We’ve seen some of the most exciting college basketball games in the last few years. But if games in the on-going Fil Oil Flying V Cup pre-season tournament are any indication of things to come, then we could be looking forward to an even more exciting 2016 in Philippine college ball.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) is barely a month away from opening its 92nd season. It’s set to kick off on June 25 at the Mall of Asia Arena, with San Beda College as this year’s host. It’s still difficult to say which teams can be said to be the top contenders in the NCAA. Currently in the Fil Oil Cup, the Arellano University, University of Perpetual Help and San Beda are doing very well with only a single loss each. Defending NCAA champion Letran also made a good showing by scoring a come-from-behind victory over the University of the East on Saturday, after trailing by as many as 20 markers. Mapua Institute of Technology also made a good account in this summer tournament by absorbed back-to-back losses after reigning NCAA MVP Allwell Oraeme got ejected in their game versus La Salle, which also meted a one-game suspension. Jose Rizal University, another perceived contender this year, opted not to join the Fil Oil Cup.
Over at the Universities Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) side, La Salle leads the pack with a 4-0 card in the Fil Oil, which was highlighted by an impressive win over San Beda last Saturday after trailing for three quarters. Cameroonian recruit Ben Mbala is now showing that he’s not all hype after two successive monster games, when he dropped 29 points on Mapua and 26 on San Beda. After sitting out for two years since moving from the Southwestern University in Cebu, the 6’6” powerhouse is ready to dominate the collegiate ranks with his remarkable quickness, athleticism and skills. The Green Archers also displayed their firepower against the Red Lions as graduating forward Jeron Teng, and sophomores Andrei Caracut and Jolo Go combined for 55 markers to support Mbala and give first-year La Salle coach Aldin Ayo an unblemished record so far in the Fil Oil Cup.
Adamson University is also enjoying a two-game winning streak with triumphs over Letran and Mapua over the weekend. New Falcons coach Franz Pumaren, a multi-titled UAAP mentor with La Salle, has injected some of his winning formula with Adamson, especially the vaunted full-court press that him a successful coach not too long ago. Although having a young team, the Falcons are showing vast improvement from their previous season, and they’re looking like they won’t be taken lightly in the UAAP this year. The University of the East succumbed to San Beda and Letran in back-to-back games last week but remains competitive even without their African reinforcements. What the Red Warriors have right now is a bunch of locals that don’t seem to run out of gas. They keep pressing and running, which is a known Derek Pumaren trademark. This team plays with heart despite the lack of ceiling.
Ateneo and defending UAAP titlist Far Eastern University (FEU) have yet to show their true form this year. The Blue Eagles, now under National coach Tab Baldwin, have only one victory to show in the Fil Oil but they’re playing without some of their top guns like CJ Perez, Arvin Tolentino and Jerry Pingoy. We can expect Ateneo to be a much stronger squad in the months to come heading up to the UAAP season in September. FEU lost most of its key players from last season but if I know Nash Racela well, he’s got some surprises for this season. The Tamaraws were co-champions with the San Beda Red Lions in the last National Collegiate Championship with the same line-up they have in the Fil Oil.
Oh let’s not forget the University of the Philippines (UP), which welcomed back Bo Perasol as its head coach. The Maroons have also a couple of noteworthy wins in the Fil Oil.
There are still a few weeks left in the Fil Oil Cup and I can’t wait to see all these games.