Wide open race seen in NCAA

September 6, 2022 Theodore P. Jurado 421 views

LETRAN is the reigning two-time champions, but with last season’s MVP Rhenz Abando gone, the race is now wide open in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament which opens on Saturday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

“It’s anybody’s ballgame. All teams are outstanding. Walang favorites, you will be surprised,” said Arellano University coach Cholo Martin during yesterday’s pre-season presser.

Coach Bonnie Tan noted what the Martin meant, saying the Knights are facing a tough challenge to remain in the throne.

“I agree. Lahat ng teams malakas at lumaki,” said Tan, who steered the Muralla-based squad to a perfect 11-0 season last May.

“Nandiyan pa rin ang San Beda, Mapua, CSB and Baste (San Sebastian).”

Letran will not play in the traditional opener versus Emilio Aguinaldo College, as four of its players were reportedly placed under health and safety protocols and the whole team is in isolation.

Instead of the Knights, the Generals will now have the Chiefs as their opponent in the season opener set at 3:30 p.m. right after the hour-long opening ceremony.

Mapua and San Beda clash in a rematch of last season’s Final Four at 6 p.m. to cap the opening day doubleheader.

Once its players clear health and safety protocols, Letran will only get to play on the fourth playdate of the season against Jose Rizal University on Sept. 14.

Despite Abando bringing his act to the Korean Basketball League and Jeo Ambohot now in the pros, the Knights still have materials to compete for another championship with holdovers Fran Yu, Mark Sangalang and Brent Paraiso leading the charge.

The Cardinals, except for Clint Escamis who moved to another school, remained intact for their bid to end more than three decades of title drought.

“Favorites pa rin Letran and Mapua,” said Charles Tiu, who was appointed as CSB coach only last February.

“Although wala si Abando, malalim pa rin ang team,” he added.

Unlike in Season 97 where there was no pre-tournament build-up due to pandemic restrictions, Mapua coach Randy Alcantara that the ideal preparations for the new season helped the teams to scout well.

“I agree sa mga sinasabi ng mga coaches. Sa haba ng preparation, parang even lahat ng teams,” said Alcantara.

Escueta, the only new coach in the 10-team field, tipped Letran, Mapua, San Sebastian and CSB, as teams to beat while looking forward for San Beda to improve its third place finish in Season 97.

“Hopefully we would get better every game,” said Escueta.

University of Perpetual Help System Dalta, the previous season’s surprise semifinalist, hopes to sustain the gains it achieved in this year. The Altas nearly dealt the Knights their first loss in the Final Four before being eliminated.

“Ball is up. Sa amin sa Perpetual, paghahandaan namin at magiging competitive this season,” said second-year coach Myk Saguiguit.

The Stags hope that their impressive performance in the off-season leagues will translate it into success in Season 98.

“Basketball is all about adjustment. Lahat ng kalaban ng Baste is team to beat,” said San Sebastian mentor Egay Macaraya. “Everybody is competitive at maganda ang liga ngayon.”

Unlike in Season 97 where men’s basketball and women’s volleyball events were only played aside from online taekwondo and chess, the new season will have more events with the return of the cheerleading, swimming, track and field, juniors’ basketball, men’s volleyball, beach volleyball and face-to-face taekwondo and chess competitions.

“We are hoping to return to a normal season. We look forward to a very successful season,” said NCAA Season 98 Policy Board Dr. Jose Paolo Campos of first-time host EAC.

“For the past two seasons, we have seen the resilience of our member school communities and student-athletes. As we begin Season 98, the Philippines’ first collegiate athletic competition remains steadfast in instilling values in our students: “Achieve Greatness Every Day.’ We continue to inspire everyone to do their best in everything they do, every day,” he added.

Games Saturday

(Smart Araneta Coliseum)
11 a.m. – Opening ceremony
3:30 p.m. – EAC vs Arellano
6 p.m. – Mapua vs San Beda