MANILA, Philippines – All teams have a strong chance of making it to the Final Four of the 88th season of National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which kicks off this Saturday, June 23, at the Araneta Coliseum.
The league’s 10 coaches agree that now more than ever, the playing field in the NCAA is level, and all teams have a chance to make a splash.
“Sa tingin ko, competitive ‘yung year na ito and well-balanced,” said Louie Alas, head coach of the Letran Knights, who are the host’s of this year’s NCAA season. “I think it will be a very, very balanced season for the NCAA.”
Mapua head coach Chito Victolero agreed, saying, “Medyo balanced ang mga teams ngayon... sa mga nakita namin sa pre-season, may chance lahat.”
“Lamang lang siguro sa experience ang San Sebastian at Letran,” added Victolero.
Ronnie Magsanoc, the new coach of the defending champions San Beda Red Lions, is expecting an interesting season.
“Anybody can beat anybody, and it’s a wide-open race,” Magsanoc said. “It’s gonna be an interesting battle for the Final Four.”
Last season, it was the usual suspects -- San Beda, San Sebastian, Letran and Jose Rizal University -- who made the Final Four.
San Sebastian and San Beda met once more in the Finals, with the Red Lions coming out on top after two entertaining games.
This season promises to be different, however, especially as San Beda was hit with suspensions to some of their key players following their participation in a brawl during a volleyball game last year.
The Red Lions will be missing Nigerian player Ola Adeogun for the first four games and will field only six players in their season opener against Arellano University.
“We just have to make the necessary adjustments for the four games and at the same time try to be as competitive as possible without him,” said Magsanoc.
Magsanoc is hopeful that his team will start out strong this season, noting, “Mahirap maghabol.”
“I don’t know how we will fare in the early stages, with all the suspensions and the distractions and the handicap,” he said.
“Bit we’re still hopeful and positive... let’s see what’s going to happen,” Magsanoc added.
Alas, for his part, said it will be role players off the bench -- and not the starters -- who make the difference for teams this upcoming season.
“Kung sino ang manalo ng bench ngayon dito. Kasi alam mo na ‘yung mga starters, alam mo na nand’yan na,” Alas said. “Napaka importante ng mga off the bench (players).”
Alas revealed that Letran’s leading scorer last season, Kevin Alas, will most likely come off the bench for the Knights.
The much-improved Mark Cruz will be inserted to the Knights’ starting line-up, and Alas is confident the diminutive guard will be ready to contribut right away.
“Any given night, (Cruz) can dominate the game. Kaya hindi na ako natatakot pag si Kevin ay (off). Meron akong Mark Cruz,” Alas said.
The 88th season of the NCAA will start this Saturday, with the San Sebastian Stags taking on the Letran Knights in the first game, and the Jose Rizal Heavy Bombers taking on the Mapua Cardinals in the second game.