Let's talk balls.
Now in its 88th season, the NCAA, the country's oldest and most historic athletic tournament opened at the Big Dome in typical glitzy fashion last weekend. As usual the basketball titles in both the men's and high school divisions are the centerpieces of the league. It should be no surprise to anyone that San Beda College is the prohibitive favorite to retain the titles in both caging divisions. Whatever else anyone may have to say, the road to the NCAA Season 88 basketball titles will still run through the gates of St Beda.
Essentially the NCAA has been the stomping ground of the Red Lions since the 82nd Season, when guard Pong Escobal and Nigerian giant Sam Ekwe suited up for the Red and White. They've gone on to win five of the last six titles, including three straight from 2006-2008. Their title run was interrupted by the San Sebastian Golden Stags in the 2009 season, when the San Sebastian roster was revamped and rebooted to inlcude current superstars Calvin Abueva and Ian Sangalang. It has been a San Beda-San Sebastian rivalry over the last couple of seasons since then.
That might be what makes the NCAA now not quite as exciting as it used to be, maybe even just 10 years ago. "The NCAA is essentially a league with one super strong team, two strong teams, and then everyone else," noted a veteran online sports writer who works for a popular global web site. "Outside of those three teams there just isn't much competition in the league anymore. The bottom teams are really struggling, and watching the games can sometimes be a trying experience," he added.
Let's take a look at each team ___
Arellano University: Coach Leo Isaac will lean heavily on his perimeter since he really doesn't have much size to bank on. The veteran guard combo of Rocky Acidre and Vergel Zulueta will elad the Chiefs, together with 6-foot-2 Filipino-Foreigner swingman James Forrester. They'll be running a lot of motion and staggered screens because if they cannot get out and run. 6-foot off-guard Adam Serjue, another expatriate of Filipino lineage, could have been a big boost but got injured before the season could even begin. 6-foot-6 Prince Caperal and 6-foot-3 freshman rookie Julius Cadavis are as good as it gets up front for Arellano. They will likely finish under .500 this season.
College of St Benilde: With arguably the best backcourt in the NCAA if not the entirety of college basketball nationwide, the Blazers will try to outrun and out-quick the opposition this season. Led by the electric Carlo Lastimosa, the Blazers will also be banking on Jonathan Grey, JP Taha and Luis Singco. If they can get consistent production out of their frontline, more than the usual rebounds and interior defense, they actually have a shot at the Final 4. But Jan Tan, Bart Bartolo, and Tyler Fikowski work hard but aren't really elite big men. St Benilde might still make a Final 4 run on the strength of their backcourt though.
Emilio Aguinaldo College: Pining for the days of yore might be the in thing for the Generals. Once upon a time they had some of the best players in all of college ball, like PBA star Ronjay Buenafe, and hardcourt legend Nino Songco. Now they have essentially a smallish team trying to keep up with the big boys. Jan Jamon had a great season on a bad team last year, but barely stirred in the summer. Russell Yaya was Ok over the summer and looks to continue that in Season 88, leading the Generals over Arellano in their last game with 17 markers. Head coach Gerry Esplana hopes to get some more out of guard John Tayontong and forward Noube Happi. This is a team looking at the wrong side of .500 ball.
Jose Rizal University: Loaded with veterans but short on size, the Heavy Bombers of head coach Vergel Meneses have a legit shot at making the Final 4. They have a pretty good blend with guards Alex Almario, Jon Villarias and Nate Matute, forwards Jon Lopez and Ralph Monserat, and undersized centers Raymond Carampil and Jon Mabulac. They have one of the best full court pressing defenses in the league, and they can score inside-outside. This is a team that nearly upended reigning UAAP champion Ateneo in the Fr Martin Cup Finals. They will have to figure out a way to match up against the taller timber though.
Letran: Head coach Louie Alas preaches toughness, defense and sharing the ball, except perhaps where his son Kevin is concerned. Kevin scored 31 points in their big opening day win over mighty San Sebastian, with the 5-foot-11 guard showcasing the new skills he learned on a month-long personal training camp in the US. Alas father and son are the real engine driving the Knights' train, and they should find their way easily enough into the Final 4 in their Hosting Year this year. Mark Cruz, Jon Belorio and Kevin Racal will provide plenty of support.
Lyceum: This is another team that was
Reigning UAAP champion Ateneo De Manila and emergent powerhouse National University led the UAAP in dominating the Fr Martin Cup and Fil Oil Preseason summer tournaments respectively. UAAP teams also swept the podium in the Fil Oil, with Lasalle coming in second and the Ateneo placing third. Jose Rizal University was the only non-UAAP team to finish near the top, as runner-up to the Ateneo in the Fr Martin Cup.
Fil Oil numbers showed Ray Parks and Emmanuel Mbe of NU led the tournament in statistical points, as the duo led the Fil Oil Mythical 5, along with Ateneans Kiefer Ravena and Greg Slaughter and Norbert Torres of Lasalle. Parks was named Fil Oil MVP. In the Fr Martin Cup, Slaughter emerged as the best player there according to Gameface metrics, averaging a double-double with over 16 points and 10 rebounds per game.
On the NCAA side of things San Beda saw its summer run ended with a four-point loss to the Green Archers in the semifinals of the Fil Oil. Julius Armon, the 6-foot-3 Filipino-American swingman who was supposed to see action for the Red Lions this season decided to remain in the United States and did not return with his team. San Beda insiders say it was an amicable enough parting, certainly not as if Armon just flaked and deliberately missed the flight back.
Without the super athletic Armon, the Red Lions have become a noticeably slower team, far from the red and white expressway they were. Although they have talented guards and active such as Anjoe Caram, Melo Lim and Baser Amer, the perimeter game just has not been as smooth sans Armon. Armon used his superior athleticism to break down defenses and get out in transition, sometimes singlehandedly. This of course led to easier baskets on early offense opportunities. Without him, the San Beda guards look as if they are running a gauntlet instead of busting out for the fastbreak.
As for the Heavy Bombers, they will still live and by with their guards, like Jon Villarias, Alex Almario and Nate Matute. In their game against the Ateneo, these three picked apart the perimeter defense of the now-vulnerable Ateneo backcourt. Dribble drives, drive-draws and dump passes were the order of the day for the Heavy Bombers, along of course with the long toms of Matute and Villarias. Their great guard play allowed even their undersized forwards like Jon Lopez, Ron Carampil and Ralph Monserat great opportunities against the tall Ateneo timber.
NU for its part seems to be coming together at just the right pace this time around. Last year they seemed to show too much in the preseason and wound up losing steam as early as the end of the first round of eliminations. Now they are peaking and still picking up by all accounts. Parks has become an accomplished and more willing passer, trusting his teammates more and spreading the wealth. Mbe has benefited the most from this, getting better looks for that jump hook and even the occasional all-alone dunk when defenders get lost on the sliding door, like they did against the Ateneo in the Fil Oil semifinals.
Lasalle for its part seems to have rediscovered their winning ways. This is a far cry from the Green Archers of last year, when Torres fancied himself a local version of Dirk Nowitzki instead of playing inside like any good big man should. Torres has learned to use his thcik torso and long limbs in gobbling up rebounds, even tough ones that seem to bounce out of his reach. Yutien Andrada has also become a defensive presence with better shotblocking, something they both showed against San Sebastian and San Beda in the Fil Oil. The duo made life tough for Mbe and Parks in the Fil Oil Finals. Mbe may have gotten 15 rebounds in that finale but he sure had to work much harder to get them.
Jed Manguera has also emerged as a new vital cog for Lasalle. Although the former RP Youth mainstay is homegrown by way of Lasalle Zobel, he was inexplicably kept off the roster during the incumbency of Dindo Pumaren. That was rather strange considering further that Dindo's brother and predecessor Franz was Manguera's coach with the Youth squad. Now Manguera has proven to be more than the gunner he was in high school, playing tough D on Ravena and Parks with strong laterals and the ability to body up and fight through screens.
Teams from other leagues barely registered during the summer, as Olivarez College, last year's Collegiate Development League finalist, didn't fare so well this summer. NAASCU mainstay STI joined the Fr Martin Cup but had a so-so tournament. Indeed for the summer of 2012, the UAAP reigned supreme.
With the start of the rainy season according to our weather bureau and the start of classes this week, that brings the summer to an official end. That means in about a month's time the college basketball season will once again commence. But not before the summer basketball tournaments wrap up though. Fr Martin and Fil Oil would have completed their respective quarterfinals by the time most of you read this. No surprises are expected, with the likes of the Ateneo, San Beda, San Sebastian, National University and maybe Far Eastern University and De La Salle somewhere in the mixed bag of teams who will compete for the two summer titles.
Interestingly enough, the two great rivals - the Ateneo and Lasalle - may yet end up disputing both summer titles. Ateneo was playing Perpetual Help in the Gabby Severino Quarterfinals of the Fr Martin Cup at the sweltering San Beda gym in Mendiola as of this writing. Ateneo will be taking on FEU tomorrow in the Fil Oil at the Arena. Lasalle will take on University of the East in the Fr Martin quarters later this afternoon, while the Green Archers face a much tougher foe in San Sebastian in the Fil Oil quarters tomorrow afternoon. This would be a first in recent summer tournament history and would be a fitting finale for both tournaments.
As much as that would be ideal for the rabid partisans of both schools, it will also be a boon for tournament organizers. Ateneo-Lasalle championship fights are always a blockbuster. For the record, Lasalle beat the Ateneo for the fifth straight year during their elimination round encounter in the Fil Oil just last weekend 62-59 behind the game-long heroics of prize rookie Jeron Teng. Teng, the 6-foot-2 swingman who set the new Tiong Lian single-game scoring record last season, led the Archers with 17 points, including a high-pressure three-pointer that sent the game into overtime.
His feats eclipsed the comeback game of star-crossed Blue Eagle swingman Ryan Buenafe. Still overweight, the 6-foot-2 Buenafe, himself a former high school superstar out of San Sebastian, lead the Blue Eagles with 21 points on 62% shooting. Were it not for a last-second play gone awry with Kiefer Ravena, Buenafe might have salvaged this win for the Ateneo. Still, it was a good game for the man who lost a year in the UAAP due to some off-court drama best left to a Law & Order episode.
San Beda has not escaped the publicity light themselves this summer. At the start of the summer preseason tournaments, the Red Lions were pretty much penciled in as the incoming NCAA champions. After all they did have the formidable duo of 6-foot-8 African import Ola Adeogun and 6-foot-3 Filipino-American swingman Julius "Juice" Armon. Having these two expatriates in the roster all but guaranteed that the Red Lions would be completing their second 3-Peat, a la Chicago Bulls in the Michael Jordan era. Armon however did not return with the team from their annual summer training in the United States. Some reports have it that Armon decided to forego with a college stint and go straight to the PBA D League when he returns to the Philippines.
Adeogun has not been spared the nagging bite of uncertainty. Some arcane NCAA rule or other supposedly disqualifies an NCAA athlete from competing in his sport if he has been meted a venue ban in any of the other events. So if a basketball player gets into some kind of trouble at say a volleyball event. and that trouble results in him getting banned from watching any of the other NCAA events, that supposedly disqualifies him from participation in basketball or any other NCAA sport. Does that sound like someone we know? This of course is up for definitive clarification in the coming weeks in that oracular assembly known as the NCAA Policy Board. What happens next is anybody's guess. But one might be tempted to ask who, if any, would benefit from Adeogun being unable to play in the NCAA next season? Ask the nine other NCAA teams.
Even in the face of these manpower developments, the Red Lions are going into the Fil Oil quarterfinals tomorrow an unbeaten team. They have a battle-tested and veteran core who can win it all with or without Adeogun. We will see the Red Lions in the semifinals of this tournament for sure. Check that, we will see them in the Finals. And they may yet arrange a rematch with the Blue Eagles if the Ateneo holds up its end and makes it all the way themselves.
NU may have something to say about that though, as the Bulldogs have proven that they are a legit powerhouse now. Apart from San Beda they are the only other undefeated team in the Fil Oil. With 6-foot-3 swingman Rey Parks and 6-foot-6 center Emmanuel Mbe leading the way, these Bulldogs surely will take major bites out of anybody they face. They outlasted the Golden Stags in a rough and tumble elimination game here, and pulled the same escape act against the well-coached
Updated 06-06-2012 at 11:59 AM by gameface_one