Key Losses: Arvin Tolentino, Prince Orizu, Axel Inigo

The Far Eastern University Tamaraws are never one to be counted out. Year after year, even without big names, exciting acquisitions, the Tamaraws tend to have an air of consistency that gives them a fighting chance against any team, this year being no different.

Last year the Tamaraws were among two teams to draw blood against the eventual champions testament to their ability to play up to the competition, however, inconsistency and a failure to truly blend together as a team heavily hampered their Final Four bid, making it to the last spot by sheer talent and by the skin of their teeth.

The biggest highlight for the Tamaraws in the last season was Arvin Tolentino, a scoring machine made to get buckets. Finally free from the clutches of a team that refused to embrace his talent, Tolentino broke free and practically willed the Tamaraws into the Final Four through a wonderful scoring display against the Green Archers capped off by the game winner. Unfortunately his breakout season was marred with controversy following his ejection and subsequent suspension for throwing a clothesline on Adamson Soaring Falcon Simon Camacho.

FEU will be missing a lot of go-to’s this season as long time bruiser Prince Orizu will be forgoing his final year with the Tamaraws, forcing them to look for defensive and rebounding elsewhere. Steady hand guard Axel Inigo will be gone to graduation as well, leaving them with one less player to run the point position for them.

But fret not, Tamaraw hopefuls, thus is the system and culture built by the FEU sports program. As capable players move on to the professional leagues or to other ventures, more athletes are waiting in the wings to fill in their shoes. Losing veterans in Tolentino, Orizu and Inigo hurts their chemistry and familiarity more than it hurts their talent level. The FEU sports program has consistently produced outstanding athletes in their own rights, any sports fan would know that the list of notable FEU alum goes on and on, but it’s a matter of getting that talent to work together for 16 games that has been the challenge for this program.

Key Returnees: Hubert Cani, Alec Stockton

With the old guard gone, the Tamaraws will have new barometers to how good they can be. Bullpup standout Hubert Cani was one of the many players liberated along with Arvin Tolentino. Where in previous years his scoring inconsistency was hidden behind the scoring prowess of Arvin Tolentino, he will be left to his own devices this season and it will be up to him whether he sinks or swims with this new found exposure. As much as Cani is an outstanding talent, for the sake of team chemistry and team play, it would be wise of him to take a step back early in the season, allowing his teammates to prove themselves as offensive threats, before changing pace later on to turn up the pain on opposing teams already having their hands full with every one else.

Last season was a revelation for the Tamaraws, realizing that a player named Stockton, was not only a tough defender, but a capable scorer as well (shocking, I know). His contributions on the defensive end will anchor the second wave attack for the Tamaraws and help them outlast most opponents. Any points he puts on the board will be a welcome bonus, and as demonstrated he is capable of putting up a lot of them.

They keys to FEU’s success has been passed on to volatile players taking upon bigger roles. It will be interesting to see how far up they can take the team considering the talent level alone won’t let them slip too far down the standings.

Key Stat: ORTG

It’s all about putting the ball in the basket for the Tamaraws. With tough defense being a signature to the program the efficiency in which they can score will become key to their success. Since Mac Belo graduated following their Season 78 title run, the Tamaraws have not had as consistent an offensive anchor as him since. Most players to come close were either forced into the scoring role or did not have enough time to truly grow into the role. As coaches say, there’s no luck in defense, and the Tamaraws rarely lack in effort.

Key Question: What more can they do?

Consistency is good but it can also become stagnation. Sure, the Tamaraws have been to Final Four every year following their championship run, but at the same time they have not gotten closer to the championship. This season, make no doubt about it, they’re in the running for a Final Four spot yet again, the same way they have been for close to half a decade, but their contentment with this fact will be their eventual downfall.

If they rested on their laurels, they could mess around and land somewhere in the middle of the pack, barely making the Final Four or barely missing out. With the stacked rosters of the opposing teams, being in the middle of the pack would not be too bad a result. But again, is that really where they want to be?

X-Factor: Olsen Racela

Everything starts with leadership. A legend in his own right, coach Olsen Racela has the unenviable task of leading a group of talented athletes and turning them into a team. For the most part of his coaching stint he has been successful in leading his team, the highlights of which including leading the Tamaraws to streak-breaking victories over the Soaring Falcons and Blue Eagles, and more emphatically a Final Four clinching win over the Green Archers.

Yet behind the highlights, his FEU team has been at times lost. Stretches where players take matters into their own hands to the detriment of the team have held the team back from their true potential. Fortunately for coach Olsen, his decision to enter the Tamaraws into the DLIVE Summer League might just be what they need in order to get over the hump. He has given them a taste of what it means to be a champion, he has proven himself capable of steering them the right way, all he has to do now is sustain the hunger and sustain the trust and make sure his wards buy-in to his coaching.

Prediction: 8-6 barely making it into the Final Four after a knockout game