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By NICK GIONGCOCentro Escolar University, fresh from a runnerup finish in the PBA D-League, is the certified title contender when the inaugural Universities and Colleges Basketball League gets off the ground this Saturday at the Olivarez Coliseum in Sucat, Parañaque.
Beefed up by 6-6 Congolese banger Rodrigue Ebondo, CEU will slug it out with six other squads in the tournament that will be contested using the double round-robin system with the top four teams advancing to the Final Four.
The top two teams will enjoy twice-to-beat advantage against the lower-rated teams and the title will be a race-to-two affair. The battle for third will be a one-game duel.
UCBL head Franklin Evidente aims to showcase the talent of student-athletes from other school not aligned with the major leagues in the hopes of luring more participants in the coming years.
“We have lofty ambitions for this league but we have tempered expectations,” said Evidente during the formal launch yesterday the Bayleaf Hotel-Intramuros.
Apart from powerhouse CEU, also in contention are Colegio de San Lorenzo, Diliman College, Olivarez College, Technological Institute of the Philippines and two teams from outside Metro Manila – Bulacan State U and University of Batangas.
Evidente had revealed that there were a few other schools that wanted inclusion but the board decided to stick with the seven squads that worked hand in hand in forming the league.
But assuming the UCBL becomes a hit, expansion is expected to happen as “there are around 140 colleges and universities in Metro Manila alone.”
Horacio Lim, UCBL tournament director, believes CEU will have its hands full against the six other teams.
“Competition will be exciting and every team will give out their best,” said Lim, noting that the competition will be fierce and the lesser lights are capable of pulling off upsets.
Lim also noted that the eligibility issues have been ironed out to avoid protests being filed midway through the tournament but maintains that if the league discovers anything suspicious, it will take action immediately.
Games will be played on Monday, Thursday and Saturday (12 noon to 4 pm) and will be shown on TV (IBC 13) from 8pm to 12 midnight.