Battle for crown jewel

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

It’s known as the PBA’s most prestigious championship and what makes this conference even more significant is the Philippine Cup stands as the last battleground of the season with the Governors’ Cup taking a break to leave the just-concluded Commissioner’s Cup the only other theater of basketball hostilities.

The Philippine Cup began last Wednesday and 66 games will have been played when the eliminations end on May 5. There will be no contests from March 18 to 30 with the All-Star Weekend on March 22-24 in Bacolod and the Holy Week observation on March 25-30. After the eliminations, the top eight finishers advance to the quarterfinals and the last four exit to an early vacation. In the quarters, No. 1 takes on No. 8 and No. 2 faces No. 7 with the higher-ranked teams toting a twice-to-beat advantage. The other quarters pairings are No. 3 against No. 6 and No. 4 against No. 5, both best-of-three affairs. The four winners move on to play in the best-of-seven semifinals with the survivors meeting in the best-of-seven finals.

The estimate is the Philippine Cup will wind up in the third week of June. Since the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) is set on July 2-7, this will leave Gilas head coach Tim Cone about 10 days of preparation. There is talk that SBP is lining up practice games for Gilas with European teams to get ready for Latvia and Georgia in the OQT. How to fit the practice games in the tight schedule is a challenge. 

From the Philippine Cup rosters submitted to the PBA, seven rookies who didn’t play in the previous conference are listed and eight veterans switched teams. The rookies are 5-9 Edgar Charcos of NLEX, 5-10 Jolo Mendoza of Meralco, 6-5 Damie Cuntapay, 6-1 BJ Andrade and 6-6 Xavier Lucero of NorthPort and 6-7 Luis Villegas and 6-3 Sherwin Concepcion of Rain or Shine. Charcos wasn’t picked in the 2019 draft and is reunited with his former Perpetual coach Frankie Lim at NLEX.  Switching teams were Blackwater’s James Yap, Jaydee Tungcab, Justin Chua and Rey Nambatac, NLEX’ Ato Ular and Baser Amer and TNT’s Barkley Ebona and Brandon Ganuelas-Rosser.

Veterans who failed to see action in the recent Commissioner’s Cup but are on the active list include NorthPort’s William Navarro, TNT’s Paul Varilla, Terrafirma’s Kevin Ferrer and San Miguel Beer’s Vic Manuel.

Blackwater coach Jeff Cariaso embarked on an aggressive rebuilding program in the offseason and opened the Philippine Cup with a 96-93 win over Meralco. Cariaso’s lineup lists four rookies and four veteran transferees, a dramatic change from the roster in the previous season. The rookies are Archie Concepcion, Cliff Jopia, James Kwekuteye and Christian David. Missing in the lineup are Jvee Casio (on the bench in civvies last Wednesday), Gab Banal and Rashawn McCarthy. Mike Ayonayon is on the injured list. In PBA history, three coaches are tied with the most All-Filipino titles at six – Leo Austria, Chot Reyes and Baby Dalupan. 

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