend, we witnessed how Roi Sumang, who is supposed to be a leading candidate this season, melted down amidst the pressure, missing a potential game-winner against the league-leading NU Bulldogs. He actually shot relatively well in that game, making 44% of his field goals (his season peg is just 33%), but he misfired on the one that counted the most. He ended up with 16 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, and 4 turnovers. Meanwhile, the Red Warriors have dropped their third straight game and are just one notch higher than cellar-dwelling Adamson and UP.

Is Roi Sumang actually regressing in Season 77?
(image by Marlon Bernabe/Burn Sports)
A close look at Sumang’s stats reveals something glaring — he might actually be regressing. His scoring, steals, and rebounds are all down from last year. Ditto with his three-point shooting and overall field goal percentage. His minutes? Down as well from 36 minutes a game last season to just over 20 a game this year. He normed around 17 FG attempts in Season 76, but is only putting 13 this season.

What gives? Is coach Derek Pumaren’s system “too team-oriented” for someone as ball-dominant as Sumang? Has the entry of Moustapha Arafat and the emergence of guys like Dan Alberto and Gino Juamo-as eaten into Sumang’s possessions? I’m not quite sure, but we still have the rest of the season to find out. Here’s something, though — numbers don’t lie, and Sumang’s numbers are far from MVP-level.

How long can Kiefer carry Ateneo?
Now let’s talk about a guy who’s playing like an MVP — the King Eagle himself, Kiefer Ravena. As I write this, I’m still replaying his awesome game-winner over UST yesterday. Wow. Whattashot. He wasn’t exactly having a sharp afternoon from the field, too. Prior to that shot, Kief had missed 11 of his 17 field goals and all of his threes. In fact, Kief has gone 2/18 (11%) from downtown in his last three outings, which is in stark contrast to the first three games where he shot a blistering 7/13 (54%) from rainbow country. The reality was he was building a brick mansion against UST, but, as has always been the case with Kiefer and other greats, he delivered when it counted the most.

Ronnie Magsanoc directs as Kiefer Ravena pulls up. Winner.
(image by Philip Sison/Fabilioh)

He was also great against FEU and rival Mike Tolomia last weekend, playing a major role in the three-point W for Ateneo. Despite struggling again from the floor (he shot 5/15 or 33%), he still managed to drop 23 markers, mainly because he was aggressive and rewarded with 15 FT attempts (he made 11). Moreover, he collared rebounds and got his teammates involved. Kief handed out a season-high 7 assists in that match. Strangely enough, this season, Kief is enjoying a higher average in terms of scoring and assists. It’s pretty amazing when you think about it. The Phenom is getting his and helping his teammates get theirs, too.

My only problem with this set-up is this: Ravena is playing a career-high 33 minutes per game. Yes, he’s played a ton of minutes ever since his high school days, but he has never been given this big a burden as before. The last time he player upwards of 30 minutes a game was way back in Season 75, when he still had guys like Greg Slaughter, Nico Salva, Ryan Buenafe, Justin Chua, and Juami Tiongson to take much of the offensive load. This time around, however, he’s playing more minutes than ever AND he has less help. Yes, I love the games of Chris Newsome, Von Pessumal, and rookie Arvin Tolentino, but, by and large, this is Kiefer’s team to carry, and I just don’t know how much longer he can keep on bailing the Eagles out.

In other news…

New Kib in town!
I have to admit, I’m no Kib Montalbo fan. This is a guy who looked like he was headed to Ateneo from high school and then chose to go green. This was a kid who averaged about 1.5 points and 1 rebound per game in just 8 minutes an outing last year. He scored a total of just 8 points in DLSU’s first four games of the season. He had no assists (as in ZERO) prior to the Green Archers’ game against the Falcons last weekend. When Thomas Torres was ruled out for an extended period of time, in the back of my mind, I thought, “This is the end for La Salle. Montalbo cannot run this offense, and they cannot burden Vosotros too much with playmaking. He’s a natural SG.”

And yet here we are. DLSU is in solo third, winning its last four games, and Montalbo has been a big part of that.

His performance against Adamson stands out, of course. Montalbo played the game of his life in that one, shooting an unbelievable 75% from the field to end up with a career-best 18 points. He also grabbed 5 rebounds and had 4 assists. 18-5-4. That’s a superstar stat-line right there.

Kib Montalbo lit up the Big Dome against the Soaring Falcons.
(image by Kristine Barreiro/GoArchers)

He followed that up with a respectable 5-point, 7-rebound, 3-assist, and 2-steal effort yesterday as DLSU blew the Maroons out of the Big Dome, 74-53.

As of now, Kib is averaging about 5 points, 3 boards, and 1 assists per game while shooting 46% from the field. He has looked more confident, and if he continues his progress, then I don’t think a lot of people will really miss Thomas Torres’s presence.

If you love basketball, then you have to love how the NU Bulldogs are playing. Unlike the recent past, NU has looked less reliant on superstars. Instead, this NU squad looks more like a bona fide five-man team. The numbers won’t show it outright, though. This NU squad of Season 77 is averaging fewer assists, slightly more turnovers, and a slightly lower FG%.

But, get this, there are four NU Bulldogs averaging 8 or more points per game this season compared to just two guys last year. In Season 76, Ray Parks and Emmanuel Mbe paired up to score nearly half of the Bulldogs’ scoring average, but this time around the scoring is much more spread out.

The biggest thing we should consider, however, is this: even without Parks and Mbe, NU has risen to the top of the league standings. Undoubtedly, coach E and his wards are definitely doing something right.

Troy Rosario has been enjoying a breakout year for NU.
(image by Marlon Bernabe/Burn Sports)

Alfred Aroga has been giving foes the fits this season.
(image by Marlon Bernabe/Burn Sports)

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