The first half of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)’s basketball event will have its completion tomorrow after the last two matches—San Beda versus Jose Rizal University (JRU), and Letran versus Mapua—are played. So far, it’s been an exciting first round for both the men’s and juniors divisions. The Red Lions of San Beda lead the way with an unblemished 8-0 win-loss card, followed by the Arellano Chiefs and Perpetual Help Altas at 7-2, the Letran Knights and Mapua Cardinals at 5-3, Lyceum Pirates at 4-5, JRU Heavy Bombers at 3-5, Emilio Aguinaldo College (EAC) Generals at 3-6, San Sebastian Stags at 1-8, and College of St. Benilde (CSB) Blazers at 0-9. In the Juniors Division, the Arellano Braves are on top with 8-0 followed by the San Beda Red Cubs (7-1).
League-leading San Beda barely survived its first two games – versus Letran (89-85) and Lyceum (91-86). But since then, the Red Lions went on a six-game rampage with a 16-point winning average. Fil-Am rookie forward Davon Potts has been showing the way in scoring for San Beda with 18.9 points per game (PPG) followed by Cameroonian center Donald Tankoua with 14.7 PPG. SBC leads the league in scoring (90.7 PPG), total field goals percentage (42.8%), perimeter points (36 PPG), assists (18.6 APG), and turnover points (19.6 PPG). Second-year Lions coach Jamike Jarin almost always fields in all his 15 players to sustain his familiar 40-minutes of trapping defense. The ploy works like a charm as most opponents lose steam midway in the third quarter. Against Arellano, the Lions fell by as many as 22 points in the second canto before staging a huge comeback in the second half to still win with convincingly, 101-86. But with still one game left in the first round and a full nine-game calendar in the second round, can the Red Lions maintain their perfect record? Jarin is on a mission to get back the title they lost to Letran last season. The Lions were chasing a record-breaking six-peat but were derailed by the Knights after a tight best-of-three finals last year. In 2009, San Beda also failed to score a four-peat when a rookie Calvin Abueva led the Stags to the crown. The following year, the Red Lions avenged the defeat via a perfect 18-0 romp en route to the championship.
Arellano is so far living up to expectations as a serious contender this year. The Chiefs have only two losses so far at the hands of fellow contenders Letran and San Beda but they have devastated other opponents. They ruled the first round in inside points (44.8 PPG), rebounds (51.8 RPG), steals (6.8 SPG), fastbreak points (15.1 PPG), second-chance points (17.6 PPG) and bench scoring (40.4 PPG). Head Chief Jio Jalalon, considered as the country’s best amateur point guard, is also the team’s best scorer with 18.8 PPG (also a league-leading 7.9 assists) followed by close buddy Kent Salado with 13 PPG. But it’s rookie Lervin Flores who has been the biggest weapon for coach Jerry Codinera as the 6’4” powerhouse norms 10.3 markers and 9.8 boards so far.
Mapua and Letran are still dangerous even with three losses. They part ways tomorrow in the 4pm encounter. Prolific scorer Rey Nambatac, the league’s scoring leader with 24.1 PPG, just needs a little more support from the rest of the Knights to keep Letran’s title-retention bid alive. Last year’s MVP Allwell Oraeme likewise must have more back-up for the Cards to stay in contention. But both schools are expected to finish strong in the second round.
So far, the biggest overachievers are the Altas and Pirates. Perpetual Help scored wins over Mapua, Letran and JRU, while Lyceum defeated JRU and Letran and seems to be getting better by the day.
Surprisingly, JRU only managed to win three matches after being tagged as a Top 3 contender this season. With an almost intact roster from last year’s Final Four stint, the Heavy Bombers are struggling to find their rhythm so far. But to count out coach VergelMeneses’ charges at this early stage would be a colossal mistake.
It’s still a long way to go for Season 92 and anything’s possible.