MANILA, Philippines – After long and taxing journeys, the FEU Tamaraws and UST Growling Tigers are back in the UAAP Finals with one goal: to finally break through and win the coveted title of the collegiate league.
FEU is in the finals for the fourth time in the last 6 years, looking for their first championship in 10 years, and their 20th overall in UAAP history.
UST, on the other hand, is back in the finals for the third time in the last 4 years, looking for their first championship in 9 years, and their 19th overall in UAAP history. (READ: The Lowdown: UST vs FEU – UAAP Season 78 Finals trivia)
What will determine the series and who comes out on top? Find out below as your sports Rapplers answer questions surrounding the best-of-3 series:
Elimination round meetings:
Both UST and FEU are balanced offensive and defensive teams. What or who will make the difference?
Jane Bracher: Honestly, it's very, very hard to tell. It certainly won't be a surprise should every game in this series be decided in the final possessions. Both sides have seasoned veterans with UAAP Finals experience, and both have clutch players. The two sides can match each other well inside and out.
It's the weaknesses that will come into play here, such as poor rebounding and limited bench contribution for UST and turnovers for FEU. This will be such a tightly contested Finals and expect the Tamaraws to come charging back to avenge their two elimination round losses to the Tigers.
Naveen Ganglani: For FEU, it will come down to whether or not they can take care of the ball. They were one of the worst teams in the season in terms of turnovers and points off turnovers (16.2 a game), and they can’t allow a deadly offensive team like UST to get easy scoring opportunities.
UST will need bench guys to step up. We know what we’re going to get out of their reliable veteran core, but their average of 17.0 (league-worst) bench points a game won’t cut it against the team that allowed the second least points to opponents (68 a game) this season.
Photo by Josh Albelda/Rappler
What adjustments should FEU make based off of its two elimination round losses to UST in order to win?
Jane Bracher: Without question limit its turnovers. In their two elimination round meetings, the Tams averaged a whopping 21.5 turnovers, which resulted in 43 points for the Tigers. Definitely not ideal for FEU to win a championship.
Naveen Ganglani: The Tamaraws averaged 21.5 turnovers that led to a total of 43 points in their two losses to UST. The Growling Tigers also shot 43.4% and 44.4% in the two matchups, so it’s clear FEU needs to do a better job contesting their opponents’ attempts and, as aforementioned, take care of the leather.
The disparity at the free throw line is also notable, as UST has attempted a total 47 free throws against the Tams this season while FEU has taken just 32.
Lastly: in one of UST’s wins, they out-rebounded FEU 39-33. The Tamaraws led the league in rebounding while UST was last, so there’s no reason they should let UST grab more boards.
Photo by Josh Albelda/Rappler
FEU’s biggest weakness is their turnovers (17.6 per game) and one of UST’s biggest weakness is their rebounding (league-lowest 40.9 a game). Which rears its ugly head more in the finals?
Jane Bracher: If Mac Belo's game-winning basket off an offensive rebound is any indication, then it looks like UST needs to practice boxing out more. The Tigers are surprisingly the worst rebounding team in the league despite the presence of big man Karim Abdul and hustle guys in Kevin Ferrer and Ed Daquioag. While UST scraped by in rebounding during the first round meeting (39-33), FEU certainly controlled the boards well in the second round (42-34).
Then again, UST seems to have a knack of forcing so many miscues on FEU. Worth noting that FEU still lost in the second round despite getting more rebounds over UST.
Naveen Ganglani: I think FEU’s turnovers will be a bigger issue than UST’s rebounding. While the Tigers were last when it came to cleaning the glass, they still do have a reliable big man in Karim Abdul to gather missed shots. It’s just a matter of the other guys being able to help him out better.
UST doesn’t press often, but when they do it’s deadly. Going back to the second-round meeting between both clubs, it was when the Tigers switched to a 1-3-1 zone and started to full-court press when they rallied from down double digits to take the game.
UST’s players are also great on-ball defenders, which will make life very difficult for Achie Inigo and Tolomia.
Which X-factors do you think need to step up the most?
Jane Bracher: I'm going on a limb and will say Louie Vigil will spark UST. He's unpredictable for me and that could certainly work to the Tigers' advantage. Meanwhile for FEU, I will not be surprised to see clutch play from guys like Raymar Jose or Ron Dennison – even if it's a defensive stop.
Of course, it's hard to bet against MVP runner-up Kevin Ferrer. FEU will have its hands full trying to deny the guy who played through the flu and weathered palpitations in-game from winning a title in his final year.
Naveen Ganglani: Most spectators think of Tolomia or Belo when it comes to naming FEU’s stars, but they have actually had a Big 3 this season with Roger Pogoy taking the role of the third guy.
He’s averaging 12.5 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.9 assists a game this season while shooting 39.2% from the field and 34.2% from downtown. When it comes to making clutch 3s, there are little who are better than him - just ask Ateneo.
UST will divert a lot of attention to Belo and Tolomia, which will open opportunities for Pogoy to shine. He’s my dark horse Finals MVP winner.
For UST, I’m going to give the names of two guys: Louie Vigil and Jan Sheriff. Vigil because we all know he can be a viable scoring option when he’s got it going, but the opposite when he’s cold. How often he’ll have his stroke may determine the finals.
Sheriff may also be pivotal because I predict FEU will utilize the “Hack-a-Sheriff” strategy. As he said after the win against NU, Sheriff has to make his free throws
Will this be the year FEU finally wins a title again? Photo by Josh Albelda/Rappler
Jane Bracher: I'm taking FEU in 3 games, with Mac Belo as Finals MVP. It's unlikely the Tams will play like they did in the eliminations and their most recent Finals experience will certainly bode well for them.
Naveen Ganglani: I think UST’s lack of depth haunts them and the Tamaraws get enough stops to make up for their turnovers. FEU in 3, with Pogoy winning Finals MVP.