NCAA Season 90 Preview: Part 1
By Rick Olivares, Unblogged Sports Updated Wednesday June 25, 2014 - 3:32pm

NCAA coaches join hands during the launch of Season 90 of the country’s premier cage league at the MOA Arena last June 16. They are (from left) Gerry Esplana of Emilio Aguinaldo College, San Beda’s Boyet Fernandez, San Sebastian assistant coach Raymond Valenzona, who represented Topex Robinson, Arellano U’s Jerry Cordiñera, Aric del Rosario of Perpetual Help, host Jose Rizal U’s Vergel Meneses, Gabby Velasco of St. Benilde, Boni Tan of Lyceum, Mapua’s Atoy Co and Letran assistant coach Ronjay Enrile, who represented Caloy Garcia. JUN MENDOZA

The road to a five-peat for San Beda rests on the shoulders of one man - Ola Adeogun. The Nigerian center is the X-Factor in which no other team in the NCAA can match, much less has an answer for. And with the road to the title cleared of any Raymond Almazans, even with a depowered Red Lions team, San Beda is a heavy favorite to win it all again.

Take him out of the equation and this year will be anyone's ballgame and championship. Practically all the other teams do not have that force in the middle and have to make up with it with undersized forwards or others used outside they regular position.

With regards to SBC, even with key pieces to their recent dynasty - seven of the last eight NCAA champions - moving on, second-year head coach Boyet Fernandez has a few more studs to count on when Adeogun is saddled with foul trouble. He has two players who can seemingly score against any defense in Baser Amer and Art dela Cruz left.

Fernandez will take his cue from the San Antonio Spurs. He has three players he can depend on and a bunch of role players to backstop them. So any talk of the lack of star power is overrated.

The Semerad brothers need to be more consistent. You'll never know when they will score or help or be saddled with fouls. Looking at their bench, Radge Tongco and Ryusei Koga will help put points on the board. Now incidentally, they are all combo guards.

However, if any team wants to unseat the Red Lions, they will have to be very creative in their attack. Having said that, right now, it is only San Beda that is assured of going to the Final Four.

Let's take a look at two of the more impressive NCAA sides during the pre-season - Jose Rizal University and the University of Perpetual Help System Dalta.

During the summer, the JRU Heavy Bombers were an overachieving bunch despite not having a quality big man since James Sena was sheriff in these parts. Essentially, they played small ball with a number of tweeners logging heavy minutes and trying to Steph Curry opponents into oblivion like Philip Paniamogan and Jaycee Asuncion.

Over the summer, the two realized that they need to more than simply bombard from the outside. They need to get inside the lane because the outside shot will not fall all the time.

Michael Mabulac has finally rounded out into a smart paint player but he is more of a power forward than a center and one who is woefully undersized when going up against Adeogun. He might battle the Red Lions' man in the middle to a stalemate for a quarter; maybe even a half that could help win a game, but in a long series, Mabulac will need some help from his friends.

Make that "friend" as JRU is really thin up front. And that other friend is Abdul Razak, the Ghanaian center who looked lost in JRU's schemes on both sides of the court and even had butterfingers on offense. If - and this is the operative word - if Razak can just rebound and play defense, as the Heavy Bombers have a few players who can point points on the board, and stay out of foul trouble, they will go far.

Other crucial parts to their puzzle and if they want to make the Final Four - point guards Gio Lasquety and Teytey Teodoro. Both aren't the type to create for teammates. Teodoro can hit it from the outside but he will be even better if he can find a way to create for teammates especially since Jordan dela Paz was stricken off the roster due to grades at the last moment.

Dela Paz' loss is huge as he brought scoring and rebounding from the three-spot. How they adjust without him is just as key.

The other under-sized team that could go far is Perpetual Help. But as it is painfully obvious, they will live and die by their Fantastic Four of Juneric Baloria, Harold Arboleda, Justine Alano, and Earl Thompson. The four need to produce each and every game no ifs and buts.

Even if they account for 90 percent of their team's output, the Altas will need to play defense as a strong offense doesn't always mean they will win. Gab Dagangon and Flash Sadiwa need to be consistent with what they can do and not merely make cameo appearances every now and then.

With this NCAA season played to a tighter sked, that means there will be fewer days for rest and you don't know what the wear and tear can do to Aric del Rosario's squad.

Another Final Four contender but one that struggled in the pre-season is Letran. Clearly, head coach Caloy Garcia was trying to tinker around and figure out who he can count on. There's a lot to like in this squad that can go deep once more despite missing Almazan.

They have some new rookies like Chester Saldua and Daryl Singontiko who will help this season. But what they need is a presence inside the slot. Knights coach Caloy Garcia's team will compete and probably mow down the rest of the field (with the exception of Perpetual Help, JRU, and College of Saint Benilde) that is anyone's ballgame) that too are without their own center.

They can still make it to the finals but being a bridesmaid for a third straight year isn't funny. You can say that it's good for a young team. Not really because soon this team will lose Racal and Gabawan further thinning that frontline corps. Moral victories are only temporary; no one will even remember them in the long run.

The Knights have one of the better backcourts with Mark Cruz, Rey Nambatac, and McJour Luib. The difference will be in Kevin Racal, Jamil Gabawan, Ford Ruaya, and Rey Publico staying in the game foul free. More so since Ruaya and Publico are more outside players despite being tasked to protect the lane.

This team needs to be strong inside. Mark Cruz, as talented and clutch as he is, can score all the points he wants but Baser Amer can match that. What they need to show is how to more than match and offset Adeogun in the paint.

Solve that riddle and the title is yours.

Another dark horse squad is College of Saint Benilde. They have lineups vastly similar to Perpetual Help, JRU, and Letran - talented backcourt, very good wing players but not much help in the middle.

Now this team can score. In bunches. In the high 90s. They just need to play better defense.

By the time the NCAA season tips off, Mark Romero will be in game shape. He's got the talented Paolo Taha to help out. RJ Argamino, Jonathan Grey, Raph Nayve, and Luis Sinco will all help. But the key here is Robert Bartolo and JR Ongteco manning the slot. Consistency is the key.

Arellano University can surprise everyone and play well. They are a year older with some of last year's newbies like Keith Agovida and Zach Nicholls getting their feet wet in seniors ball. If Agovida can be less tentative and become a slashing and creative force, he will help point guard Nard Pinto who seems to be the only guy who can create for teammates.

Prince Caperal is back for one more fling and he needs to be dominant inside (and not on the bench because of foul trouble). Not sure if Ice Ciriacruz can replicate his deadly form of years ago. If he does, they will have scoring sock from the wing.

This squad should count on Nichole Bangga, Julius Cadavis (it's now or never, son), Levi Hernandez, and Jiovani Jalalon.

The onus on this team is for them to be that - a team. One that cannot only spread the wealth points-wise but to get everyone in the act. If they can be unselfish like Letran is they will be a serious challenger.

Lyceum of the Philippines University did relatively well in the summer but I am not too high on that as some of their foes included a de-powered RP Youth squad (that played minus many key players).

I love how Rhoel Maconocido and Dexter Zamora have strapped this team in their backs. I hope they realize that they cannot simply live with the outside shot. And speaking of outside shots, Shane Ko wasn't his usual scoring self in the summer. If he can pick his spots and provide rebounding, defense, and assists that will be better than any other long bomb he can hit.

Unfortunately, LPU isn't deep. But do have Joseph Gabayni who will be their source of strength inside. Christian Paul Pamulaklakin should help too.

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SENIOR DIVISION
TEAMS WIN LOSS
AU Chiefs 13 4
SBC Red Lions 13 5
UPHSD Altas 12 6
JRU Heavy Bombers 12 6
CSB Blazers 11 6
CSJL Knights 8 9
LPU Pirates 6 11
SSC Stags 5 13
MIT Cardinals 4 14
EAC Generals 4 14

 

SENIOR DIVISION
Wednesday, October 8, 2014 @ San Juan Arena
12:00 PM - Game 1 - Jrs/Srs
VS
4:00 PM - Game 2 - Srs/Jrs
VS