UAAP Preview: FEU seeks redemption in UAAP Season 74

Posted at 07/01/2011 3:01 PM | Updated as of 07/13/2011 6:31 PM

MANILA, Philippines – The Far Eastern University (FEU) Tamaraws are looking to redeem themselves in the upcoming UAAP Season 74 after failing to win the championship in Season 73.

The Tamaraws were the favorites to win the UAAP title in Season 73, and for most of the season, the team played like it.

Led by Most Valuable Player RR Garcia and big men Aldrech Ramos and Reil Cervantes, the Tamaraws amassed a 12-2 record, defeated the De La Salle University (DLSU) Green Archers in the Final 4 and set up a Finals meeting with the Ateneo de Manila University (AdMU) Blue Eagles.

But the Tamaraws wilted in the bright lights of the Finals. Despite sweeping Ateneo in the eliminations, the Tamaraws were swept by the Blue Eagles in the Finals.

Now armed with valuable experience, the Tamaraws will still be toting a strong line up and look to be one of the top contenders for the Season 74 championship.

New coaching staff
In an interview with Boyet Sison and Bill Velasco in ANC’s Hardball, FEU athletic director Mark Molina expressed confidence in this year’s Tamaraw team.

“The team is still intact, although we lost Paul Sanga (to graduation) and Reil Cervantes who opted to turn pro,” Molino said. “But everyone else is still there, plus some talented rookies and RP Youth members.

“I think we have a deep, talented team... we still have a talented core that can win a UAAP championship.”

Aside from bringing in a bunch of talented rookies, the Tamaraws will also have a new coaching staff, led by Bert Flores.

“Coach Bert gives more freedom to his players, especially offensively,” Molina said.

“They have more freedom, they create more... When you have a team with an RR Garcia as point guard, and another upcoming star in Terrence Romeo, I think Bert has the ability to get the best out of them,” he added.

Molina is also confident that their new coaching staff will be able to help the players because most of the new coaches have FEU pedigrees.

Learning experience
For the players, they take the disaster of last year’s Finals as a learning experience.

“Last year, it was kind of bad... learning experience for us talaga for this coming season,” said guard Jens Knuttel.

“Game 1 of the Finals was a disaster for us,” Molina agrees. “I think we got overwhelmed. None of our players had the experience of playing in the Finals... Hopefully that won’t be the case this year.”

Knuttel and Ramos admit they carry more responsibilities this year, as both players are on their final year of eligibility.

“Sa amin, mas mabigat yung responsibility, kasi seniors na kami,” said Ramos. “Tapos last year, runner-up kami. Ine-expect na (ng supporters) na mas better ang results this year.”

Depth and chemistry
For sports analysts Christian Soler and Favian Pua, FEU’s primary strength is its depth and chemistry.

“[JR] Cawaling, Knuttel and Aldrech Ramos have been together since 2007, and the program has steadily and consistently supplied more talent thereafter thanks to Garcia, [Terrence] Romeo, Mark Bringas and 2011 newcomers Cris Tolomia and Russel Escoto,” said columnist Soler.

The FEU players also have a strong bond with returning coach Bert Flores because he was responsible for luring most of them to FEU.

“Team chemistry is oozing in this Morayta motley, and returning Head Coach Bert Flores has the pieces needed to go all the way,” Pua said, for his part.

Pua said Garcia and Romeo will also have to play major roles in FEU’s campaign this 74th Season.

“The smallest PBA MVP (Johnny Abbarientos) will serve as the template on how much more Garcia can refine his game, but as it is now, Garcia looks polished and battle-ready for the coming UAAP wars. Terrence Romeo, Garcia's backcourt mate, will also be scrutinized as the season progresses, especially on how he makes spot decisions under duress,” he said.

Soler said the one thing that FEU has to address is its tendency to collapse during its most important games.

"The squad's weakness is its tendency to implode on the big stage. This same core of players is unproven in the biggest games, as evidenced by their 2010 finals breakdown."

Another blow to FEU's title hopes is that their Cameroonian forward-center Pippo Noundou is unlikely to play for most of the season due to a torn Achilles tendon.

Soler sees FEU finishing with a 9-5 record this season. Pua predicts the Tamaraws can make it 10-4.

Final 4
Fans of the Tamaraws are clearly hoping that their team will be able to duplicate and even surpass last season’s achievements. With a new coaching staff and majority of their core returning for Season 74, the Tamaraws can definitely compete for a spot in the UAAP Final 4.

In terms of offense, the team is more free to create shots for themselves now with Coach Bert Flores’ free flowing offensive scheme. With Garcia and Romeo at the helm, the Tamaraws will not lack for points.

Defensively, FEU has the height and the experience to be a top defensive team. Ramos has been one of the top shotblockers in the league for years now and big man Pipo Noundou will also be a big factor as a rebounder and shotblocker. Ping Exciminiano can still be counted on to make life difficult for opposing perimeter players.

FEU is expected to bolster its line up with Christian Sentcheu Sikam, Cris Tolomia and Russell Escoto.

It remains to be seen, however, whether this crop of Tamaraws can get over the hump and finally win a championship.