Elimination round meetings
Round 1 – FEU def. Ateneo 77-73
Round 2 – Ateneo def. FEU 75-70
Playoff for #2 – FEU def. Ateneo 64-62
Both teams match-up so well against each other, so it’s not a stretch to expect an instant classic between these two. As evidenced by their elimination round match-ups and their playoff game against each other, these two teams can certainly put on a show.
All of their three games have gone down to the wire, with FEU winning two games by four and two points, while Ateneo won one by five points. It’s been an incredibly entertaining series of games between the two Quezon City-based teams.
There hasn’t been a recurring theme between the wins of the two teams, aside from the fact that the production which the respective sides found in their wins have come from rather unlikely sources. For FEU, they had Kenji Roman and LJ Gonzales lead the way for their first win, while in their playoff win, it was Jack Gloria and RJ Abarrientos who led the way for FEU. For Ateneo, it was Joaqui Manuel who served as the Blue Eaglets clutch man, hitting crucial buckets to give them a much-needed W against FEU.
Key Player for the FEU Baby Tamaraws
FEU’s strength has always been their size, but against a Blue Eaglets team that has the biggest frontline in the league, that strength will be considered moot. Kenji Roman and Daniel Celzo will surely be of importance, but they’ll have to lean on their other teammates for this match-up. Since this is the case, FEU’s guard corps will be likely be key. In that case, keep an eye out on Jun Gabane.
Gabane is a guard who gets buckets occasionally, with his peskiness at its peak when he was able to draw an offensive foul against SJ Belangel in the dying seconds of their playoff last Thursday. He may be small, but he uses this to his advantage, playing taller matchups with tenacity. At the same time, he uses his quick hands to come up with steals, which leads to fast break opportunities for the Baby Tams.
His three-point shooting and occasional slashing are a plus for the Baby Tamaraws. But if he’s able to lead the Tamaraws’ perimeter defense, that may just be enough to catapult FEU to their first Finals ever since the Jerie Pingoy era.
Key Player for the Ateneo Blue Eaglets
It’s easy to point to SJ Belangel as key for Ateneo, given his elite scoring ability and playmaking paired with his size, or Kai Sotto’s ability to be the f**king wall of Stan Van Gundy’s dreams. Those two players will get their usual numbers. But the player who’s of utmost importance in this match-up for Ateneo is Jason Credo.
Jason is a pterodactyl for Ateneo, looking like a cross between Kevin Durant and Draymond Green at times. He uses his length well, putting pressure on passing lanes and scoring off fast breaks. But what will truly be key for Ateneo is his rebounding ability. FEU won second-chance points 18-3 in the playoff, obvious something Ateneo will look to avoid a repeat of. Jason was productive in that game (four rebounds), but he’ll have to do more if Ateneo wants to win.
While his three-point shooting will be of use as well to space the floor for SJ and rare drop passes to Kai, Credo needs to be able to provide that rebounding spark, in order to force a do-or-die on Friday.
FEU tends to use LJ Gonzales, Kenji Roman, Daniel Celzo and Jack Gloria the most. It’s that blend of playmaking and size which makes them such a lethal team to deal against. Against Ateneo though, that size is negated, given Sotto’s length and Belangel’s attributes at the guard position.
Since that’s the case, don’t be surprised to see FEU use a three guard line-up to get things done against the Blue Eaglets. They utilized one such grouping with RJ Abarrientos, Gonzales and Gabane during their run in the second half of their playoff, pressuring Ateneo into turnovers and using their speed to grab offensive rebounds. Their bigs will be of use, but it’s their guards who will get most burn from Coach Allan Albano.
In the case of the Blue Eaglets, they are known as a team that loves to press, forcing teams to commit turnovers that can be converted into easy baskets. But against FEU, you can expect them to use their height advantage, as the Baby Tamaraws really do look like babies beside this giant Ateneo team.
Ateneo can easily deploy a Bully Ball Lineup of Death with 6’11” Kai Sotto at center, 6’4” forwards Credo, Dave Ildefonso, and RV Berjay, and 6’0” guard Belangel. As a result, it’s very possible that the Eaglets will opt to slow it down, and score in the post against their defenders.
If someone can record Kai Sotto grabbing a mic and shouting “WE GOING TO DO OR DIE BABY!” after tomorrow, that would be magnificent.
Ateneo is a team that knows it can beat the Baby Tamaraws. They were very close to beating them in their playoff, but their inability to box out and over-reliance on Sotto’s height doomed the Blue Eaglets. Knowing Coach Joe Silva and captain SJ Belangel, the Blue Eaglets are unlikely to make those same mistakes again.
Despite that, FEU will put up a great fight. However, Ateneo’s size and talent may prove to be too much, as it looks like we’ll be headed to a do-or-die classic come Friday.