NCAA Final Four: Who will be the new kings in Season 99?
MANILA, Philippines—A new king will be crowned in the NCAA men’s basketball this season.
Early on in the season, defending champion Letran lost its bid for a four-peat which gave rise to four teams emerging as title contenders for Season 99.
With Mapua, Lyceum, San Beda and College of St. Benilde rising to the occasion, here’s Inquirer Sports’ preview for the Final Four showdown that begins Tuesday at Mall of Asia Arena.
LYCEUM VS. SAN BEDA’S STREAK: END OR EXTEND?
The battle of second-seeded Lyceum and third seed San Beda will be one to look out for.
For one, the Red Lions ended the elimination round with the most momentum, riding on a four-game winning streak. They, however, will need to extend that string to six victories if they want to return to the promised land.
That’s because the Pirates, who ended the eliminations with a 13-5 card, hold a twice-to-beat advantage. Just one victory and they’ll be well on their way back to the Finals since 2018.
What’s more interesting, though, is the cards are evenly dealt for both squads, as they both hold one win over the other at the end of the first and second round.
Lyceum has been in a renaissance under PBA draftee Enoch Valdez and San Beda coach Yuri Escueta knows better than to underestimate the Intramuros squad’s chances.
“We still have to get better and respect LPU,” said Escueta after their season-ending win against rival Letran at San Juan Arena on Friday.
“Coming to the playoffs, we can’t start like that knowing how LPU is always at 110 percent. We can’t start games slow.”
The guard battle of Valdez and Jacob Cortez will be a sight to behold on Tuesday, as both players are in the race for the MVP spot.
BENILDE VS. MAPUA: MVP vs… MVP?
After a Season 98 Finals appearance, College of St. Benilde will have to climb a tougher mountain this time with reigning MVP Will Gozum.
Last year, the Blazers held a twice-to-beat advantage over the aforementioned Beda after finishing as the top seed thanks to the efforts of an eventual MVP.
That situation happened once more this year; an uprising team was carried behind the back of a player who’s in prime position to be the best player in the league.
Except, this time, it isn’t the Blazers.
This time around, it’s Mapua which finished atop the ladder with a 15-3 record plus a twice-to-beat advantage to match behind the efforts of the top contender for MVP, Clint Escamis.
Escamis averaged 16.28 points, 5.83 rebounds, 4.22 assists and 3.78 steals per game for the Cardinals, pushing his agenda as this year’s MVP even farther.
Now it’s a battle of the reigning and the upcoming as Gozum, who averaged 12.76 points and 6.41 boards a night, tries his best once more to push the Blazers back to where they left off last season.
Like the 2 vs. 3 matchup, Benilde and Mapua also have a 1-1 record against each other in the elimination round, which will prompt both tacticians Charles Tiu and Randy Alcantara to bring their A-game on Tuesday.
NCAA Season 99 Final Four Schedule of Games
November 28, 2023
Mall of Asia Arena
1:30pm Mapua Cardinals vs St. Benilde Blazers
3:30pm Lyceum Pirates vs San Beda Red Lions
December 1, 2023 **if necessary
Smart Araneta Coliseum
1:30pm Lyceum Pirates vs San Beda Red Lions
3:30pm Mapua Cardinals vs St. Benilde Blazers