(Mall of Asia Arena)
12 noon – Opening Ceremony
2 p.m. – San Beda vs San Sebastian
4 p.m. – Mapua vs Arellano
Defending champion San Beda hopes to ride the momentum of its strong preseason showing when it launches its title-retention bid against host San Sebastian College today at the start of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
Game is at 2 p.m. with the Red Lions determined to start on a high note as a way to welcome returning veteran coach Boyet Fernandez.
Fernandez steered the team to back-to-back championships in 2013 and 2014 before he was called to handle the NLEX Road Warriors in the pro league.
The amiable coach from Negros Occidental is banking on the same core that enabled the Lions to regain the title after losing to the Letran Knights two years ago.
Arellano University, on the other hand, hopes to prove that there’s life after the exit of spitfire Jio Jalalon when it faces Mapua at 4 p.m.
Through the spell-binding moves of Jalalon, the Chiefs made it back to the Finals but fell short against the well-oiled machine of the Mendiola-based squad.
Like the Chiefs, the Cardinals will also miss their vital cog in back-to-back MVP Allwell Oraeme, who decided to take a year off.
With an almost intact lineup, the Red Lions showed how potent they are when they beat UAAP champion La Salle for the title in the annual Premier Cup.
And they did it without dropping a single game.
In all, the Lions won 11 straight games, including against the Archers.
Fernandez, however, shrugged off the notion that they are the toughest team in the 10-team tournament, saying anybody can beat anybody in the league.
“We’re only as good as our last championship. We need to work harder because victories won’t come easy,” said Fernandez.
The Red Lions will parade a tall lineup led by the 6-foot-Donald Tankoua and 6-foot-3 Benedict Adamos, while offense will come from Robert Bolick, who was adjudged the Finals MVP in the preseason.
San Sebastian, which finished seventh last year, is expected to go all out with key player Michael Calisaan, as well as the explosive backcourt pair of Ryan Costelo and RK Ilagan.
Even without Jalalon, Arellano coach Jerry Codiñera remains upbeat, saying the departure of their ace guard is not an obstacle but an added motivation to his players to rise to the challenge.
“Okay lang sa akin kahit ganito, para rin maisip ng iba na nag-step up, lalo na ‘yung mga bago,” said Codiñera, who will rely heavily on Kent Salado this time.
Aside from Oraeme, Mapua coach Atoy Co is also likely to miss the services of Shane Menina and CJ Isit.