UAAP Finals Preview: Tigers favored over Tams

THE CAST IS SET. FEU Tamaraws' Mac Belo (second from left) and UST Growling Tigers' Louie Vigil -- the two heroes of the UAAP Final Four. Flanking them are their respective coaches: Nash Racela (left) and Bong dela Cruz (right). | Efigenio Toledo IV/Philstar.com Photos

MANILA, Philippines - It seems only right that the best two teams in the UAAP this year clash for the title. The University of Santo Tomas Growling Tigers was somewhat not expected to be here yet they are and are massive favorites to win their first championship since 2006.
 
The Far Eastern University Tamaraws were the preseason favorite to annex their first championship since 2005. However, a late season slide, not to mention two elimination round losses to UST, has placed them once more as underdogs.
 
Both finished identical 11-3 records but the Tigers got the first seed owing to their two victories over the Tamaraws. Both had contrasting wins in getting to the Finals but what is important is hey are here now.
 
A little history
 
The Season 78 championship will be the first battle between the two in the championship since 1979 when FEU defeated UST, 100-89 behind head coach Arturo Valenzona with his stars Anthony Williams and Bai Cristobal, who currently assists in supervising the officials in the league in addition to being the current NCAA commissioner.
 
UST at that time was called the Glowing Goldies and were coached by Rogelio Serafico who had been around long enough to know heartbreak at the hands of Baby Dalupan and the UE Warriors. His version of the Big Three was Ed Cordero, who played for Toyota in the PBA and is currently an assistant to Atoy Co in Mapua, and their backcourt combo of Frank Natividad and Edmund Yee. 
 
During that year, ironically also with UP as the host school, Cordero was severely weakened by the flu and that told heavily on UST's chances in the finals.
 
A look at the UST Growling Tigers (12-3 including their Final Four win over NU)
 
They have their own Big Three with another 6'4" shooter like Ed Cordero in Kevin Ferrer. Unlike their 1979 counterpart that didn't have a center, the current Tigers have Karim Abdul. And there's swingman Ed Daquioag. They are ably backed up by Jon Sheriff, Louie Vigil, Mario Bonleon, and Marvin Lee. 
 
What you have to like about UST's offense is how seamless their offense is. Even with Ferrer and Daquioag, the ball moves around quickly. They couldn't really care who scores. Like their recent counterparts, they have solid players in key positions making them a tough match up for anyone. Marvin Lee is the pleasant surprise carrying over his scoring feats from high school as a FEU Baby Tamaraw. 
 
They are dangerous because they have five players who were their team's top scorers for their high school teams so they know something about carrying their respective sides - Ferrer, Vigil, Mario Bonleon, Lee, and Renzo Subido. What I love about their system again is that they don't mind giving the ball to other players to take shots. They are perfectly comfortable with what each one can contribute. Save for the post play to Karim, the do not need to make eye contact when passing the ball around. It just goes around and that is fun to watch when you root for them and enough for others to go, "uh on" if you're for the other team.
 
 
They like to play a man-zone that switches to a 1-3-1 with Ferrer playing cleanup. Not a particularly deep team but as in years past, they have at least two of the best five players in the league with a solid center.
 
A look at the FEU Tamaraws (12-3 including their Final Four win over Ateneo)
 
They didn't look too impressive in the last few games even if they fashioned out some big nail-biting wins. 
 
In all stats, FEU leads UST but that is a misnomer as the latter defeated them in their two elimination round meetings. So you know they have their work cut out for them.
 
During the first round meeting, UST squeaked past FEU 72-71 in a comeback win (they were spotted a late four-point lead). Their second round encounter also saw the Tigers of Bong dela Cruz erase an first quarter double digit deficit to win comfortably, 85-76.
 
FEU's last couple of wins saw Roger Pogoy play heads up ball late in the game. If FEU wants to win, they need Mike Tolomia and Mac Belo playing terrific and consistent basketball.
 
 
They have a deeper bench but that so far hasn't counted for much versus UST. To say in the vernacular, parang mas buo loob ng USTe.
 
But this is a darn good team. The question is can they put it all together here and now?
 
The match-up
 
Looking at the two match-ups, there are four areas that we can glean from the stats.
 
The first are the starter points. UST's starting unit outscored FEU's on both occasions: 54-43 in the first round, and 60-28 in the second round. Save for Roger Pogoy who fouled out in the second meeting no other Tam was in foul trouble each time. That means they were rather ineffective while on the floor. UST's top three players heavily contributed in both wins while for FEU's Big Three of Mike Tolomia, Mac Belo, and Roger Pogoy, one of them was missing in at least one match.
 
The second is the inside points category: UST came ahead both times, 40-28 and 26-20. The Tigers just love to attack FEU's interior especially in the fourth quarter where the Tigers are a combined 7-14 to the 3-7 of the Tamaraws.
 
Third is second chance points category where the Tigers have done better: 11-4 and 6-5. In close matches, this counts for a lot.
 
And fourth and last is that UST knows it can come back. In the two matches, FEU posted leads that were quickly erased. Now that's powerful. The Tigers know they can handle the early pressure and withstand the Tamaraws' barrage. FEU so far doesn't know if they can rally from a deficit. 
 
The odds on favorite to win it all is UST so the onus is on FEU to take Game One and try and close it out in Game Two. But right now, Kevin Ferrer and company are top faves to end years of heartbreak.
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