UAAP Season 74 Outlook: FEU Tamaraws

(image from the FEU Tamaraws' FaceBook page)

Will FEU find a way to finally rise above what holds them back, or will they continue to languish in self-destructive flak?

Filoil Results:
FEU over AdU, 66-61
FEU over UP, 80-76
FEU over MIT, 77-65
FEU over EAC, 67-51
FEU over UE, 80-77
FEU over JRU, 79-63
FEU over CSB, 81-49
FEU over CSJL, 72-56
FEU over DLSU 73-68
FEU lost to AdMU, 74-82
FEU over AdU, 65-57

10 wins & 1 loss

Who's gone?
Reil Cervantes & Pipo Noundou (sort of)
How do you replace a guy who averaged 10.9 points, 7.1 boards and 2.4 assists per game last season (Reil Cervantes)? Answer -- you get a guy who averaged 10.8 points and 9.4 rebounds over the summer (Pipo Noundou). Now what happens when that second guy tears his ACL? You're forced to rely on Carl Cruz and Mark Bringas, both of whom combined for about 8.0 points and 7.4 boards this past preseason. Screwed? Not really, but that Cruz-Bringas value meal isn't reason to jump for joy either. This season was supposed to be Pipo's coming out party, but instead all that's coming out of him is excruciating pain from his ACL tear. Hopefuls and sages from Morayta expect he'll be back late in the season, but this is an ACL tear folks. He'll probably see the light of day by Christmas and no sooner. Whereas Reil & Pipo proved to be a lethal PF duo last season, coach Bert Flores now only has, well, a duo.

Terrence Romeo looks to have a much bigger
role in Season 74.
(image by Jan Dizon/Filoil FLying V Sports)
Who'll lead the herd?
Aldrech Ramos, Terrence Romeo & RR GArcia
The 3Rs as I'll dub them from now on. Ramos is the inside presence (10.9ppg, 8.2rpg and 1.9bpg last season), Romeo is the weapon from the wings (11.5ppg, 2.6apg and 1.2spg over the summer), and RR is the proficient playmaker (13.5ppg, 3.4rpg, 3.4apg, and 1.5spg over the summer). It's the three-horned Tamaraw attack that can decimate any and all opposition. As long as all three perform well within their abilities, then FEU will be in good shape this season. I honestly cannot think of any trio as dangerous as this, and I won't be surprised if all three wind up in the Top 10 of the MVP race towards the end of Season 74.

Can JR Cawaling ever relive his glory days again?
(image by Jan Dizon/Filoil FLying V Sports)
Who should STOP underachieving?
Over the summer, Cawaling averaged nearly 8ppg and nearly 3rpg; he shot 36% from the field and 60% from the line. He did lead the Tams with 3.5apg, but he canceled that out with a team-leading 3 turnovers per outing. Hardly inspiring numbers. He was even worse in Season 73 -- 4.5ppg, 1.4rpg while shooting roughly 28% from the field. What the hell happened to this guy?! Well, regardless of whatever the answer to that is, Cawaling has to will himself into fine form if FEU wants to extinguish their tag as perennial chokers. In four games against their chief championship rivals, the Blue Eagles, last season, the former ROY wound up with a total of 11 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists while shooting 4-of16 from the field and committing 4 turnovers. No way FEU will win the title with their top forward playing lame-ball. Will the REAL JR Cawaling please stand up? 

What will help them?
Defense (Steals, Forcing TOs & Opp PPG), Selflessness, & the MVP
The Tamaraws play awesome defense. Nuff said. But if you want proof, then consider these:
- Topped the Filoil tourney in steals per game with 7.4 (while limiting their opponents to a league-best 3.9 only).
- Forced their opponents to commit 20.2 turnovers per game (2nd among UAAP teams behind DLSU) while the Tams themselves coughed it up just 15.5 times per outing (3rd among UAAP teams).
- Topped the Filoil wars in Points Allowed with their foes averaging only 64.1 points against the FEU blanket. 
- Topped the Filoil joust in limiting their opponents to just 12.5 assists per game (tied with the Eagles).

Like I said -- nuff said.

FEU has a handful of guys who can run the point and call the shots: Romeo, Garcia, Team Captain Jens Knuttel, Ping Exciminiano, and, on a good day, Cawaling. That resulted in 17.5 apg over the preseason (up from about 15 per game last year) -- leading all UAAP teams. It seems coach Bert's more free-flowing style is a better fit for the team, and they should maximize their "selflessness" especially since Noundou's absence has them one scoring option short this season.

RR Garcia is FEU.
(image by Jan Dizon/Filoil FLying V Sports)
RR Garcia is FEU. He led the team with 15.5ppg, 2.8apg and 1.0spg, as well as leading all the FEU guards in rebounding with 3.9 per match in S73. He will continue to be the main man from Morayta, though if the preseason is to be an accurate indication, RR might do a Jason Terry or Jamal Crawford by being the top gunner off the bench. Regardless of that though, it's a fact that as long as they have RR, the Green & Gold have a chance.

What will make it difficult?
Shallow Bench, Big Game Sickness, & Off-Court Mishaps
Projected bench point production based on 2011 Filoil stats:
FEU - 22.8 (Escoto, Cruz, Bringas, Exciminiano, Tolomia, Knuttel) -- becomes 28.6 if Cruz & Knuttel start and RR comes off the bench, but still worst amongst the 4 teams.
AdMU - 30.7 (Chua, Sumalinog, Austria, Gonzaga, Ravena)
DLSU - 35.0 (Andrada, Mendoza, de la Paz, Atkins, Vosotros)
AdU - 35.1 (Brondial, Camson, Cabrera, Etrone, Alvarez)

FEU just doesn't have enough bench firepower to match-up. They'll rely heavily on their starters/strong five, but if any of those gets into foul trouble or gets injured, then the Tams are as good as fresh meat.

And if we go by some number-crunching of last year's performance by this year's 3Rs, it reveals something more alarming.

3Rs during the Elims:
- Ramos: 11.5ppg & 2.1bpg
- Romeo: 52% from downtown & 49% from the field
- RR: 16.8ppg, 41% from downtown & 43% from the field

3Rs during the Final Four & Finals:
- Ramos: 8.0ppg & 1.0bpg
- Romeo: 40% from downtown & 34% from the field 
- RR: 9.3ppg, 13% from downtown & 29% from the field

What do all these mean? All three aren't built for the big time. They dominate the elimination round, but falter in the big games. They had to go through overtime to rally past the Archers in the semis and just got bamboozled by the Ateneans (whom they beat twice in the elims) in the Championship series. And in the championship-clinching Game 2? None of the three scored in double figures. Ramos had just 3 rebounds. Garcia & Romeo combined for just 8 points on 4-of-17 shooting. Sure, the Tams can barge into the Final Four, but what happens after that?

Game-fixing allegations, players unceremoniously leaving (or being victimized by unidentified gunmen), and boardroom politicking. Unwarranted or otherwise, it's rather unfortunate that FEU has had to deal with these off-court mishaps in recent years. They'll have enough challenges on the court as it is with most teams building up in Season 74, and the last thing they need is another fortuitous event casting a grim shadow over their team. But because it's FEU, and their quota is one shady event per season, we all shouldn't bee too surprised if anything crazy happens again.

Will they make the FInal Four?
Sure. This one is a no-brainer. Even without Noundou, coach Flores has a skilled enough team to ransack the rest of the league and make the Final Four and probably even get a twice-to-beat edge without much hassle. Talent & experience will mesh well, and Flores's championship history should fire up his boys even more.

I'm seeding them as
#2 -- Despite the departure of Cervantes and the impending absence of Noundou, this is still a top-flight college team. And all the aforementioned weaknesses notwithstanding, the Tamaraws still have last year's ROY & MVP plus two guys who have had significant National Team experience with Smart-Gilas. They will still be tough. And if JR Cawaling manages to find his game amid his personal Where's Waldo, then look out. You might just get trampled.

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