Games Today (Mall of Asia Arena, Pasay City)
12 noon – Opening Ceremonies
2 p.m. – Letran vs Lyceum (Men)
4 p.m. – Arellano San Beda AU (Men)
Season host Arellano University takes the first crack at reigning three-time champion San Beda University, and based on their off-season preparation, the Chiefs have a legitimate shot against the Red Lions.
The collision of two heavyweights highlight the opening day salvo of the 95th National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) men’s basketball wars today at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
The game between Arellano and SBU is scheduled at 4 p.m., right after the 2 p.m. encounter of Lyceum of the Philippines University and Letran, which is a rematch of last year’s Final Four.
Prior to that, a grand opening ceremony to be led by first time host school Arellano University – a member of the NCAA since 2009 – is set at 12 noon in what it expected to be a fiesta atmosphere with songs and dance with emphasis on the traditions and achievements of the oldest collegiate league on the Philippines.
But all eyes will be on the highly-anticipated match between the Chiefs and the Red Lions – finalist in the NCAA three years ago with the former winning the title via a sweep.
One thing going for Arellano is the return of former mentor Cholo Martin, who once steered the school to the championship in the Inter-Collegiate tournament and in the now-defunct PABL or PBL in the early 80s.
“It’s obvious that I’m familiar with their system,” said Martin, who agreed to terms in the off-season to coach Arellano starting this season after being convinced by top school official Peter Cayco – currently the chairman of the NCAA Management Committee.
Martin, however, understands that it’s not a guarantee that the Chiefs would win against the still pre-season favorite Red Lions.
“It’s not going to be easy. For one they have an almost intact core. And of course, they’re the defending champion. For us, it’s a big challenge and we just hope to compete,” said Martin, whose players include Willy Pearson and Joey Loyzaga back in the 80s that won the title for Arellano.
This season, the Chiefs will lean on holdovers Kent Salado, now in his final year, Rence Alcoriza and Archie Concepcion, as well as transferees Justin Arana, Gelo Sablan and Alfren Gayosa to bolster their campaign.
As for the Red Lions, the team will rely on James Canlas and Evan Nelle, who both had an impressive off-season performance as they try to step up in the absence of now PBA players Robert Bolick and Javee Mocon.
“As long as they continue to play beautiful music together, we’ll be a team to be reckoned with,” said Fernandez, who will also have Finals MVPs Donald Tankoua and Arnaud Noah, who are on their final year of eligibility, as well as holdovers Calvin Oftana, Clint Doliguez and AC Soberano.