It’s the final week for the eliminat-ion round of the 93rd National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Season. So far, the men’s basketball tournament has been dominated by the still undefeated Lyceum of the Philippines University (LPU) Pirates, which have an immaculate 17-0 card with just one game remaining in their schedule. Breathing down their necks are the defending champions San Beda College (SBC) Red Lions with a 16-1 slate. The Bedans’ only loss was at the hands of LPU, and everybody is anticipating their rematch this Friday. LPU and SBC are already assured of the top two semis spots that go with a twice-to-beat edge. If the Pirates repeat over the Lions, they advance to the finals as a reward for sweeping the elims. SBC would have to wait the winner of the knockout match between the No. 3 and No. 4 teams, which would figure against the Lions in a playoff battle for the second finals ticket. But if San Beda manages to put a stain in LPU’s record with a win on Friday, the quotient system would be used to determine which team takes top spot in the Final Four. To dislodge Lyceum at No.1, SBC needs to win by more than five points after the Pirates’ 96-91 win over the Lions in the first round.
Jose Rizal University (JRU) is safely at No. 3, regardless of what happens in the last few games this week. At 11-7, the Heavy Bombers will have to defeat the No. 2 team twice to barge into the finals. But as far as the No. 4 spot goes, three teams are still currently in contention namely the Letran Knights, Arellano Chiefs and host San Sebastian Stags, which all have 8-9 cards. All three will have one last regular game this week, which could determine the fourth semifinalist. In case of a two-way tie, a playoff game will be held to determine the final semis qualifier. In a three-way tie, the quotient system will rank the teams, and the top two will dispute the last semis ticket. The Stags have the toughest assignment of the three as they face the dangerous Perpetual Help Altas (4-12), which is led by top MVP contender Prince Eze. The Knights won’t have a walk in the park as well when they tangle with the upset-conscious College of St. Benilde Blazers (5-12). And the Chiefs cannot take the Mapua Cardinals (3-14) lightly as well.
LPU is the best scoring team in the league right now with an average of 89.6 points, followed by Arellano (78.4), Letran (75.6), San Sebastian (75.2) and San Beda (75.1). In defense, SBC is on top allowing only 63.4 points per game to opponents. Next are JRU (69.0), Perpetual Help (69.4), San Sebastian (70.8) and LPU (74.4). In rebounding, the top five are LPU (49.2 rebounds per game), SBC (46.7), Letran (44.1), JRU (44.0), and Perpetual Help (43.6). In assists, LPU also heads the pack with 17.7 assists per game, followed by SBC (17.0), Mapua (16.1), JRU (15.8) and San Sebastian (15.4). The Pirates are also No. 1 in fastbreak points, turnover points and second-chance points.
Although Lyceum and San Beda blasted all opponents this season, both squads have had some close calls too. The Pirates almost fell prey to Arellano, trailing for almost the entire game before pulling the rug from under the Chiefs’ feet in the final few seconds to escape with the 94-92 victory. On the other hand, the Red Lions struggled against some teams, including Letran last Friday (73-68), Perpetual Help (55-50) and JRU (65-60).
But while most NCAA observers expect the Pirates and the Lions to reach the final dance, the Bombers, Chiefs, Knights and Stags will be tough customers in the semis. Any one of them is certainly capable of upstaging the top seeds. This makes the coming playoffs highly exciting.
This corner is deeply saddened by the passing of renowned sportswriter Elizabeth “Beth” Celis last Friday. She is one of those that inspired me to become a sports journalist. My condolences to the Celis family, especially to NLEX assistant coach Raymond. Her remains lie in state at the St. Peter Chapel in Quezon Avenue until tomorrow.