|Despite some talented bigs involved, this game might just boil down to guard play (pic source)|
The Tams and the Archers have crafted an interesting rivalry here in the past year, with FEU needing overtime to win its Round One encounter, 84-80, last season, DLSU retaliating with a blowout 80-66 win in Round Two, and then the two sides going at it in overtime again in the Final Four, with the FEU coming out on top late, 69-59. In their most recent encounter in the crossover round of the Fil-Oil Flying V Preseason Cup, the Tamaraws came out on top again, 73-68.
Far Eastern Storyline : After seasons of featuring a tough, veteran frontcourt, this year's incarnation of the Tams has them at a slight big man disadvantage. In the offseason, Reil Cervantes opted to skip his last year of eligibility, and during the Final Four of the FilOil tourney, Pipo Noundou suffered an injury that's expected to keep him out until at least the second round. That leaves RP Team veteran Aldrech Ramos as the only seasoned big guy, backed up by inexperienced forwards like Carl Bryan Cruz, Mark Bringas, and rookies Christian Sentcheu and Russel Escoto, none of whom are players you can throw the ball to down low and expect to work it in the post. That means the focus might shift to the backcourt, where last season's MVP RR Garcia and rookie of the year Terrence Romeo are. The duo has terrorized the Archers often in the past, and expect to be the key to a season opening win.
Far Eastern Stat to Watch: Rebounding; the Archers were the number one team last season on the glass, picking up the most offensive rebounds and total rebounds. With La Salle suddenly taller, and FEU getting less experienced up-front, the worst case scenario for the Tams is to concede put-back after put-back. Guys like Escoto, Bringas and Cruz need to box out their man, maybe even get a little physical, if needed.
Far Eastern Player to Watch: While all eyes will be on the trio of Garcia, Romeo and Ramos, the Tams will find it far easier to win if JR Cawaling has a good game. Cawaling can add another outside threat to the mix, as well as bring up the ball against the DLSU press. He also has height at the 3 spot to further help the rebounding of FEU. The problem with Cawaling is his penchant for turnovers. Like in the Final Four last season when he only played 9 minutes, I wouldn't be surprised to see him benched in favor of Chris Exciminiano, if he starts giving the Archers some fast break buckets.
La Salle Storyline: The addition of guys like Norbert Torres, Arnold Van Opstal, and Ponso Gotladera suddenly give the DLSU Archers a shot of balance in their line-up. Now no longer just a collection of small guys and a few random bigs, this incarnation of the Archers is deep, and depth could spell problems for this short-handed FEU squad, especially if they find a big man who can dominate the Tamaraw interior (like Jovet Mendoza did in their FilOil encounter, to the tune of 22 points).
La Salle Stat to Watch: Free throw percentage ; the charity stripe is a place of fear, if you're an Archer fan. With a few exceptions, the Archers are extremely sub-par in this aspect of their game, a fact that canny coaching might want to exploit, especially if the game gets tight. The last thing anybody in Taft wants to see on Monday morning is this squad leaving 10+ points on the table because of missed free throws.
La Salle Player to Watch: LA Revilla hasn't had the pleasure of tangling with RR Garcia in the UAAP yet, and the comebacking kid might be their best chance at stopping him, as past encounters have shown that Simon Atkins, Almond Vosotros, and Luigi Dela Paz have all been shredded by last season's MVP. Though Garcia will have a slight height advantage, Revilla is quicker, and might be able to stick with Garcia when FEU runs him through some screens.
Prediction: DLSU Green Archers