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NCAA Season 89: Glory Road Still Crosses Mendiola Bridge

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The country's oldest varsity tournament is opening its 89th season with the usual fanfare and...

Ah crap.

You know what, why don't I just cut to the chase: San Beda might as well be handed the championship trophy during the opening ceremonies.

There is just no way San Beda is losing their title this season. Well, maybe if God visits Moses-level plagues and Job-level torments upon them. And the earth opens up and swallows the entire team.

Anything short of that, forget about it.

San Beda has the tallest, deepest, most talented, most experienced lineup in the NCAA, and a coaching staff that's been through the best and worst of it. "We are not taking anything or anybody for granted. We will prepare for every game and every opponent," declared San Beda head coach Boyet Fernandez to reporters during the NCAA Press Conference at the SMOA.

The real advantage of the Red Lions takes the form of 6-foot-8 Nigerian center Ola Adeogun. As long as Adeogun mans the middle there is no way anybody is taking the title away from San Beda. “When you talk about San Beda, it’s still going to be Ola (Adeogun) who will still cause problems for other teams,” said Emilio Aguinaldo head coach Gerry Esplana at the same affair.

Adeogun didn't exactly have a good summer outing as he was often vilified by his own fans and fellow Bedans about not playing to his full potential, i.e. not putting his hands up all the time on defense, letting smaller players drive at him and get lay ups in his face, taking silly gambles trying to steal the ball and not getting back to his spot on defense, always looking to leak out instead of tending to the rebounds himself. Still, ask any San Beda fan if they would rather play without him and everyone to a man will surely answer in the negative.

Adeogun will not be alone though. He will have guards Ryusei Koga, Francis Abarcar and Baser Amer manning the perimeter. He will have 6'6" center Kyle Pascual and forwards Rome Dela Rosa and Arthur Dela Cruz keeping him company up front. He will also have the star-crossed 6'5" Semerad twins back in red and white after an aborted stint with the Ateneo. “I’m looking at Dave (Semerad) to step up in Jake‘s (Pascual) absence, and we’re looking for Anthony (Semerad) to take the outside shots,” Fernandez explained.

Other teams would be hard pressed to match that kind of size, depth and talent across the board. Let's take a look at the other teams:

Arellano ___

If there is one thing the Chiefs have going for them, it is that they actually beat the Red Lions in the summer thanks to new star guard Nard Pinto. Pinto is a strongly built 5'9" combo-guard who is adroit playing with the ball and off it, and moves very well without the ball as well. He will combine with athletic 6'2" Filipino-Canadian James Forrester, 6'6" center Prince Caperal, and whip-quick 5'7" rookie pointguard Jon Jalalon. If 6'1" Adam Serjue and 6'5" Dioncee Holts find a way to make the roster by opening day Arellano might be a lock for the Final 4.

Emilio Aguinaldo ___

EAC might be the only team in the entire NCAA who has an import that has a chance to match up against Adeogun. 6'6" Noube Hapi was on last season's Mythical 5 and has been a double-double machine for the Generals averagin 16 points and 12 rebounds per game last season. With 6'2" Jan Jamon continuing to improve his own game, the Generals have two legit stars to anchor their overall game. If they can get any kind of defensive strength from the rest of the roster they could surprise a lot of people.

Letran ___

New head coach Caloy Garcia is lucky he still has three of the best players in the league on his roster: 6'7" center Raymond Almazan, 6'1" swingman Kevin Racal and 5'6" pointguard Mark Cruz. With these three and some help from 6'2" forward Jonathan Belorio, 5'11" rookie off-guard Rey Nambatac, the Knights have just enough to practically guarantee themselves a Final 4 slot and maybe even a Top 2 finish.

Lyceum Manila ___

Coach Boni Tan and his Pirates are coming into this season looking as small as they usually do. Lyceum will continue to rely on its guards to try and keep up with the rest of the NCAA field. 5'8" guard Shane Ko will be leading the team this season. The tough and wily sentinel however will need plenty of help if the Pirates are to be anything more than just on the outside looking in. They could use some help up front, but their incumbent big men are really all height and little else. I doubt the Pirates can even dream of a Final 4 slot this year.

Mapua Tech ___

Mapua is an enigma after they chose not to join the Fil Oil and Fr Martin Cup and instead played in the Mayor Rama Cup in Cebu. They lost a close game there to eventual champion FEU, but they did gain valuable game experience with new head coach and PBA legend Atoy Co. Their biggest problem is that 6'2" star Josan Nimes is still iffy for the season due to a back injury. It looks like a long season ahead for the Fortune Cookie and his Cardinals.

Perpetual Help ___

Aric Del Rosario has seen it all in college basketball, and yet he remains optimistic that his smallish Altas can still stay toe to toe with the rest of the NCAA. Everything starts with 6-foot-1 Nousa Omorogbe, their African import who does everything at a high level. Rookie find Juneric Balorio, a 5'9" combo-guard, might be as good as Arellano's Nard Pinto and was in fact very productive during the summer. 6'1" Justin Alano, 5'8" Chris Elopre and 5'10" Harold Arboleda are all still around. This team made it all the way to the Fr Martin Cup summer finals, and they are capable of ambushing any NCAA team. Repeating their Final 4 finish last year though will take a bit of luck.

San Sebastian ___

These are no longer the powerhouse Golden Stags of the last five years. Calvin Abueva, Ronald Pascual and Ian Sangalang, the core of the 2009 title team, are all gone. Taking their places for head coach Topex Robinson are 6'1" super athletic swingman Jaymar Perez, 6'3" Filipino-American forward Leo De Vera and 6'6" Filipino-Australian center Bradwin Guinto. They will join 5'11" veteran off-guard Jovet Dela Cruz to form a new core for the Stags. They'll be in the Final 4 for sure, all that's left to figure out is their final seeding.

St Benilde ___

New head coach Gabby Velasco got used to winning in the NCRAA and the UCLAA, and is looking to bring his lucky streak to the NCAA with the Blazers. Their new leader will now be 5'8" pointguard Luis Sinco, who runs the offense with aplomb and acts as the coach on the floor. He still has athletic 5'11" off-guard Paolo Taha and fearless 6'1" swingman Jonathan Grey. If Velasco can get any production out of 6'6" center Jan Tan, 6'5" power forward Bart Bartolo and 6'4" forward Jeff Ongteco he might be able to make a serious bid for the Final 4.
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  1. Sam Miguel's Avatar
    You have anything against JRU?

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