MANILA, Philippines - The Ateneo de Manila Blue Eagles will try to make history anew when they go for a third straight championship in the 9th season of the Philippine Collegiate Champions League (PCCL).
But the Blue Eagles, the reigning champions of the UAAP, will face a hard challenge as they go against the top collegiate squads from all over the country.
Ateneo team captain Bacon Austria admits that they have not practiced together as a team since the end of the UAAP tournament. The Blue Eagles face another challenge as many of their players are participating in the 26th Southeast Asian Games in Indonesia.
"Once the SEA Games players return, we have to speed things up to prepare for the PCCL," Austria said.
Over 200 basketball teams from 33 different leagues participated in this year's tournament, which is now in its Sweet 16 phase.
By virtue of their being the UAAP champions, the Blue Eagles were given an automatic berth in the PCCL Final Four, along with NCAA champions San Beda Red Lions.
One true champion
PCCL chairman Reynaldo Gamboa says the league was created in order to find a "single national champion" from the numerous mother leagues all over the country.
After the various 'mother leagues' crown their own champions over the year, the PCCL then brings the best collegiate teams in one tournament to determine the best college squad in the country.
So far, teams from the UAAP have dominated the league, with the University of the East Red Warriors winning the inaugural tournament in 2003. The Far Eastern University Tamaraws and the De La Salle University Green Archers have also won PCCL titles, but the Blue Eagles are the most successful team, having won the league crown three times.
This year, various teams from other leagues are hoping to make a breakthrough, with NCAA champion San Beda and runner-up San Sebastian expected to have a strong showing in the tournament.
The league decided to change the tournament's format this year in order to give local teams more exposure against tougher competitions, as more teams from various provinces participated in the tournament.
The other members of the UAAP and NCAA Final 4 were given automatic Sweet 16 berths, along with the top two teams from the CESAFI, the top collegiate league in Cebu.
Other teams from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao then competed for the last six Sweet 16 slots. The National University Bulldogs, the De La Salle Green Archers, the University of Northern Philippines Sharks and the University of Batangas Brahmans have already qualified to the Sweet 16.
The Visayas and Mindanao champions are yet to be determined.
This year's PCCL Sweet 16 is in knockout format, with the winning team advancing each round to face a higher-ranked squad. The last two teams standing after the Sweet 16 clinch Final Four berths.
The Final Four, meanwhile, will use a round robin-format with the top two teams battling for the championship.
The 2011 PCCL Sweet 16 will start on November 19, with the UNP Sharks taking on the NU Bulldogs, and the U of Batangas Brahmans going against the DLSU Green Archers.
All PCCL Sweet 16 games will be televised on Studio 23.