By Gio Gloria
Success has rarely eluded the FEU Tamaraws at least for men’s college basketball.
The Tamaraws have been a beacon of consistency for so long that your father and his father know that FEU is a good basketball program. With 20 UAAP championships, the Tamaraws are the winningest Men’s Basketball program in UAAP league history, even when you remove the two UAAP titles FEU “clinched” due to technicalities (they would tie the UE Red Warriors and the UST Growling Tigers with 18 UAAP Men’s Basketball championships).
While the Tamaraws’ UAAP Season 78 championship back in 2015 was their last UAAP title since Season 68 (2005), FEU has missed the UAAP Final Four only five times, the lowest among all the member schools.
All of that, though, has made what has happened to the FEU Tamaraws of UAAP Season 85 so far difficult to fathom.
It’s quite uncharacteristic of the Tamaraws to be starting Season 85 winless through five games and it’s not lost on many observers, who are all accustomed to seeing FEU rack up wins on their way to another Final Four run. In fact, their latest loss to the DLSU Green Archers was a beatdown to say the least.
As it stands, the Tamaraws might miss the Final Four for the first time in a decade, a development that will snap the longest active streak of consecutive Final Fours (eight). It will take a run of miraculous proportions and some things to work in FEU’s favor for the run to continue, but right now, it’s not impossible. It’s just going to be difficult.
Numbers through five games show that the Tamaraws give up the most points in the UAAP per game (78.2). This largely comes from letting their opponents shoot a league-high 35.1 percent from behind the 3-point line, which resulted in opposing teams scoring a UAAP-best 37.6 perimeter points per game.
It doesn’t help that the offense has been atrocious compared to the rest of the UAAP. FEU is second to last in points per game (67.6), largely due to poor shooting (35.8 percent shooting from the field, which is seventh in the UAAP). Moreover, slow starts on offense only add to the Tamaraws’ early woes as opponent’s starters to score a league-high 49.4 points per game on them.
The disappointing results naturally give rise to certain questions.
Could it be the loss of Nash Racela, whose fingerprints on this FEU squad are slowly disappearing? Of course, his brother Olsen Racela has been with the Tamaraws for six years already and most, if not all, of the players Nash brought in have already moved on. However, Olsen has led FEU to Final Four appearances in all his seasons as head coach, so success has obviously not evaded him.
How about the loss of RJ Abarrientos? Of course, Abarrientos is talented, but the Tamaraws are too good of a college program to be overly dependent on one player. Besides, FEU still has very capable players in LJay Gonzales, Xyrus Torres, and leading scorer Patrick Sleat.
It’s possible that the rest of the league has gotten better and the race to the UAAP title wide open, but when has that ever been an excuse?
Rather than point figures and speculate, it may be better for the Tamaraws to focus on themselves and the wins they can still get. Maybe things will get better for the Tamaraws if they go back to the basics. They can run their sets and utilize the pick-and-roll and see how things develop. The likes of Gonzales and Sleat are capable slashers and Torres is due for a breakout game sometime soon.
There have also been signs that the Tamaraws’ defense can be good, especially when they only allow 9.8 second chance points per game, which is fourth in the UAAP. Physical basketball has been synonymous with the Tamaraws and boosting their offense with a more concerted effort on the defensive end can exert less pressure and allow them to keep things close and winnable.
The FEU Tamaraws are in uncharted territory in that wins have been hard to come by. The road to the Final Four is a steep and uphill climb and even for a historic program, this could be one they may not overcome unless they act fast.