Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Ateneo-FEU UAAP Finals Preview: Trilogy (or "We meet again")

This appears in

A preview of the Ateneo-FEU Men’s Basketball Finals. This will be the third time in the past 10 years that the two schools will be matching up. This one’s for the decider. It’s a 50-50 game where no quarter will be given.
by rick olivares

The Ateneo Blue Eagles and FEU Tamaraws have met 10 times in the last four years. The three-time defending champs have had the edge so far with a 7-3 record entering the UAAP Finals of Season 74. But with the best-of-three championship series format, both teams are back to scratch and have a 50-50 chance of winning it all.

In UAAP cage history, the two have meet twice – 2003 and 2010 – with each side splitting the series with a pair of sweeps. And this one is for the rubber match.

While the Blue Eagles have had a dominating season, by no means will the finals be a cakewalk. The Tamaraws have played well despite the loss of some vital cogs to graduation (Reil Cervantes and Paul Sanga) and injuries (Pippo Noundou, JR Cawaling, Christian Sentcheu). In the elimination round, they played eight close matches (and six lopsided matches) that have served them in good stead. They know fully well that are every bit capable of coming back in the game from huge deficits. On the other hand, they know that they are also capable of coughing up huge leads and losing won games.

But the Tams are entering the final flush with confidence after their ouster of heavy favorite Adamson in two convincing matches where they dominated the Falcons. They’re also motivated by revenge against Ateneo to whom they have lost an assortment of tournaments – UAAP, the University Games, and the Philippine Collegiate Champions League.

The two dust ups with Ateneo in the elimination round saw contrasting finishes. In the first round match, FEU was staring at a double-digit deficit when they were hit by consecutive technical fouls that saw the lead balloon to 20 points. With Ateneo stepping on the accelerator, FEU fell apart both on and off the court.

Immediately the following game (played six game after), the Tamaraws showed Ateneo that the memory of that loss had faded as they posted a double-digit lead before the first half ended. The Blue Eagles slowly chipped away at the deficit until it was overhauled and the game sent into overtime. Once there, Ateneo put the game out of reach.

Ateneo enters the finals for the fourth straight year (and fifth in the last six years) feeling confident but wary. The way the series against FEU has gone, they know that this will not be easy and it could possibly go down the wire.

Some would like to think that another blowout (such as last year’s 72-49 massacre in Game One that FEU’s UAAP Board Representative Anton Montinola said “the series was over after the game’s first five minutes”) is in the cards.

There will be no such thing this year barring a meltdown of epic proportions.

Keys to a FEU victory:

Following their epic collapse to Ateneo to kick off the second round, FEU went 5-1 (their other loss was to UST) to compile a 9-5 record.

1) During that 5-1 run where they outlasted Adamson, UST, and La Salle, the Tamaraws were led by their wondrous phalanx of stud guards in Ryan Roose Garcia, Terrence Romeo, and Mike Tolomia.

The three account for 48% of FEU’s scoring output (32.2 points per game), 28% of the rebounds (12.0 per game), and 7.1 assists. The presence of the three gives FEU a chance to win every match. And to think that the UAAP will see this trio for at least two more years (when Garcia finishes up with school).

All three are lethal on the drive, perimeter, and the drop pass. Aldrech Ramos and Russell Escoto have been the beneficiaries of countless pick and rolls and drop passes from the trio. Now they have added the alley-oop as a quick strike option (one play that Ateneo has not defended that very well).

2) And then there’s the do-it-all man Ateneo calls “X” – Chris Exciminiano. He didn’t really play well in the Final Four against Adamson but you know he gets up for Ateneo (then again who doesn’t). Like Slaughter, if X is doing a little bit of everything while putting points on the board then this will ease the pressure on the rest of his teammates.

3) Without Cawaling and Sentcheu, Tams coach Bert Flores has gotten huge contributions from forwards Roger Pogoy and Carl Cruz. If the two get going, they will spread the floor for FEU.

4) The Tamaraws will be entering the Finals with a full crew. That means Pippo Noundou, Christian Sentcheu, and JR Cawaling will be in uniform and ready to go. How good they’ll be is anyone’s guess. But if they can contribute that adds to their depth and their chances. But they will be in a reserve role as players like Pogoy and Escoto will be the first off the bench.

5) If they can take Greg Slaughter, Kiefer Ravena, and Emman Monfort out of the game, this one is theirs.

Keys to an Ateneo win:
Both teams are pretty much close in rebounds, assists, steals, and turnovers department. Ditto for fastbreak, second chance, and turnover points. What will swing the series into the defending champions’ favor are the following:

1) The longer Greg Slaughter stays in the game the better it is for Ateneo. Unlike against UST where Slaughter had trouble staying in games and contributing (save for the Final Four match but he did go out at a crucial time), the Big Fella has done well against FEU as he has posted double doubles. If he is quick in his decision-making when he gets that ball, he will be harder to stop.

2) In Ateneo’s two wins over FEU this season, they had three players in double figure scoring. If they can maintain that or get more involved (especially the bench that includes Justin Chua, Tonino Gonzaga, Frank Golla, and Juami Tiongson) in the scoring then they’ll be dangerous.

In the past three finals, Ateneo has seen three different Finals MVPs: Nonoy Baclao, Rabeh Al-Hussaini, and Ryan Buenafe. What that shows is the team is deep and has plenty of good players. Who will step up in the Big Show is still a question. Obviously, in fifteen games, it has been mostly Slaughter and Ravena. While both have won championships they were done in CESAFI and the UAAP Juniors Division, the UAAP Seniors Crown is altogether a different matter that comes with all sorts of pressure.

3) It’s rare that a rookie is asked to take those big time buckets. Opponents have discovered that if they can keep Kiefer Ravena from driving inside and force him to take off-balanced fadeaways (while giving him a slight bump) then that throws off his shot. However, if the Phenom is getting his way inside then this one is over.

4) If Nico Salva takes his shots in the flow of the game and passes off when need be, the Blue Eagles will be even more effective.

5) If Emman Monfort can continue to give RR Garcia fits then that gives Ateneo a better chance because you want that ball in his hands when you need a basket.

Does winning the first game guarantee a victory? No it doesn’t (obviously 2006 comes to mind for Ateneo). But in since 2001, the team that took the first game won nine out of 10 times.

If Ateneo takes the first game, look for them to close it out in two. If FEU wins Game One, it will go the full three games where it will be anyone’s ballgame.

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