This early, defending champion San Beda is already aware of the long, hard road it needs to tackle to win a fourth straight NCAA men’s basketball championship.
Dominant the past few seasons, the Lions slipped past St. Benilde on opening day.
They get another stern test when they tangle with the dangerous Lyceum Pirates at Filoil Flying V Arena in San Juan at 6 p.m. today.
Two more teams—Mapua and Jose Rizal U—make their NCAA Season 89 debut when they collide at 4 p.m.
The Cardinals will be playing their first game under new coach Atoy Co, who is hoping to guide Mapua to its first title in 21 years.
The Lions nearly wasted a 15-point lead and needed an Art dela Cruz alley-oop basket with 3.4 seconds left to overcome St. Benilde, 71-70, Saturday night.
“We survived the first game, but it’s an early lesson for me and a wake-up call for everyone,” said Lions coach Boyet Fernandez whose team struggled with turnovers and missed free throws down the stretch.
Kenneth Ighalo and Mark Brana have been thrust to more prominent roles for Mapua following the absence of injured standouts Andretti Stevens and Josan Nimes.
With key players from last season’s Final Four run no longer around, the Bombers of coach Vergel Meneses have been forced to rebuild their roster around Mike Mabulac and Philip Paniamogan.
Lyceum, which wound up near the bottom in Season 88, endured a tough pre-season outing, but Fernandez said the Pirates are a team that cannot be overlooked.
While the Lions have a cohesive team built around Ola Adeogun and Baser Amer, who finished with nine points and 11 boards against the Blazers, the Pirates also have a dynamic backcourt in Dexter Zamora and Shane Ko.
“They’re improving and they’re a good team,” said Fernandez. “Zamora has been scoring and Ko dictates the plays.”