MANILA — College of St. Benilde will be gunning to outdo their Finals appearance in the previous season in the NCAA.
After falling short against Colegio de San Juan de Letran in a thrilling three-game finals series last December, the Charles Tiu-led squad is hoping that their intact core and lengthy preparations during the summer can help propel them to greater heights in the league’s 99th season that will start on Sunday at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
The Blazers will start their campaign by facing fellow Season 98 semifinalists Lyceum of the Philippines University. Tiu hopes that the matchup can set the tone for how they will be competing throughout the year despite being without their reigning MVP, Will Gozum.
The 6-foot-5 bruiser was given a one-game suspension after being ejected in the aforementioned bout against the Knights.
“For me, I’m a little bit concerned that we’ll be playing without Gozum. Pasaway kasi last season, so it would be hard for us. Secondly, we haven’t been playing well in our last preseason games, so our confidence isn’t that good, but hopefully the guys [will be] able to focus lang,” Tiu said during the league’s media conference on Thursday at the same Pasay venue.
Tiu also commented on how the other teams can also affect their hunt for a title, citing how the squads improved during the lengthy off-season that lasted for nine months.
“We’ve been monitoring all the NCAA teams, [and] I think everybody has improved. Most of the cores of the teams have been together for some time now, at least three or four years, so I think every team is gonna be competitive,” he said.
“Last year, we saw a lot of upsets. Parang certain teams are surprising one another every game, so I think we’ll see more of the same this year.”
He then bared his thoughts on how the Muralla-based squad is still the favorite to clinch the title this season, especially with Letran seeking to complete a rare four-peat.
“The team to beat is still Letran. Let’s not pretend that they haven’t lost a championship in three years, so they’re still the favorites.”
Tiu also mentioned hosts Jose Rizal University, Mapua University, and University of Perpetual Help System DALTA as the teams that should be turning heads this year.
“JRU, they are very good, they’ve been doing well. And of course Mapua, and Perpetual, they’re a dark horse. Those are the teams that we are keeping an eye on,” he said.
“But of course, as we say, I think all the coaches will agree. Every team, you can’t take it for granted. That’s the beauty of our league.”
“There’s no one who can say ‘it’s a sure win.’ We have to prepare hard and compete our best.”