Two years ago, the San Beda College (SBC) Red Lions and Arellano University (AU) Chiefs topped the NCAA’s regular season and went on to figure in the finals. The Lions eventually took their fifth straight diadem with a sweep of the best-of-three finals. Season 92’s elimination phase ended last Friday with San Beda and Arellano tied at first place with identical 14-4 records, after the Lions repeated over the Chiefs in their second round bout. Because of the tie, the two leading squads will have to face off again tomorrow in a playoff match for No. 1. The Mapua Cardinals scored a come-from-behind win over the Perpetual Help Altas also last Friday to secure the No. 3 spot. The Altas ended the elims at No. 4.
Both AU and SBC are already assured of the twice-to-beat advantage in the semis, which starts on Friday. The winner will take on No. 4 Perpetual Help, while the loser will challenge No. 3 Mapua. By the way, SBC hopes to finish at No. 1 again in the elims for the 11th straight year, since 2006. The Lions are also gunning for an 11th consecutive finals stint.
Now, San Beda swept Perpetual Help in the elims, 88-70 in the first round, and 84-75 in the second, while Arellano likewise defeated Mapua twice this season, 96-75 and 95-82, in the first and second rounds respectively. The Lions and Cards split their games with the former taking the first round, 85-74, and the latter prevailing in the second, 101-97, in overtime. The Chiefs shaded the Altas in the first round, 83-78, but bowed to the same opponent in the second, 62-76. So it seems the more enticing semis match-ups would be San Beda versus Mapua, and Arellano versus Perpetual Help, which could happen if the Chiefs are victorious tomorrow.
SBC leads the NCAA in offense with 87.2 points per game (PPG), followed by AU’s 83.3 and Mapua’s 75.5. Perpetual is ninth with 69.3 PPG. But defensively, the Altas are league-best, allowing just 64.7 PPG. The Lions are the worst defensively, allowing 78.4, followed by the Chiefs’ 75.9 and the Cards’ 74.4. San Beda, Mapua and Arellano are also the best in field goal percentage, with 43.8%, 41.7% and 40.9% respectively. Perpetual is not far behind at fifth, with 40.2%.
AU and SBC love the up-tempo game. The Chiefs are the best in fastbreak points, mainly because of the dynamic duo of Jio Jalalon and Kent Salado. Jalalon, considered as the best collegiate point guard in the land, currently leads the MVP race with his 21.4 PPG, 7.4 assists, 5.8 rebounds and 2.2 steals per game. Salado is the team’s second best performer with 13.9 PPG, 5.8 boards and 3.1 assists per game. But rookie Lervin Flores is just as valuable with norms of 9.6 PPG, 9.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game, making AU No. 1 in inside scoring (41.6 PPG) and No. 2 in rebounding (48.7 RPG). The key to beating the Chiefs is to stymie their running game.
Losing top center Donald Tankoua to knee injury early in the second round surely impaired the Lions’ inside game. But SBC always had the deepest bench and it’s coming to light in its last few outings. Rookie Ben Adamos gladly filled in the void left by Tankoua by figuring well in scoring, rebounding and shot-blocking in the previous five games. Just last Friday, the 6’6” Bicolano dropped 12 points, seven boards and four blocks on Arellano. Fellow rookie Davon Potts, a former Cal State Northridge guard, leads the Lions in scoring with 16.6 PPG. Third-year forward Javee Mocon puts in 12.2 PPG, 8.6 RPG and 3.3 APG, while sophomore guard Acee Soberano contributes 8.7 PPG, with 39.6% accuracy from beyond the arc. To beat SBC, you must beat its trapping D.
The Cardinals remain dangerous with 2015 MVP Allwell Oraeme still dominating the paint, with a league-best 19.8 RPG on top of 15.6 PPG. CJ Isit, Andrew Estrella, Darell Menina and Joseph Eriobu provide steady support.
Meanwhile, the Altas has high-scoring Nigerian sophomore Bright Akhuetie (18.4 PPG, 12.3 RPG), plus reliable teammates Gab Dagangon, Kieth Pido and Prince Eze.
Both semis games should be spectacular.