|Credit to original artist, image found on Tumblr|
- Round 1: ADMU 69 - FEU 49
Freethrow attempts: ADMU 28 - FEU 9
Key player: Greg Slaughter, 15 points, 11 rebounds, one block
- Round 2: ADMU 74 - UST 67 (OT)
Overtime scoring: ADMU 11 - FEU 4
Key player: Kiefer Ravena, 15 points, five rebounds, four assists
When it comes to putting the ball into the basket, Ateneo is the better team in that regard, scoring five points better on average than FEU, 71 to 66.31. You can attribute that to a lot of things like a higher field goal percentage, but it's mainly due to the aggressive, up-tempo style of play the Eagles espouse. They average five more possessions, about 76 per game, than FEU's 71, getting five more fast break attempts than the Tamaraws, which leads to more transition baskets. Ateneo specializes in getting to the rim, and as a result, the defending champs have a huge advantage over FEU when it comes to free throws, 25 to 15.88.
That's not to say that FEU is a horrible offensive team though. They're certainly a better three-point shooting team, making more triples and at a better rate than the Eagles, who struggle at times to score from downtown. The slower pace of FEU makes them less susceptible to turnovers, though Terrence Romeo may have something to say about that, and despite injuries to their frontline, they score about three more second-chance points per game than Ateneo.
Ultimately, shooting may very well decide this battle. FEU gets about 25.5 of their 66 points per game from the perimeter, and a bad shooting night could ruin them, especially if the Eagles convert long rebounds into fast breaks. Conversely, Ateneo has seen some poor perimeter shooting games as well, especially from downtown, but they have a knack for making them when they really need to, see Kirk Long's two daggers in the first round match-up between these two teams, for example.
Tough luck FEU, not only is Ateneo better at scoring, they're also better defending, giving up 59.07 points on average, while Far Eastern concedes 65.56 a game. In fact, nearly every defensive statistic favors the Katipunan-based squad, from three-point percentage allowed, field goal percentage allowed, free throws allowed, points in the paint, and perimeter scoring. In fact, the only category where the Tamaraws have an advantage is turnover points given up, where they norm about a point less than their opponents.
Injuries once again are the reason behind this big difference. Without a true small forward, FEU often goes with a three-guard line-up, good for offense, but a liability against certain teams on defense. Similarly, with just two legit big men in Aldrech Ramos and Russel Escoto, the Tamaraws can encounter problems defending the paint, especially against taller teams, not even putting foul trouble into the equation.
Despite an explosive performance from Cris Tolomia in the do or die game versus Adamson University, FEU will live or die based on how well the triumvirate of Aldrech Ramos, RR Garcia and Terrence Romeo perform, and based on past results, things don't bode well for them.
We mentioned above how the Ateneo defense is dominant, and in their two meetings this season, its impact can be clearly seen. Putting together the shooting performances of the two games, Ramos was 5 of 19, Garcia was 14 of 42, and Romeo was 8 of 31. Ateneo's defenders, Kirk Long and Emman Monfort, back-stopped by Tonino Gonzaga and Bacon Austria, simply give the FEU backcourt fits, while Ramos struggles when matched-up against Greg Slaughter, though Nico Salva guards him as well for certain stretches. Ramos' one big advantage is precisely the reason why Salva is often placed on him, an ability to step out beyond the three-point arc and nail some treys. This however, is tempered by the fact that if he misses (he's 7 for 24 for the season), the Eagles get an easy rebound and a chance to run it back at FEU.
Ateneo has some pretty good scorers of their own, with Salva, Slaughter and rookie of the year Kiefer Ravena handling the bulk of the offense when pitted against the Tamaraws. The lack of big men on FEU forces them to double Slaughter, giving Salva the spacing to shoot open mid-range jumpers. Ravena in transition is a monster finisher, and came up clutch against this squad in the second round, forcing overtime on two strong drives to the rim.
Despite a shaky start to the season, Ateneo's bench has been able to settle down and develop into an excellent complementary unit to what the starters bring to the table. The reserves are led by Tonino Gonzaga, who brings hustle, defense, and the team's best outside shooting to the table, but also worth keeping an eye on is Justin Chua, who scored nine critical points over the third and fourth quarters in round two to keep Ateneo in the game. Should the FEU big men try their hand at hitting jump shots, you can expect Frank Golla and possibly Oping Sumalinog to see some time, as the more mobile big men defenders. Head coach Norman Black may even spring JP Erram again on the Tamaraws, after his shutdown defensive performance in game one of the Finals last season.
The lack of manpower hinders FEU's supporting cast somewhat, but they still have a few names that might tilt the game in their direction. Chris Exciminiano will draw the assignment of covering Ravena, but he played just 14 minutes in the two regular season meetings and was not really able to provide much in the way of scoring, More worrisome might be the chance that Cris Tolomia explodes again, after scoring a career-high 19 versus Adamson. RP Youth Under-18 teammate Kiefer Ravena will likely be the one assigned to make sure that doesn't happen again. Russel Escoto and Roger Pogoy will provide some additional rebounding as well as the occasional points. The big x-factor for FEU will be the play of Carl Bryan Cruz, who dropped 10 points in round two. Can he accomplish that feat again?
The big concern about the FEU reserves is one of consistency, Yes they've all produced big games in the past, but can they do it again under the scrutiny of the Finals? Ateneo's reserves are more consistent and more importantly, have been here before, something half the FEU names mentioned above cannot say they've done.
While Ateneo head coach Norman Black is of the opinion that UST is the most physical team in the league, FEU has been giving them a run for their money on their road to the Finals, as guys like Pogoy, Cruz, and team captain Jens Knuttel have gotten into it recently with opposing players. Rattling Ateneo is not out of the question for this squad, the problem will be doing it with some of the Tams already nursing unsportsmanlike fouls. Should they get caught, that means a one-game suspension, which would be crippling in this series.
Another trick up FEU's sleeves is the possibility of Pipo Noundou or JR Cawaling jumping back into the fray, firing up their side of the Araneta Coliseum with a Willis Reed-esque moment. Head coach Bert Flores has been planting that seed of doubt in the heads of opponents in a "Will he? Or won't he?" type psych-war. After all, regardless of whether or not he actually fields them in, opposing head coaches still need to prepare for even the mere possibility that they see the floor.
The biggest thing Ateneo has going for them is their championship experience, having won three straight titles. It's not that big a deal if you compare it to playing a team that's getting to the postseason for the first time, like had they drawn Adamson, but as team captain Kirk Long said last year, "(The UAAP Finals) is sort of our home ground." That's the sort of winning attitude the Eagles will come to the table with, especially knowing that they took FEU's best punch in that overtime win, and still managed to rally for the victory.
EDGE: Slight advantage to FEU
More than getting an elimination round sweep, repeating for the fourth straight year has always been the main goal of Ateneo, and it's hard to imagine them faltering this close to the end. The Eagles simply have more weapons in this match-up, are a better defensive squad, and have the advantage of having beaten FEU twice, once in a blowout and then by a small margin. That is not to say that FEU will not go down fighting, in fact, I do not expect a blowout win like what we saw a season ago, but the Tamaraws need a lot of things to go right for them, starting with some ridiculously good shooting. Simply put, this is Ateneo's to win, and win they shall.
ADMU Blue Eagles win in two games, accomplishes the four-peat.