All eyes will be on reigning champion Letran College and Mapua University when National Collegiate Athletics Association Season 98 men’s basketball tournament opens this Saturday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
NCAA coaches were in unison in claiming that the Knights and the Cardinals are still the teams to beat in this prestigious collegiate event.
San Beda University head coach Yuri Escueta said the Knights and the Cardinals are tipped to collide in another finals showdown while San Sebastian College and College of Saint Benilde can spring a lot of surprises.
Escueta and the Red Lions will be part of the opening-day double-header when they take on Mapua at 6 p.m., while host Emilio Aguinaldo University will tackle Arellano University in the first game at 3 p.m.
“Of course, one of the favorites is the defending champion Letran and Mapua then you have coach Egay’s team in San Sebastian and College of Saint Benilde,” said Escueta, who is set to make his NCAA coaching debut.
While the Knights will be undermanned with the departure of Most Valuable Player Rhenz Abando and Jeo Ambohot, Saint Benilde coach Charles Tiu said it is not a reason to count them out as they perform best when their backs are against the wall.
“Letran might not have Rhenz Abando and Jeo Ambohot but they are still a deep team. Mapua is still a complete team,” Tiu said.
Meanwhile, coaches Cholo Martin of Arellano University, Gilbert Malabanan of Lyceum of the Philippines University, Randy Alcantara of Mapua University, Egay Macaraya of San Sebastian College and Myk Saguiguit of University of Perpetual Help System Dalta believe that the race to the title is wide open after all the teams had an opportunity to play against each other in preseason tilts.
Competitions such as the FilOil EcoOil Preseason Cup and the Philippine Basketball Association D-League Aspirants’ Cup have reopened after two years of inactivity due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
For Alcantara, who steered the Cardinals to the NCAA finals last season, all teams should be considered as serious contenders.
“With the way the teams are preparing, even Lyceum and EAC can be contenders. The coaches and players were given a long preparation period,” Alcantara said.
Macaraya agrees, saying that the long offseason gave teams time to prepare and adjust.
“We think that the long time for preparation puts the teams equally,” Macaraya said.
“Basketball is all about adjustment. The teams we face are always the team to beat. I think every team is competitive and the league is going to be exciting this year.”
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