Watching the Far Eastern University (FEU) Tamaraws run roughshod over the UAAP early in the first round, I had to tell myself, “Well, what do you know? They’re doing much better than anyone expected.”
However, in the end, they fell apart in an ironic reversal of fates.
In my pre-season preview, I didn’t tab them to make the Final Four but early on they looked to prove me wrong.
Early in the season, they were the masters of the clutch win. Six of their first-round matches were decided in the final 20 seconds of play as they placed third with a 5-2 record.
They finished the second round 4-3, then lost the playoff with La Salle.
They were ahead with about five minutes to play before they went cold. A pair of back-to-back treys got them back but a botched last play (I have no idea why Mike Tolomia decided to do it on his own) did them in.
How did it all go wrong for FEU?
Here are some of my thoughts:
* The frontline disappeared
I figured that the loss of Aldrech Ramos, JR Cawaling, Pippo Noundou and Ping Exciminiano would be a little too much for Bert Flores’ team. But the additions picked up the slack – Anthony Hargrove, Arvie Bringas and Rey Mark Belo did much better than the previous crew did the previous season.
But as huge pick-ups Bringas and Hargrove were, their biggest problem was staying on the floor. The two were simply foul magnets.
Hargrove averaged 7.6 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 26.3 minutes per game. He clearly got better as the league went on but he also averaged 2.6 fouls in 15 matches.
Bringas played in only 12 games as he missed three due to suspensions. His absence greatly told on the team’s fortunes. Bringas averaged 18.2 minutes per game while netting 6.1 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. But he also averaged 2.4 fouls per game.
Russell Escoto had his moments but he never really got going this year.
FEU averaged 21.4 points per game from their four and five spots last year. This year, they did slightly well with a little over 22.8 points per game.
Unfortunately, of the frontline of Hargrove, Christian Sentcheu, Belo, Bringas and John Foronda, it is only Hargrove and Belo who played in all 15 games. Escoto and Bringas missed three games. Sentcheu played in eight, while Foronda got off the bench for two games.
By contrast, last year’s team, Aldrech Ramos and Escoto, played in all their games. Bringas missed only one match. Foronda played in nine games. Carl Cruz played once in a while at the four spot (he got to play in all 14 matches).
As much as the Tamaraws are tops in the league in perimeter points, their inside points are crucial.
Against NU in the replayed match, the frontline of Hargrove, Escoto, Foronda, Belo, Bringas and Cruz combined for 18 points. The Bulldogs scored 36.
In the knockout game against La Salle, the Tams inside players scored 21 points, while the Green Archers Norbert Torres alone had 21.
However, the problems of the frontline are not as big a let down as with one other player – RR Garcia.
* RR Garcia’s game went down
Two seasons removed from his MVP season, Garcia was not his usual steel-nerved self.
Here are Garcia’s numbers in the last three seasons:
Did Terrence Romeo take away from Garcia’s game?
Just as Garcia took over the team in Season 72 from Mark Barroca, this season saw Romeo strap this team onto his back.
Of the five teams that battled for a final four slot, Romeo and Garcia are the highest scoring backcourt duo. The two averaged 30.1 points per game.
NU: Gelo Alolino and Ray Parks -- 28.2
Ateneo: Juami Tiongson and Kiefer Ravena -- 23.1
UST: Jeric Fortuna and Jeric Teng -- 21.7
La Salle: LA Revilla and Jed Manguera -- 9.9
FEU averaged 70.6 points per game. NU averaged 72.5; Ateneo, 74.4; UST, 71.3; and La Salle, 67.1.
The Tamaraws' duo overall has the biggest impact in terms of their team’s offense. I’d say that it has been Garcia’s struggles and the seemingly (not all the time) inability of Garcia and Romeo to play with each other that has hurt the team.
* They lost their swagger
In 17 minutes of play against La Salle in the knockout game, Bringas tallied two points, four rebounds and two assists. And he had four fouls called on him.
There he was at the end of the game, locking arms with teammates hoping their last salvo of back-to-back treys will give spur them on to a win.
The Tams surprisingly took a new persona this year – a team that played tough, rough, physical or dirty depending on which side of the arena you sit. Gone was the incredible offense they were known for as this season will be remembered for what might have been, the spitting incident, and the suspensions. And of course, the replayed game that changed their fortunes.
Team management appealed that Bringas be allowed to suit up after the second-round NU match was to be replayed. He would have very well been allowed but then he and Belo lost their heads in a game against UP rendering any appeal moot and academic.
During the aforementioned elimination match with the Green Archers, the Tamaraws looked nothing like the team that no one wanted to play. They looked tentative and somewhat soft inside the lane. Bringas, in his final
game for FEU, played fantastic. And he was the only one gamely playing Torres and company (well throw in Romeo).
It was a painful loss for the Tams as they have made the Final Four six years after missing out in 2006. Belo was a nice addition to the team and he became more dependable than Cruz or even Gryann Mendoza who struggled with minutes and consistency. Bringas is done.
There are many questions that need to be answered in the offseason, but the more pressing one is: will RR Garcia come back for his final year?
He does have one more year of eligibility left. Looking at it coldly, he has nothing to prove in the amateurs. He’s won with NLEX, the national team, and for FEU (although in other leagues such as the Fr. Martin’s Cup).
Garcia’s game is polished for the pros. But then there’s giving it the old college try. When a player decides to move on, he’ll never play for the school again. As for the pros, that depends on how one can survive the rigors and competitiveness (the average career of a pro player is four years).
There’s Jerie Pingoy coming in. He’s another player who will need the ball to thrive. At this point, the Tams need more frontcourt scoring.
There’ll be time to grieve but in a month’s time, the University Games are there to play. Guess, we’ll see how they rebound from this.