MANILA, Philippines – Eight of the best collegiate teams in the Philippines will go toe-to-toe with one another when the Elite 8 of the PCCL National Collegiate Championship opens on Thursday at the Ynares Gym in Pasig City.
Four of the best teams in Metro Manila will test their strength against regional champions, who went through a gauntlet for the right to represent their areas.
The eight squads have been divided into two groups.
In Group A are UAAP champion Ateneo de Manila University, CESAFI champion University of Visayas, NCAA runner-up Lyceum of the Philippines University, and Luzon champion Naga College Foundation.
Meanwhile, in Group B are NCAA champion San Beda University, UAAP runner-up De La Salle University, NCR qualifier San Sebastian College, and Mindanao qualifier Holy Trinity College.
"We separated the NCAA champion and the UAAP champion, and the runners-up. We also saw to it that no two teams from the same region are together," said PCCL chairman Reynaldo D. Gamboa in a press conference on Tuesday.
"Is that a balanced grouping? You can never have a perfect grouping, but we stuck to our system," he added.
Unlike previous years where the PCCL playoffs were determined by a best-of-3 series, this year's tournament will be much shorter.
The four teams will compete in a round-robin format, and the top two teams in each group will play in a crossover semifinals. The semis – which pits the top-ranked team in Group A against the second-ranked team in Group B, and vice versa – will be a one-game, knockout affair.
The PCCL National Collegiate champion will also be determined through a one-game, winner-take-all contest.
"It's quite a short tournament," said Gamboa, who explained that the changes made by the other collegiate tournaments in their competition calendar severely affected their own.
"Normally, we'd have the Final 4 and the championship in December. We can't have it now," he said, noting that the UAAP finishes early December, which gives them a very small window to hold the PCCL tournament.
San Beda will be gunning for an unprecedented third straight PCCL crown. The Red Lions won the tournament in 2014, sweeping La Salle in the finals, then shared the title with Far Eastern University in 2015 – the only time that two champions were crowned.
San Beda is expected to send in a full-strength team to the tournament, according to Gamboa.
"Lyceum wants to get back at San Beda," he also said, referring to the Pirates' heartbreaking loss to the Red Lions in the NCAA Season 93 finals last year. "Ateneo would like to prove that winning the UAAP is not a fluke."
"I think they will also have a strong competition from University of Visayas," he added.
However, Gamboa admitted that he is unsure of what to expect from La Salle, given that the Green Archers are going through a much-publicized "transition period" following the exit of head coach Aldin Ayo.
"They are asking from some leeway," Gamboa said of the Taft-based squad.
The tournament starts on February 8 with a triple-header at Ynares. La Salle takes on Holy Trinitiy at 1 p.m., followed by San Sebastian vs. San Beda at 3 p.m.
The lone Group A game of the day will feature Ateneo against Naga College at 5 p.m.
The tournament will move to the FilOil Flying V Centre in San Juan for the semifinals on February 12 and the finals on February 15.
(For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website.)