The Games That Play Us: Welcome to the Tempest

I am calling it right now, early as it may seem. FEU and NU will be in the UAAP Season 76 Final Four. The jury is still out on whether either or both will have twice-to-beat advantages entering the semifinals, but I am SURE they will both be among the four teams advancing into the knockout stage.

I am also 100% sure UP is out of it, and am pretty confident the Soaring Falcons can now change their moniker to Spoiling Falcons. Simply put, we now have two of the Final Four spots taken, and we also have two teams who will basically play spoilers’ roles.

And that leaves four teams – Ateneo, De La Salle, UE, and UST – fighting for the last two Final Sour berths.

Oh, and you might have heard about the latest slew of suspensions meted out by the commissioner’s office. DLSU’s Thomas Torres will miss the Ateneo-La Salle match after incurring his second unsportsmanlike foul of the season (he punched former Green Archer Sam Marata last Saturday, August 22, 2013). Likewise, UE’s Charles Mammie and Lord Casajeros will each miss the Reds’ next two games (against NU and DLSU) after they took potshots at FEU’s Terrence Romeo this past Sunday. This is Mammie’s second suspension this season and Casajeros’s first.

Considering all these developments, it’s safe to say there’s no shortage of excitement, drama, and controversy in the UAAP. Come to think of it, however, was there ever a season devoid of all three?

Can Kiefer Ravena lead the Eagles back into the postseason?

But I digress.

Let’s look at each of the aforementioned teams who are still in the thick of the Final Four race.

The UE Red Warriors
UE has definitely enjoyed the biggest turnaround of any team this season. In Season 75, the Recto Reds were seen as basically just a notch better than UP Fighting Maroons, which is, of course, not saying much. They did have a few shining moments, like that win over Ateneo in the second round, but by and large it was a campaign the Warriors would rather forget.

Things couldn’t be any more different this season, though. As of this writing, UE is tied with the defending champs at fourth place and a game ahead of last year’s losing Finalist, UST. This is a team that won the Filoil Preseason Cup and finished in the top half of a really tight first round. They have the best point guard in the league and the college game’s most tenacious rebounder. They have a deep roster and a heady coach. On paper, it’s a winning formula.

Will Roi Sumang be able to carry the Warriors into the Final Four?

But with the aforementioned suspensions of Mammie (the tenacious rebounder) and Casajeros (maybe UE’s best wing defender), things will get really difficult. In fact, should UE lose to NU and DLSU, they might as well kiss their Final Four chances good bye. Yes, there is no shortage of guys who will step up. Chris Javier and Adrian Santos, on good days, can approximate Mammie’s production, while Ralf Olivares and JM Noble can more than fill in for Casajeros at the wings.  Of course, any team that has Sumang is a legitimate threat, too. Having said that, however, the big question is can the Warriors make the necessary adjustments and be mentally tough against both the Bulldogs and Archers?

The De La Salle Green Archers
DLSU is sitting pretty at #3 right now, with 6 wins in 10 games. They are slightly ahead of the other teams on this list and well behind both NU and FEU. Coach Juno Sauler’s crew has been inconsistent this season, but get this – they are 3-0 in the second round. This is a team that has already beaten FEU, and the Greenies definitely have a lot of momentum going into this weekend’s titanic tussle against the Blue Eagles.

From my perspective, the two biggest factors in La Salle’s improved play have been Jason Perkins and Almond Vosotros. In the Archers’ last three wins, Perkins has put up 14.3ppg and 10.3rpg, while Vosotros has normed 16.0ppg, 5.7rpg, 4.3apg, and 1.7spg. In short, this one-two punch has been awesome. Methinks coach Sauler has finally found his go-to-guys, and, frankly, I think the fact that neither one is Jeron Teng is a GOOD thing for La Salle.

Jason Perkins and the Green Archers have started
the second round strongly.

I mean, Teng has been good – 12.3ppg and 6.3rpg in the same timespan – but look at his field goal shooting – 14/43 for 32.6%. I think the Archers would do well to deprive Teng of some shots and allocate those to Perkins instead. In those three games, Perkins shot a total of 28 field goals, which is 15 less than Teng’s. AND STILL Perkins put more points on the board. Simple math, folks. Simple math.

The UST Growling Tigers
Slowly, this season is beginning to unravel for coach Pido Jarencio and the Tigers. They were tagged as one of the major title contenders prior to the start of Season 76, but right now they are mired in sixth place (SIXTH PLACE). That’s certainly not something they were expecting, but neither was Jeric Teng’s prolonged absence because of his shoulder injury.

Teng reinjured himself (this time it’s his right hamstring) in his first game back against NU (ironically, the same team against which he got his shoulder shot), but recent reports have it that he will still play in UST’s next game (today against Adamson). One has got to give props to this kid, of course, since he’s a critical piece if UST is to survive the elims, but one also has to think of whether a hobbling Teng is better than no Teng at all.

Beyond Teng’s injury, though, the real downer for UST this season has been, unsurprisingly, the inconsistent playmaking. Ed Daquioag, Tata Bautista, Jon Sheriff, Robin Tan, and Edcor Marata have all been given some time at the PG spot, but nobody has really been able to bring a high level of playmaking on a consistent basis. Daquioag and Bautista have been the most successful, but they are really two shooting guards playing out of position at the point (Daquioag averages 2.7 assists, but this is canceled out by his 2.5 turnovers per outing; Bautista is even worse with 1.6apg but 1.7topg).

Tata Bautista (L) has been a patchwork PG at best.

To illustrate how playmaking has been such a bane for the Tigers, there is no UST player in the top 10 in assists (Jeric Fortuna led the entire league last season), while three España boys are among the top 10 in turnovers (Karim Abdul with 3.2topg, while Aljon Mariano and Daquioag have 2.5topg each). If coach Pido wants to barge into the Final Four party, he’ll need someone to be a prime playmaker heading into the last 5 games of the elims.

The Ateneo Blue Eagles
And now we have the Blue Eagles, who still don’t have a complete roster (don’t forget that G-Boy Babilonia is out for the season), but are humming along, winning 5 of their last 6 assignments after a horrendous 0-3 start.

Naturally, we can point to the return of Kiefer Ravena as maybe the most significant catalyst in that run. Kiefer is not part of the league’s efficiency leaders (he’s #25, right behind Sam Marata and just ahead of Mike Tolomia), but his effect on the Eagles’ play and the opponents’ collective psyche is beyond any statistical measurement. Ravena’s season averages are the following: 11.0ppg, 4.3rpg, 2.0apg, and 1.1spg while shooting 36% from the field, but in the Eagles’ first two second round games, the Phenom has put up 16.0ppg, 8.5rpg, 3.5apg, and 1.0spg while shooting 45.8% from the floor. Consequently, his efficiency rating for the past two games has been roughly 37.5, which would be good enough for #6 in the entire league right now. I am not convinced, he’s 100%, but that might actually be good news, because, despite already playing this well, he is bound to get even better as the season continues.

Aside fro Kief, the other factor that has really impressed me in Ateneo’s last two victories has been the playmaking. Ryan Buenafe and Juami Tiongson dished out a combined 10 assists and had just 1 turnover against Adamson this past Sunday, while the whole team was +4 in assists against UP ten days prior. Should coach Bo Perasol’s offense remain well-run, then the Eagles should be in a prime position to win each of their remaining elims games.

Coach Bo Perasol (L) will rely heavily on the contributions of
his starting playmaker, Juami Tiongson (R).
(image by Arvin Lim/Fabilioh)

Having said that, Ateneo’s last five games will be anything but easy. They had maybe the two lightest assignments to start the second round, and things will get exponentially more difficult moving forward (today they meet FEU and then this weekend it’s DLSU). It all culminates in a three-game gauntlet against UE, NU, and then UST (the original August 21, 2013 playdate was postponed). Needless to say, Kiefer and Co. will need to be at their very best to make the postseason.

So there you have it -- suspensions left and right and a whirlwind of possibilities heading into the deep waters of Season 76.  

And here we thought the tempest (good riddance, Maring) was over.

Unless otherwise specified, all images are by Jan Dizon/

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