Welcome to another year of “San Beda and friends.”
We’re a few days away from the opening of the 91st season of the NCAA, but the five-time defending champion Red Lions just walked into the locker room and pulled a Larry Bird, asking the other nine squads, “So which one of you guys is going to come in second?”
The past decade has seen San Beda lift the championship trophy eight out of 10 times, and quite frankly, it’ll be very, very tough to see something prevent them from going nine out of 11, with six straight titles.
Just how good do they look, and how does the rest of the field shake out? Here’s our preseason power rankings and all the need-to-know info.
#1 San Beda College Red Lions
S90 Finish: 13-5, #1 seed, champions
Head coach: Jamike Jarin
Key losses: Anthony Semerad, Kyle Pascual, David Semerad, JP Mendoza
Key additions: Pierre Tankoua, Isaiah Reyes
Key holdovers: Ola Adeogun, Baser Amer, Art Dela Cruz, Ryusei Koga, Javee Mocon
The exits of the Semerad twins, plus reliable big man Kyle Pascual, make this possibly the thinnest Red Lions team since the last time they lost in the Finals, versus San Sebastian back in 2009. And yet, compared to all of the other teams, San Beda is still relatively deep. First and foremost though, they return their three-man core of Adeogun, Amer and Dela Cruz, and for the last time too. Surrounding them though are the likes of Koga, Mocon, Dan Sara, and Mychole Sorela. Toss in a second foreign center, the more athletic but less polished in the post Pierre Tankoua, and the creative coaching style of Jamike Jarin, and it’s just hard to see the title leaving Mendiola.
#2 University of Perpetual Help System Dalta Altas
S90 Finish: 12-6, #4 seed, lost to SBC in Final Four
Head coach: Aric Del Rosario
Key losses: Harold Arboleda, Juneric Baloria, Justine Alano, Joel Jolangcob
Key additions: Bright Akhuetie, Prince Eze
Key holdovers: Earl Thompson
Perpetual Help turned in a successful season despite not having a foreign center. This time around, they’ve got an imposing pair, but a lot of their local depth has moved on to the pros. While on the plus side, reigning MVP Earl Thompson returns for another go, the Altas’ ability to succeed will lie in the hands of the likes of Gabriel Dagangon, Cris Elopre, Kevin Oliveria and John Ylagan. If they can make other teams pay for concentrating too much on the UPHSD big-small combo, look for the Altas to exceed their finish from last season.
#3 Jose Rizal University Heavy Bombers
S90 Finish: 12-6, #3 seed, lost to AU in Final Four
Head coach: Vergel Meneses
Key losses: Philip Paniamogan, Michael Mabulac, Jaycee Asuncion
Key additions: Paolo Pontejos, Darius Estrella, Poutouochi Aylagnigni, Cris Dela Paz
Key holdovers: Abdulraak Abdulwahab, Gio Lasquety, Tey Teodoro, Gio Lasquety
If there’s any one team this season that added more to their ranks as compared to their losses, it has to be JRU. A Paniamogan-Pontejos swap is a net-zero at worst, a plus at best for the Heavy Bombers, and while you can’t play Abdulwahab and Aylagnigni at the same time, like you could with Abdulwahab and Mabulac, they should still manage to haul down offensive boards when the gunners go firing away (no pun intended). Coupled with the team’s ever-present full-court press, and NCAA Jrs. MVP Darius Estrella in the mix, and JRU remains a very tough out for any team.
#4 Arellano University Chiefs
S90 Finish: 13-5, #2 seed, lost to SBC in Final Four
Head coach: Jerry Codinera
Key losses: Nard Pinto, Prince Caperal, Zachary Nicholls, Keith Agovida, Ice Ciriacruz
Key additions: Ranimark Tano
Key holdovers: Dioncee Holts, Jiovani Jalalon, Nichole Bangga
Arellano boasted of a nice arsenal of scoring threats last season, and managed to ride them all the way to the Finals. They might be hard-pressed to duplicate such a feat this time though, as the majority of their veterans have moved on to the pros. Wing-turned-big man Dioncee Holts is still around, as is prolific point guard Jiovani Jalalon, but unless their host of lesser-known names develop quickly, the Chiefs might have to settle for shooting for a Final Four spot, as opposed to a return to the Finals.
#5 Colegio de San Juan de Letran Knights
S90 Finish: 9-9, #6
Head coach: Aldin Ayo
Key losses: Ford Ruaya, Jamil Gabawan
Key additions: Jomari Sollano
Key holdovers: Mark Cruz, Rey Nambatac, Kevin Racal, McJour Luib
The Knights probably have the best 1-3 in the league with Cruz running the point and Nambatac and Racal on the wings, but the team hasn’t found a center to replace Raymond Almazan since his graduation, and CESAFI transferee Jomari Sollano will be hard-pressed to battle the many foreign centers manning the paint. The biggest question mark though might be new head coach Aldin Ayo, a member of the PBA’s Kia Carnival coaching staff. Ayo and the Knights made it to the top-eight in the FilOil tourney, but can he replicate that in the NCAA proper?
#6 Mapua Institute of Technology Cardinals
S90 Finish: 4-14, #10
Head coach: Atoy Co
Key losses: Leo Gabo, Joseph Eriobu, Jessie Saitanan, Andrew Estrella
Key additions: Josan Nimes, Allwell Oraeme, Mark Brana, Denniel Aguirre
Key holdovers: Carlos Isit, Exeqiel Biteng
The Cardinals have finished in the cellar in two seasons under Coach Atoy Co, but there’s plenty of reasons for optimism for the hosts. Start with a healthy Josan Nimes, after two years on the injured list, but don’t forget Allwell Oraeme, an imposing center that helped the Cardinals win with defense during the FilOil preseason tourney. Toss in Denniel Aguirre, an NCAA Jrs Mythical Five member, and an improvement on four wins is more than doable.
#7 Lyceum of the Philippines University Pirates
S90 Finish: 7-11, #7
Head coach: Topex Robinson
Key losses: Shane Ko, Aziz Mbomiko, John Azores, Dexter Zamora
Key additions: Shaq Alanes, Edcor Marata, Jean Nguidjol
Key holdovers: Joseph Gabayani, Jebb Bulawan, Wilson Baltazar, Guy Mbida
The Lyceum Pirates are in a bit of a weird spot. Promising young center Gabayani returns, as have supporting cast members like Bulawan, Baltazar and Mbida, but after losing Ko and Tirso Lesmoras, plus Zamora succumbing to injury during the preseason, who will be this squad’s point guard is a big question without a satisfying answer. A revamped coaching staff with Topex Robinson at the helm, Rommel Adducul as an assistant, and Gary David as a consultant, is intriguing, and the squad will definitely play hard every time out. But a Final Four berth is just too hard to see for this team.
#8 College of Saint Benilde Blazers
S90 Finish: 11-7, #5
Head coach: Gabby Velasco
Key losses: Mark Romero, Paolo Taha, Luis Sinco, Roberto Bartolo
Key additions: Christian Fajarito, JJ Domingo
Key holdovers: Jonathan Grey, Pons Saavedera, JR Ongteco, Ralph Nayve
The Blazers stumbled onto the joys of small ball last season, and it got them to the brink of a Final Four berth. now it’s time to see if they can do the same thing again, but with former role players thrust into bigger parts. Jonathan Grey is the guy for CSB, but where he once was paired with Mark Romero and Paolo Taha, Pons Saavedera, JR Ongteco and Ralph Nayve now have to step in and up their games. A hot shooting night can take down just about any team, but their defense has to be top-notch to make up for their lack of ceiling, and boy do they lack ceiling.
#9 San Sebastian College-Recoletos Stags
S90 Finish: 5-13, #8
Head coach: Rodney Santos
Key losses: CJ Perez, Jovit Dela Cruz, Rhanzelle Yong, Bobby Balucanag
Key additions: –
Key holdovers: Bradwyn Guinto, Jon Ortuoste
Former Topex Robinson assistant Rodney Santos has quite a challenge on his hands. This team had talent last season, but managed just an eighth-place finish with five wins. Now, you have to subtract the likes of Perez, Dela Cruz, Yong and Balucanag from the equation, and all that leaves SSC-R is center Guinto, sniper Ortuoste, and a supporting cast full of rookies. In hindsight, “quite a challenge” might be a bit of an understatement.
#10 Emilio Aguinaldo College Generals
S90 Finish: 4-14, #9
Head coach: Andy De Guzman
Key losses: Jan Jamon, John Tayongtong, Noube Happi
Key additions: Laminou Hamadou, Remy Morada, Francis Munsayac, Adoum Mbang
Key holdovers: Sidney Onwubere, Jerald Serrano
The Generals come into this season following a little game of musical chairs. Out go Jamon and Tayongtong, in come Morada and Munsayac. See ya Happi, welcome aboard Hamdou and Mbang. The group might have a bit more chemistry, and Munsayac looks to be a strong on-court leader, but the two foreign centers put up “just okay” numbers during the preseason, and Andy De Guzman, the former assistant of Gerry Esplana, in his first year in the head coach’s chair, could be shaky. Barring any surprises, it’ll be tough to see them climb out of the cellar, let alone match their surprising Season 89 run.