Lions battle Cards as NCAA wars begin
TOTALLY dominant in the past five seasons, San Beda immediately faces a tough test in its bid for an unprecedented sixth straight crown as the 91st NCAA basketball tournament unfolds today at Mall of Asia Arena.
Tipped for another historic run, the Red Lions begin their campaign against the retooled Mapua Cardinals at 1 p.m., after the opening ceremony that starts at 11 a.m.
Arellano and Jose Rizal U clash at 3 p.m. in a rematch of their Final Four showdown last season won by the Chiefs.
Impressive in the preseason, the Heavy Bombers try to underline their title credentials against an Arellano squad that lost several key players from its run to the finals last year.
But the spotlight will be on the defending champion Lions, who are again tipped to go all the way with the likes of battle-tested players Baser Amer, Ola Adeogun and Art dela Cruz leading the charge.
New San Beda coach Jamike Jarin sees a tougher season ahead for the Lions despite the presence of his veterans.
“It would be good for us to start the season with a win, but we can’t take any team for granted, especially Mapua,” said Jarin, who replaced Boyet Fernandez.
“We have to work harder this season because other teams are also getting stronger.”
The Cardinals are the only NCAA team that beat the Lions in preseason.
With an upgraded roster, Mapua coach Atoy Co has expressed high hopes of improving on its 5-13 finish last season.
Former Rookie of the Year Josan Nimes returns from a two-year absence, while Andretti Stevens and Mark Brana are also back after missing last season. The Cardinals also tapped Nigerian Allwell Oraeme to match up with the league’s best big men, particularly Adeogun.
Duplicating their finish last season will be a challenge for the Chiefs with only Jiovani Jalalon and Dioncee Holts among the remnants of the roster that got swept by San Beda in the finals.
“We still have a good team and with Jiovani and Holts there, I think we can still match up well against the other teams,” said Arellano coach Jerry Codinera.
High-scoring guard Paolo Pontejos is the only significant addition for the Bombers, who reached the semifinals of the Filoil preseason tournament.