NCAA 95 Preview: San Beda Red Lions
Rick Olivares ( - July 1, 2019 - 12:03pm

MANILA, Philippines – NCAA Season 95 has the makings of a very competitive season.

Although three-peat champion San Beda University still has enough in the tank to win a fourth consecutive title for the second time, they will be challenged by several teams that have rebuilt themselves to contend. However, before we get to that, this season will also be known as the last year where foreign players are allowed to suit up. Whether rightly or wrongly, the die is cast.

Any talk about the season to come has to start with the defending champs.

Key losses: Robert Bolick Jr. and Jayvee Mocon
Additions: Arnaud Noah returns to duty after giving way to Eugene Toba last season. Moving up to Team A are former Red Cubs Prince Etrata and Peter Alfaro. Ralph Penuela finally suits up after transferring from the University of the East.

Everyone was thinking that SBU will be vulnerable with Bolick and Mocon taking their acts to the PBA. No such thing. They swept the Filoil Flying V Preseason Cup for their third title.

The Red Lions in my opinion are even better because now because there are two guys running the show in Evan Nelle and James Kwekuteye. They are both game changers. They can alternate at bringing up the ball and setting up teammates (whereas last season Bolick directed the traffic). 

It is hard to say that Kwekuteye and Clint Doliguez will be the one-two punch. Yes, they are, but San Beda has the best starting five in the NCAA with Nelle and Kwekuteye in the back court, Calvin Oftana and Doliguez in the forward positions, and the always steady Donald Tankoua in the slot. Their bench mob will be Noah, JB Bahio, Damie Cuntapay, Ralph Penuela, Etrata, Alfaro, and AC Soberano who didn’t really have a good preseason but no opponent will want to take him lightly lest he find his confidence and range.

What makes them dangerous and still the favorite to win it all is their starting five are all two-way players. The team itself is close. They can run and play half-court offense. 

If you want to stop San Beda, you have to limit Nelle’s effectiveness who I believe to be the second-best court general in the college game after Ateneo’s Matt Nieto. Like another former Blue Eagle in Ryan Buenafe, Nelle is the only one who throws the ball where a player needs to go. That vision allows San Beda to put the hurt on foes with their fastbreaks. 

Kwekuteye can run the offense but it takes away from what he does best. Ralph Penuela who we last saw with the University of the East in the UAAP before transferring can help. He just needs to be consistent. Etrata still needs more seasoning. 

To my earlier point about this team being better than last year? Well, they are unselfish. They have unheralded role players who can do a lot of damage. Some guys can slip in and out of the starting unit and the beat goes on.

Plus. The fact that they have a very good coaching staff makes them even harder to beat. Head coach Boyet Fernandez may not let on too much, but he is crafty.

Still the yardstick in NCAA seniors hoops.

Barring an injury to a key player, they should make it back to the finals. When we get there, let’s talk again.

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