There can be only one, indeed. On Wednesday, the DLSU Green Archers and the FEU Tamaraws will face for solo leadership in the on-going UAAP Season 77 men’s basketball tournament. The winner will claim top spot while the loser will drop tied for second along with NU and Ateneo (again, another complicated scenario). Both coaches will say of course that there is no pressure on this game but for the supporters, DLSU is not going to claim that top spot in the table, but it will enable them also to extend their winning run to eight this season while FEU will try to prove that their first round win was not a fluke or a stroke of luck with Mike Tolomia hitting all his triples in the final quarter.
For me, this is more of a test for FEU since for the past seasons, they have been known for succumbing to pressure especially in the late stages of the tournament. This will test Mike Tolomia’s leadership and how the other Tamaraws will step up in the plate knowing what is on the line in this game. Mark Belo will be another dependable for Coach Nash Racela’s wards so this will be a determining factor on who else in the Tamaraws’ roster is willing to take this pressure and produce positive results later on.
For DLSU, this is just more of getting back at their opening game tormentors, whom I personally felt that minor defensive adjustments could have won it for the Green Archers and if Mike Tolomia missed two of his three crucial triples in the final quarter. The Green Archers have played differently two games later until at the moment so it will be interesting to see how these changes in the Green Archers’ camp can help them conquer the Morayta boys in this top of the table clash.
During both of these teams’ first round encounter last July 12, La Salle was in full control of the game for perhaps 35 to 36 minutes until that one single play which FEU replicated multiple times later on worked for them to finally get over the boys from Taft Avenue. It was still clear for me until today. Mike Tolomia will position himself at the corner then one big man will receive the ball at the elbow in the three-point line. Take note that this play happens on the right side of the court.
That big guy was either Mark Belo or Carl Cruz and then Mike Tolomia will go around that big guy so that play will become a hand-off then converted to a pick and roll later on. It was just a two-man game on that right side. In all instances in the final quarter, Mike Tolomia opted to do just one thing: Once he gets that basketball, Cruz or Belo will pin down, allowing Tolomia to have that space to take a jumper. Tolomia takes a jab step and then pulls up from deep.
All three occasions in the final quarter, all swoosh. That was all FEU needed in that game to escape defeat. I am sure FEU will run that play once again since it is a part of their staple but I am not sure if Tolomia will have the guts to take those jab steps and pull up threes on Wednesday. He may or he may not but for sure, the team has that figured out this time around. Julian or Robert may be all over Mike just like what the Green Archers did to Kiefer but I’m sure those two will give Mike different looks so as not to dare him that much and be comfortable hitting long bombs once again.
Honestly, the person which I am most wary of in that FEU roster is Mark Belo. This guy, which has shown a lot of promise going from last season into this season is FEU’s best player so far this season. His versatility allows FEU’s other players to concentrate on their roles and it shows as FEU is also at the top of the standings at this point of the season. Against DLSU since last season, Belo is the guy that keeps the Tamaraws afloat. In the first round encounter, Belo did the damage for three quarters until Tolomia took care of the finishing touches in the final period.
Belo is FEU’s counterpart for DLSU’s Jeron Teng and Jason Perkins in the sense that Belo can play quick and fast on both ends in the small forward and power forward positions and I feel that it’s always a mismatch if in case Norbert or Arnold ends up guarding him since he is also able to take those jumpers at ease, even all the way from deep. I am not sure if it is the team’s strategy to limit Tolomia and let the role players take the scoring cudgels but Belo is now a star-player level for me and can hurt the Green Archers big time if DLSU’s defense do not adjust on him.
FEU will still have that double-teaming schemes everytime Norbert, Arnold, or Jason gets that ball in the post so it will be important to identify the escape routes, locate the shooters, make that ball rotation fast since FEU has those long and athletic guys to chase balls and cause disruptions on defense. I was personally happy with how the team rotated that basketball against UP but I expect a higher level focus on details come Wednesday, especially with a top contender like FEU.
The two-man game involving Jeron will be crucial also since that’s another source of points for DLSU. With Jeron’s ability to take mid-range jumpers and take it strong to the hoop, just like what he did against Ateneo, it will give variations to DLSU’s offense. Another critical thing for me is Jeron’s mid-range jumpers when he flashes in the middle to serve as a release pass for Norbert or Arnold especially if the double at the post comes from the top and not from the baseline, it will give FEU’s defense something to think about during the game if Jeron will be successful attacking the basket after as a release pass option on Wednesday.
Another thing worth noting from the first round encounter is DLSU’s inability to convert 2nd chance points. DLSU out-rebounded FEU especially in the offensive glass but FEU was more efficient converting 2nd chance points, 5 to 4. It may just be a point difference but looking at the offensive rebound numbers back in the first round, DLSU had 19 offensive boards while FEU only had 12 and making full use of those 2nd chance points will be big especially for a team like DLSU who has the personnel to get those offensive rebounds to give additional offensive chances for the green and white.
On Wednesday, my focus is more on how DLSU will put stops on FEU since I think the offense will be there. We all know how DLSU’s offense will emanate as it always starts from the inside going to the outside so it will be more important to see the Green Archers put stops to this FEU team and then getting more fast break points in which DLSU beat FEU in that category in their first round encounter, 9-4. Both teams I say are very good in basics when it comes to defense so it will definitely be nice to see the Green Archers getting easy points from the break rather than crunching it out in half court sets.
FEU showed how good they are by beating UST without Mike Tolomia. You may say UST was without Kevin Ferrer (I still treat Abdul as UST’s top offensive threat) but still, if you played without your leading scorer and then still winning a ball game that big and convincing, it says about how far FEU has been developing through the course of the season. If DLSU beats FEU on Wednesday, this will further give confidence to the team moving forward the tough stretch of the second round involving UE, UST, and NU. This game is not just about getting a better record to split the tie between the two schools but moreover, this will help the team’s character big time at a crucial point of the season.