NCAA Season 91 Preview Part 1: Lions still team to beat

Topex Robinson of Lyceum, Gabby Velasco of St. Benilde, Aldin Ayo of Letran, Andy de Guzman of EAC, Aric del Rosario of Perpetual, Ed Cordero of Mapua, Jerry Codiñera of Arellano, Rodney Santos of San Sebastian, George Ella of JRU and Jamike Jarin of San Beda join hands during the NCAA Season 91 press conference at the Mall of Asia Arena. JOEY MENDOZA 

If the NCAA was watching the finals of the Filoil Flying V Hanes Premier Cup, a shudder must have gone up the spine of every team, thinking they have a chance to knock San Beda College a peg or two from its decade of dominance. They crushed La Salle with so much ease, unerring focus and incredible firepower - despite missing point guard Baser Amer - to pick up their first ever pre-season trophy.

Is this the start of what could be a historic season?

San Beda Red Lions

The road to the NCAA championship will have to go through Mendiola. The Lions are the prohibitive favorites to annex their sixth straight NCAA title.

They still have plenty of holdovers from their previous title squads to see them through. They might not be as deep as they used to be, but they arguably have three of the best starters in the league in Baser Amer at the one-spot, Arthur dela Cruz in the power forward position, and Ola Adeogun at center. The rest are role players who know what to do and how to do it. Frightening combination if you ask me. You can't even leave Jaypee Mendoza or Michole Sorela alone because they will burn you.

It looks like it's a lean year for recruits this year as only Ice Reyes, the former Ateneo Blue Eaglet, is new to the squad. In my opinion, their singular biggest addition is head coach Jamike Jarin.

No disrespect to any of the previous coaches but this man is a teacher, a motivator and a defensive guru all rolled into one. He will make the Red Lions individually better and bring them as whole. The summer gave the Red Lions a first look at their coach who introduced a whole new set of mind games designed to make them better. They ended the summer firm believers.

Now teams might be able to defeat the Red Lions in a game or two in the elimination round. However, as I have stipulated in previous years - beating them in two straight for the championship is altogether another matter.

Nevertheless, who are the contenders for the NCAA crown?

Team Roster:

Adeogun, Olaide J.
Amer, Baser C.
Bonsubre Jr., Antonio R.
Cabanag, Jeramer
Dela Cruz, Arthur A.
Koga, Ryusei G.
Mocon, Javee D.
Presbitero, Jose Mari Y.
Reyes, Isaiah Gilbert T.
Sara, Roldan V. 
Sedillo, Amiel Cris R. 
Sorela, Mochole S.
Tankoua, Pierre
Tongco, Ranbill Angelo V.

Jose Rizal University Heavy Bombers

They won the Fr. Martin Cup as they took down the University of Santo Tomas and lost in the semis of the Filoil Cup to San Beda. The victory by the Golden State Warriors gives this team hope.

After all, they are the proponents of small ball and bombarding from the outside. In the aforementioned Filoil tourney, JRU hoisted the third most number of triples by a NCAA squad. Tops was Letran with 185 followed by EAC with 178 then JRU with 171.

They play with an undersized lineup, sometimes utilizing three combo guards of which they have a plethora - the returning Paolo Pontejos, Teytey Teodoro, Dave Sanchez and Gio Lasquety. This gives head coach Vergel Meneses flexibility to push the ball and press. They can bombard from the outside because they now have a workhorse underneath in Abdel Poutouchi and the much-improved Abdulrazak Abdulwahab, who seems to have finally understood what he can do for the team by playing rim protector and rebounding.

They have a pair of fine forwards in Jordan dela Paz and Marco Balagtas. The problem, however, is everyone tends to stand around while waiting for the guards to figure out what they want to do. The lack of movement hurts and causes them to be stagnant. What they prefer is a quicker type of offense.

But as Meneses said, if they want to win they have to do it by playing defense (they were the best defensive team of the Filoil tournament).

Team Roster:

Abdulwahab, Abdulrazak

Aylagnigni, Poutouochi Abdouladif

Astilla,Kristian James P.

Aurin, Kim Cyril J.

Balagtas, Marco Paulo M.

Cruz, Mark Neil A.

David, Richard John M.

Dela Paz, Cris Jordan C.

Estrella, Darius Duane B.

Grospe, John Ervin P.

Lasquety, Gio Nicolo E.

Pontejos, John Paulo B.

Sanchez, Dave Richard M.

Teodoro, Bernabe M.

Perpetual Help Altas

They are contenders because of one man - Nigerian center Bright Akhuetie. Along with Mapua's Allwell Oraeme, Akhuetie elevates what is otherwise a team that is so-so despite the presence of last year's Most Valuable Player in Earl Scottie Thompson (they did lose Jong Baloria, Justine Alano and Harold Arboleda). Akhuetie's work ethic is impressive and it would do well for others - especially the locals - to emulate. He works hard, never gives up, and is smart. His backup, compatriot Prince Eze, is solid on defense but less polished on offense. He isn't bad though.

The tandem of Akhuetie and Thompson will keep teams honest and that will give others like Crispin Elopre, Ric Gallardo, Gab Daganon, Gerald Dizon, Flash Sadiwa, Kevin Oliviera and John Ylagan their looks.

If they are angling for a crack at the title then they have to make their move this year as it is Thompson's last. It isn't everyday you land a talent like him.

Team Roster:

Akhuetie, Bright Osagie

Bantayan Jr. Nestor D.

Cabiltes, Nikolo T.

Coronel, Antonio Jeffrey L.

Dagangon, Gabriel S.

Dizon, Gerald L.

Elopre II, Crispin C.

Eze, Prince Nnamdi

Gallardo, Ric C.

Oliveria, Kevin G.

Pido, Kieth Llowel G.

Sadiwa, Flash Gordon H.

Tamayo, Antonio Romulo G.

Thompson, Earl Scottie C.

Ylagan, John Genmar L.

Arellano University Chiefs

How do they follow up a breakout and surprise season where they made the finals (although they were seriously outmatched in the finals)?

By hiding its team and not participating in pre-season tourneys. A mistake if you ask me. It would be nice to be wrong though.

Having written that, I don't think they will be springing any surprises this year, but they will definitely compete with their newfound confidence. They will count on Dioncee Holts, the much-improved Jiovani Jalalon who has gained a lot of experience and valuable training with the national team to the SEA Games, Nichole Bangga and the improving Mark Tano.

If their bench can help the starters then they will be back in the Final Four.

Team Roster:

Bangga, Nichole John B.

Cadavis Jr., Godofredo M.

Capara Jr. Godofredo M.

De Guzman, Adrian Charles B.

Enriquez, Allen S.

Gumaru, Donald G.

Holts, Dionceem

Jalalon, Jiovani N.

Meca, Brylle Ivan M.

Mortega, David E.

Salado, Michael Kent A.

Tano, Ranimark V.

Ular, Renato T.

Zamora, John Kenneth M.

College of Saint Benilde Blazers

No Mark Romero. No Paolo Taha. No chance?

Not at all.

The Blazers will be out there battling all the way utilizing that small ball that they play so well. Even without their graduated stars, CSB still packs lots of firepower in Jonathan Grey, Raphael Nayve, Alfonso Saavedra, Ralph Deles, and the up and coming Carlo Young.

They like to push that ball every chance they get while playing harassing defense. JR Ongteco has improved his skills around the basket and that will give them some offense inside. They'll match up with a lot of teams when it comes to starting fives but the bench is rather suspect.

However, their coaching staff - despite their manpower losses - are high on this team because of great attitude (which is essential) and high confidence.

If they want to realize their Final Four aspirations then they have to notch some early wins because the second round will be a free-for-all.

For Benilde, they really have to dedicate themselves to playing defense. And they can play defense. In the Filoil Cup, they were in the Top Five in holding teams down in scoring. Their problem? It's playing the full 40 minutes and not the first 35.

If they can play consistently and four full periods, they have a chance of cracking that Final Four. Anything beyond that is pure gravy.

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