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Stats Don’t Lie Special: Can FEU go all the way?

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It’s time to face the truth – the Far Eastern University Tamaraws are the real deal. After surviving a tough stand from the Ateneo Blue Eagles last Sunday, Nash Racela’s squad is now leading the standings (along with UST) with an 8-1 slate.

They’ve shown that they can destroy an opponents’ morale when they go on lightning-fast runs (just ask the Green Archers, the Fighting Maroons, and the Red Warriors), or grind out a win like they did against Finals nemesis, National University. Except for that bump (which turned out to be an early wake-up call) against UST, they’ve looked every bit the title favorites that experts labeled them as in the pre-season.

Once again, Coach Nash has the boys running their pristine dribble drive offense like a well-oiled machine. Aside from getting to the rim at will (shooting a decent 43% as a team on drives), the team is also converting their three-point shots at a rate of 33% – way above the league average of a shade above 25%.

This has helped boost their league-leading offensive efficiency to an insane 95.6 (based of HumbleBola’s database). To put this into perspective, the next closest team is UST at 90.9. This means that over 100 possessions, we could expect FEU to score six more points than the next best offensive team. That gap is as big as the difference between the second best and second worst team – basically the rest of the league.

Philippine Sports News - Tiebreaker Times Stats Don't Lie Special: Can FEU go all the way?     Leading the Tamaraws charge is in-form guard, Mike Tolomia. He currently averages 13.50 ppg, 4.62 apg, and 4.12 rebounds per game. Those may seem like ho-hum numbers, but when you consider that he has done this in only 25 minutes a game, and his shooting splits of 51.3% / 45.7% (!!!!!!!!) / 87.50% (that’s FG% / 3FG% / FT%), it’s surprising that he’s not being mentioned as an MVP candidate (due credit to Kevin Ferrer, who’s truly putting up an MVP-like season both on the stat sheet and on the floor).

To put this into perspective, here’s a comparison of per-30 min stat lines between Tolomia, Kiefer Ravena, and Jeron Teng as of October 12 (once again, thanks to our friends at HumbleBola for these stats). The numbers show that Mike’s putting up solid numbers, while producing at a more efficient rate.

NAMEMPGPPGRPGAPGEFG%TOS
Mike T.24.516.05.55.959.3%3.0
Kiefer R.33.616.36.44.535.7%2.3
Jeron T.31.816.46.73.043.4%4.0


Philippine Sports News - Tiebreaker Times Stats Don't Lie Special: Can FEU go all the way?
Of course, one of the major reasons why Mike’s been able to do this is because he has help. A lot of it.

Mac Belo is worthy of a top-four pick in next year’s PBA draft, as his athletic ability and improved outside shooting give him the biggest chance to make a Troy Rosario-like leap. Like Mike, he’s an MVP-candidate, but doesn’t have the stats to back it up. There simply aren’t enough touches to go around, but you won’t hear Mac, Mike, or any of the Tamaraws complaining about it.

Aside from Belo, the Tamaraws also have Cebuanos RR Pogoy and Raymar Jose doing their thing.

Philippine Sports News - Tiebreaker Times Stats Don't Lie Special: Can FEU go all the way?     Pogoy is the solid #3 scorer for the team. He could easily be the man and featured player on just about any other team in the league.

Philippine Sports News - Tiebreaker Times Stats Don't Lie Special: Can FEU go all the way?     Meanwhile, Jose is the only “local” who’s averaging a double-double, and he’s doing it in just 23 minutes per game.

These two guys are really the X-factors for FEU. You may stop Mac or Mike, but there’s still Pogoy and Jose there to provide timely outside shooting and tenacity on both sides of the ball. Add in Arong, Inigo, Escoto, and Orizu, and you get the deepest team in the league.

Having a roster this talented makes it extremely difficult to stop the Tamaraws. Stats show that FEU are only in the middle of the pack in terms of pace, but that’s deceiving because the formula for pace takes out offensive rebounds. So, even if a team got 2 or 3 shots on one sequence, it would count as just one possession. While it is true that “possession” never changed hands, at the end of the day, the team that has more attempts at the basket (more shots) has a better chance of winning.

Philippine Sports News - Tiebreaker Times Stats Don't Lie Special: Can FEU go all the way?     FEU is also a strong at offensive rebounds, currently ranked third in offensive rebounding rate. This is even more impressive when you factor in that they are the best shooting team in the league at 44.5%. So if you take into account that they shoot 44.5% and grab 36% of their own misses, FEU either scores or gets another chance to shoot on 80% of their possessions.

So by pushing the ball in transition and going after offensive rebounds, the Tamaraws are able to maximize their talent by virtue of more possessions. After all, more possessions means more touches for everyone, which should help placate everyone’s egos.

The biggest change that gives FEU a solid chance of winning, though, is a bigger commitment to adefense. At the end of the first round, the Tamaraws had a defensive efficiency of 84.3 – a shade behind the UP Maroons.

More importantly, the Tamaraws have shown that they can get stops at crucial points of the game, their ability to sustain their massive runs. They not only have an explosive offense, but an ability to make life difficult for their opponents on the other side of the floor.

Philippine Sports News - Tiebreaker Times Stats Don't Lie Special: Can FEU go all the way?     Coach Nash has implemented a conservative defensive system that forces teams to beat them from the outside. They mostly go under or through on ball screens, and make the big defending the ball-screen drop down near the paint.

This makes sense – they have athletic big men to protect the paint in Escoto, Jose, Orizu, and don’t want them so far away from the basket. Having big wings in Belo and Pogoy also ensures that they’ll normally win the rebounding battle. They also have pesky guards in Arong and Tamsi to disrupt their opponents’ flow, as well as mask Tolomia’s tendency to float on D.

Undisciplined teams will eventually breakdown and try to go into a shoot-out with FEU. This is a dicey proposition – no team can win a shoot-out against the FEU. They’re simply too loaded offensively.

Most importantly though, the Tamaraws have shown that hunger to win. The core of last year’s Finals team is still here and they want to show everyone that they can win the big one. A top-2 finish is a virtual lock for them. The real test will be in the playoffs. Win, and they’ll finally shed the chokers label they’ve earned over the past half-decade. I wouldn’t bet against them.

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