What started as eight hopefuls have finally been whittled down to two. It took the better part of two months to get here, but here we are. The two pre-season favorites for the UAAP men’s basketball championship are a couple of days away from beginning their best-of-three series.
On one side you have the Ateneo Blue Eagles, the three-time defending champions that have four-in-a-row in their minds. On the other side you have the FEU Tamaraws, the forever bridesmaids that have revenge and retribution on their hearts.
We’re giving you key points each team must do in the course of the Finals to become the answer to that question.
If they’re going to win, the FEU Tamaraws must…
…Keep Their Star Players Fresh:
There’s no question that the hierarchy in the FEU Tamaraws’ line-up has RR Garcia, Aldrech Ramos, and Terrence Romeo playing the part of undisputed leaders of the team.
Head coach Bert Flores relies on this trio far more than any other team does to their top three players as evidenced by the number of minutes they play in a game: Garcia and Ramos both lead the league in minutes played at 33.7 per game with Romeo not far behind at 29.5 per game. Everybody else plays no more than 22 minutes a game.
The key for Flores is to be able to manage the minutes Garcia, Ramos, and Romeo while relying on his bench players to hold serve whenever one or more of them aren’t in the game. This is especially more important considering that Ateneo spreads their minutes out more evenly – their five starters average 26 minutes per game – bringing in fresh bodies to spell two or three starters without disrupting their line-up packages.
Black is the master of shotgun match-up substitutions so Flores must be on his toes in giving his three stars enough time to catch a break or two without falling victim to his counterpart’s in-game chess moves.
…Attack Greg Slaughter:
The Eagles are noticeably thin in the post and if FEU can get Slaughter into foul trouble, it’s going to be harder for the Eagles to contain the slew of big men the Tams can throw their way. Justin Chua and Nico Salva have shown that they can handle ‘five’ duties for stretches at a time, but neither of them can hold the fort for too long against a tall and athletic FEU frontcourt.
FEU should make a concerted effort in trying to draw fouls from Slaughter as early and as often as possible because Greg Slaughter sitting on the bench will not be of much use to the Eagles’ cause.
…Be Smart With Their Fouls:
Far too many times this season, FEU has fallen victim to sudden bouts of ‘foul-itus addictus’, described as an incessant obsession to commit as many dumb and useless fouls as possible. This strategy could work against the likes of UP or La Salle, but it certainly won’t work against the Blue Eagles.
Of all the teams in the UAAP this year, Ateneo leads the league in FT% at 72.8% so it’s best for FEU to stay the hell away from the penalty as long as they can. The best way to do that is to eliminate the petty fouls. Remember, you don’t have to reach for those damn cookies if the jar is only half open.
…Stay Calm Against the ‘Press’
Every time RR Garcia goes out of the game, you can be certain that the opposition will roll out the ‘full-court press’ on FEU. Book it. Multiple times during the season, the Tamaraws failed to crack the press if anybody but Garcia was holding the ball.
You saw it recently against Adamson after RR fouled out of the game and the Falcons instantly scoring six straight points off of turnovers from the press. FEU needs to be calm and prepared when Ateneo brings out the full court guns. And if it means having to insert “Coach” Jens Knuttel into the game, so be it. It’s not ideal, but you’d still rather start a play from your end of the court with 14 seconds left on the shot clock than lose the ball and watch a streak of blue jerseys getting lay-up after lay-up to the chants of “One Big Fight!” in the background.
…Tell Coach Flores To Bring His Coaching Hard Hat With Him
It’s been proven time and time again – more times than we care to count, actually – that you can’t out-coach Norman Black. There have been some times where other coaches do that, but it happens about as often as we can pull a rabbit out of a hat.
For all the success he has had in the UAAP, Bert Flores has never been considered a good coach. We’re not going to dive in on how he was once the coach of the last FEU championship team, was relegated back to an assistant, and then “re-promoted” back as head coach. The point is, if you’re a good coach - one with a championship under your belt, no less – that shouldn’t happen to you.
Quick Tangent: A lot of people, this writer included, continue to believe that FEU’s last championship team had more to do with Arwind Santos being on that team than Bert sitting on the head coach’s seat. Take Flores out of that team and FEU would’ve still won. Take Santos out of that team and…well, you know where this is going.
Anyway, if the FEU Tamaraws have any chance of upsetting the Ateneo Blue Eagles, Bert Flores must be on his p’s and q’s on the FEU sideline. He must have a game-plan ready. He must make quick and proper adjustments. He must know when to use those adjustments. And most important of all, he must not shrink away from the responsibility of being the head coach.
If he can do all those things, FEU has a better chance in the Finals.
NEXT: In the blue corner