NCAA Season 98 men’s basketball: Letran eyes ‘three-peat’ as rivals go for redemption
MANILA, Philippines—The upcoming NCAA Season 98 tips off on Saturday with the customary centerpiece event men’s basketball raising the curtain.
Defending champion Letran will have an opportunity to win a second title in the same year and complete a ‘three-peat.’
The road to the title, however, is expected to be an uphill climb with no clear favorite among the 10 teams.
Here is a look at where the teams stand heading into the season opener:
Head coach: Bonnie Tan
Key losses: Rhenz Abando, Jeo Ambohot, Ato Ular and Allen Mina
Key additions: Kobe Monje, Raf Go, Justine Bautista
Letran won’t have its MVP Rhenz Abando in its bid for a third consecutive crown.
Aside from Abando, Jeo Ambohot, Ato Ular
and Allen Mina won’t be around anymore for the Knights, who swept Mapua for the championship in Season 97 four months ago.
Still, Letran remains one of the favorites to win it all with holdovers Fran Yu, King Caralipio, Brent Paraiso and Louie Sangalang to lead the way.
Letran also hopes to draw solid contributions from its newcomers in Kobe Monje, Raf Go and Justine Bautista, who showed out in the Filoil Preseason Cup.
Head coach: Randy Alcantara
Key losses: None
Key additions: Gab Gamboa, Cyrus Cuenco
Unlike Letran, Mapua has an intact core bannered by Warren Bonifacio and Paolo Hernandez.
With their key pieces back for another run, the Cardinals look to pick up where they left off last season when they clinched their first finals appearance in 32 years.
Don’t be fooled by Mapua’s winless Filoil preseason campaign with the rest of the league wary of the Cardinals, who have been deemed as legitimate threats to end the Knights’ reign.
Several players from Mapua also gained valuable experience after seeing action in the PBA D-League as part of Marinerong Pilipino, which made the finals.
To add to their already stacked roster, the Cardinals brought in St. Clare guard Gab Gamboa, who also had a commendable D-League run with Adalem Construction.
San Beda Red Lions
Head coach: Yuri Escueta
Key losses: Rhayyan Amsali, Franz Abuda, JV Gallego (injury)
After missing the finals for the first time in 14 years, San Beda goes for redemption as it eyes to reclaim its glory under new coach Yuri Escueta.
The Red Lions haven’t won the championship since Season 94.
They are also coming off a surprising semifinals exit last season after losing to Mapua.
Aiming to redeem itself, San Beda will be relying on graduating players James Kwekuteye and JB Bahio, who had a solid preseason averaging 12 points and 8.1 rebounds.
Perpetual Help Altas
Head coach: Myk Saguiguit
Key losses: none
Kim Aurin was set to join the PBA Draft and leave the Altas behind after last season, but a case of chickenpox changed all of that.
Instead, this season will be Aurin’s last as he will try to spearhead the Altas after missing the crucial semifinals match last season against Letran.
In one of the Perpetual Help’s preseason wins, head tactician Myk Saguiguit said he always reminded his boys of how the team bowed out to last season’s finalists Mapua Cardinals, in hopes it will fuel them to go further next season.
Backed by shooters Jielo Razon and Cyrus Nitura, the Altas will look to improve from their 4-5 season and try to reach more than the semis.
College of St. Benilde Blazers
Head coach: Charles Tiu
Key loss: AJ Benson
Key addition: Migs Oczon
Expectations couldn’t get any bigger for St. Benilde as one of the title favorites heading into Season 98.
The Blazers will be led by Will Gozum, who made the Mythical Team last season. Robin Nayve is also back in the fold.
They will also have forward Migs Corteza, who averaged 8.7 points and 5.5 rebounds per game last season.
Benilde will also welcome back Jimboy Pasturan, who sat out Season 97. National University standout Migs Oczon will also make his debut for St. Benilde, which was beaten by Perpetual Help for the final semis spot last season.
San Sebastian Stags
Head coach: Egay Macaraya
Key losses: JM Calma, Michael Are and Arjan Dela Cruz
Key additions: none
Defense will be the central focus of San Sebastian without its anchor JM Calma.
Minus Calma, who averaged 16.9 points and 10.3 rebounds last season, the Stags will look to rely on their other veterans Itchie Altamirano and Jessie Sumoda to fill in the void.
In what could be a sign of good things to come, San Sebastian had a productive preseason where it made the PBA D-League semifinals and the Filoil quarterfinals.
Emilio Aguinaldo College Generals
Head coach: Oliver Bunyi
Key losses: CJ Cadua and Marwin Taywan
Key additions: Joshua Tolentino, Mac Balowa and Ralph Bajon
When asked what the Generals will bring to the table, head coach Oliver Bunyi simply stated “resiliency.”
The memo seemed simple enough. Lose two key players, gain three. After being led by CJ Cadua and Marwin Taywan, EAC will enjoy the services of three new players, who are all guards.
Joshua Tolentino, Mac Balowa and Ralph Bajon will be the new soldiers to Bunyi’s crusade of trying to improve from a 3-6 season a few months ago.
Head coach: Cholo Martin
Key losses: Justin Arana, Gelo Sablan
Key additions: None
Arellano came close to making the semifinals last season with MVP candidate Justin Araña serving as the team’s anchor.
The Chiefs go for another shot at the Final Four this season but they will have to do it without their dependable big man, who is now making a name for himself in the PBA.
Arana, who put up a double-double of 14.8 points and 17.1 rebounds last season, will be sorely missed by the Chiefs.
The Chiefs will now try to bank on holdovers Cade Flores and Axel Doromal to carry much of the offensive load.
Head coach: Gilbert Malabanan
Key losses: none
Key additions: none
The Pirates remain intact with their previous Season 97 roster and so far it’s been working well. Whether that will apply for next season or not, is still up in the air.
Lyceum hopes its promising preseason campaign carries over to the NCAA season.
After finishing second to last in the standings in Season 97, the Pirates hope to turn things around this time.
Spearheaded by former NCAA juniors MVP John Barba and shooter Claude Guadaña, Lyceum made the quarterfinals in the Filoil tournament with a 5-2 record before losing to Adamson.
Head coach Gilbert Malabanan’s system has also done wonders for the team, which averaged 18 assists as a team in eight preseason games.
JRU Heavy Bombers
Head coach: Louie Gonzales
Key loss: EJ Agbong
Key holdovers: Agem Miranda, Ry Dela Rosa
Jose Rizal University managed to win just one game last season.
The Heavy Bombers are hoping that won’t be the case in Season 98.
Back for JRU are Agem Miranda and Ry Dela Rosa, who led the team in scoring last season averaging 12.1 and 11.6 points, respectively.
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