By Katherine Verances Marfal
Going to this season, Far Eastern University Tamaraws and Ateneo De Manila University Blue Eagles received different expectations from different spectators. Even the Tamaraws let down their intact lineup last season; they are still bankable to be considered as the heavy favorite to bag the title. Meanwhile, the back to back champions Blue Eagles have doubts on their back in repeating this year because of losing their key players. Definitely, two teams are both expected to close out this season and it happens right now. Big game from the top guns, maximizing their advantages and controlling the tempo of the series are vital keys for the Tamaraws to end that 5-year drought, while for the Blue Eagles, it’s their veterans who have to show up, the young frontline have to step up their game and continues to believe on the system of coach Norman Black to pull out an upset.
Time and time again, the Tamaraws’ are always dangerous because of having so much weapons and reliable personnel. MVP candidate Ryan Roose Garcia is leading the pack for the Tamaraws. The sophomore sensation is able to evolve as the best player this season after averaging 16.4 points per game and 3.4 assists per game. Even his game gone down in the second half of the season, Garcia is always a mark man for Glen Capacio’s squad and how he adjusts to this is still to be seen. The only main concern in his game is consistency. Lately, it seems the opponents are already finding their solution in preventing Garcia. In the final four, he only managed to score 8 points against the De LaSalle Green Archers. Obviously, the Zamboanga native will have a tougher time against the Eagles defenders. With Garcia, struggled in the past few games, holdovers like Aldrech Ramos, Reil Cervantes, J.r Cawaling, Paul Sanga and rookie Terrence Romeo have to play major roles as the series gets underway. Ramos and Cervantes are the best big men duo in the league. Their game are complimenting to each other, scoring and rebounding wise. Throughout the season, these two versatile forwards have been dependable especially in the down to the wire ball games. Sanga and Romeo have ups and down in this season. However, in the last game against the upset-minded Green Archers, these two wildcard picks shine in the pressure situation, which obviously earn the trust of Coach Capacio. Sanga sank 14 points, including 3-three point shots, including the game-tying shot to force overtime. Meanwhile, Romeo, stepped up big time by leading the comeback and seals the game for the Tamaraws. Perhaps, in terms of talent and experience, the Tamaraws have the huge advantage. With so many guys, who played for more than 3 years under the mentorship of coach Capacio, the Tamaraws can maximize this to gain the momentum of the series. Also playing their game is the Tamaraws’ priority heading to this series. Tough defense, especially on man to man and better half-court execution are the Tamaraws’ key ingredient in winning this series.
For the Blue Eagles, even there are the defending champions; the expectations are not so much high heading to this season. Losing their three main players, the Blue Eagle will have a tough time in defending their crown. However, Coach Norman Black relies always on his holdovers. Team captain Erik Salamat, Ryan Buenafe, Kirk Long, Nico Salva and Emman Monfort became the stabilizers in the big games of the Blue Eagles. Salamat has dismal performance this season in terms of point production but his tenacity on defense and provides much needed leadership on the floor; other guys were able to contribute well in all of their games. Buenafe is expected to be the focal point of their offense. Despite his inconsistency in this department, being aggressive and willing to share the ball helps the cause of the team. Long, Salva and Monfort have become the reliable role players to balance the attack of the Blue Eagles. All these names have not been noticeable to everyone, but because of their brilliant play and good team basketball, the Loyola-based squad was able to make their return in the finals. Ateneo’s liability as of now is there big’s. Remain to be seen are if someone like Frank Golla, Jimbo Escueta and Justin Chua can challenge the well-stabilized frontline of the Tamaraws. Though, Coach Black can give his young big men a good account. Despite inexperience, they have the potential to outhustle and outwork the big men of the Tamaraws, just they did in their past opponents. Winning a grandslam is not far from reality for the Blue Eagles, especially with Coach Black guiding them in the sideline. Throughout the years, it was not the player but it’s the system of Mr. 100% that made them so successful. He is able to maximize the pieces that they have and in this series, the Ateneans will rely anew to the magic of their prolific mentor.
Obviously, everyone believes that this is the year for the Tamaraws. After being frustrated in the recent year, they don’t want to let this opportunity slip away from them. Coach Capacio’s contract will expire after this season and some players are also on their final years. Expect them to give all their guts and marbles to bring back the UAAP glory in Morayta area. For the Blue Eagles, aside from eyeing a repeat, their mission is to destroy all the criticisms regarding their capabilities in maintaining the crown. After this series, two questions will be answered. Can the Blue Eagles build a new dynasty or can the Tamaraws finally nail their destiny by winning the title?
(Katherine Verances Marfal is a freelance writer. Among the publications she writes for are the Manila Bulletin, Sports Digest, Panorama and Pilipino Star Ngayon. She is a graduate of Philippine Normal University).