This appears on the Monday, November 9, 2015 edition of the Business Mirror.
The weight of expectations
by rick olivares
With the loss by the FEU Tamaraws to the UST Growling Tigers — twice in the eliminations — what does this mean for their UAAP Season 78 campaign?
In their first round encounter, FEU couldn’t dig themselves out of an early hole. In their second meeting, they raced to an early lead that once lost, was never regained. Some teams just have your number. The question is, should they meet in the finals — could the third time be the charm?
The team that turned that trick in recent memory was Ateneo in Season 73. The Blue Eagles lost both elims matches to — FEU — but once in the Finals, made short work of the Tams.
While it is of significance that those Blue Eagles were two-time defending champs, it should be noted they lost three starters from the previous squads.
Some opine that championship experience plays a big factor. I think it helps but only to a certain degree. Or else how do you account for FEU beating defending champs La Salle in 2005 or Ateneo also upending the Green Archers in 2008?
The Tigers have several vets who played in the UAAP Finals - Kevin Ferrer, Ed Daquioag, Karim Abdul, and Jon Sherrif. FEU has a few in Mike Tolomia, Roger Pogoy, Mac Belo, and Russel Escoto.
Aside from remaining veterans, blue chip rookies, and experience, the one thing that cannot be factored in is hunger and peaking at the right time.
There is pressure now on both squads to win for next year they will somewhat be decimated by the graduation of many key players. Of the two, there is slightly greater pressure on FEU as they were tabbed to be favorites to win it as defending champions National University has clearly been affected by the manpower shortage.
The knock on FEU since the Arwind Santos days is they lack the mental fortitude to compete and that they collapse at the worst possible times. After bowling over Ateneo in their season debut, they fell to UST. At the time of that loss, critics once more brought up that mental toughness issue. The Tams responded with big wins over other league teams. The endured spirited rallies and late game meltdowns to fashion out wins. But the loss to UST once more casts serious doubts on their title aspirations.
Since the first round when UST established itself as a legitimate contender, the pressure to continue their roll has been on. The response — a huge win over FEU — gives them an advantage in the first two seats of the Final Four and that psychological edge over the Tamaraws.
In my opinion, the Tigers tend to do better when there aren’t expectations. There’s 2006 and the 2012 when they won and placed second. In the succeeding campaigns of 2007 and 2013, they didn’t do so well more so the latter after that galling loss in the Finals that to this day has many UST alums shaking their heads in dismay.
If we go by that logic, this could be the Tigers’ year.
Of course, it isn’t over by a long shot. In what is one of the more hotly contested seasons we have seen — there are still several teams with chances to win it all — Ateneo that is peaking at the right time; La Salle which has had an up and down season but are capable of turning things around of if they get their heads together; NU that is still dangerous; and UE that is on the outside looking in.
It seems fitting that the top two teams slug it out for the crown but that isn’t always the case. UST, with a 6-6 record in 2006 defeated top-seed Ateneo to claim the crown. The Blue Eagles accomplished a Cinderella season of their own in 2002 where they parlayed a 9-5 record into the Final Four where they dispatched UE that had a twice-to-beat advantage then took the title from La Salle in three.
Having said that, the last several times the first and second seeds played each other in the UAAP Finals was Season 75 (Ateneo and UST respectively), Season 73 (FEU and Ateneo), Season 71 (Ateneo and La Salle), and Season 70 (UE and La Salle).
One thing is sure, a team that puts on a late run from the second round into the Final Four usually wins while teams that sputter don’t really go the full route.