A record field of 14 teams is seeing action in the season opening Aspirants Cup of the PBA D-League.
And yet it’s good old N-LEX Road Warriors and Blackwater Elite who remains as the consensus teams to beat for the championship when the fourth season of the league formally kicks off on Thursday at at the Ynares Arena in Pasig.
At least three of the six founding member teams present in the weekly Philippine Sportswriters Association (PSA) Forum at Shakey’s Malate admitted the Road Warriors and Elite are still the yardstick as far as winning the title is concerned.
“It’s very obvious naman that teams which played in the Finals last conference, starting from the coaches to the players, are the teams to beat. I’m not underestimating the other teams, but I should say they (Blackwater and NLEX) are the teams to beat this conference,” said Robert Sison, the ever outspoken coach of Big Chill.
Blackwater swept NLEX in the Finals of the season-ending Foundation Cup, 2-0, to become only the second team to win a championship in the league after the four-time winner Road Warriors.
“On paper, expect the two to be the teams to beat,” seconded Cebuana Lhuillier assistant coach Nomar Isla. “Ang barometer pa rin remains NLEX and Blackwater.”
Café France assistant mentor Jun Tiongco and Joven Ledesma, Big Chill deputy coach, also shared the same sentiment as they also appeared in the same forum along with NLEX assistant coach Adonis Tierra, Blackwater coach Leo Isaac, and tournament director Eric Castro.
Isaac is aware of the expectations and appeared ready to embrace the notion.
“Ganun naman when you win a championship e, the next conference ikaw na ang inaasinta,” said the former Barangay Ginebra guard during the session presented by Shakey’s and the Philippine Amusements and Gaming Corporation.
“Sabi nga nila, you can’t rest on your laurels, so we’ll try to improve more,” he added. “But I would say everybody will have a fair chance. Pare-parehas ang laban niyan. Yung championship experience, yun lang ang meron kaming advantage.”
Tierra however, reminded everyone who cares to listen that Blackwater’s championship conquest last conference was a proof every team can be beaten even a powerhouse franchise and four-time champion like the Road Warriors.
“Natapos na `yung aming era. Dumami na ang mga teams dahil alam nilang puwedeng talunin ang NLEX,” he said. “Kaya medyo balance ang lineup ngayon.”
Apart from the six founding teams, including Boracay Rum, Castro said other squads competing this conference include Arellano University/Air21, Banco de Oro, Cagayan Valley, Derulo Accelero, Hogs Breath Café, Jumbo Plastic, Zambales M-Builders, and Wangs Basketball Couriers.
According to Castro, tournament format will have all 14 teams playing a single round robin, with the bottom eight teams being eliminated at the end of the preliminaries.
Top two teams at the end of the eliminations advance to the semis, while the next four tangle in the quarterfinals with the third and fourth seeded squads enjoying a twice-to-beat-edge over their fifth and sixth seeded counterparts.
The top two teams to emerge in the quarterfinals battle nos. 1 and 2 squads in a pair of best-of-three series in the semisfinals.
Finals will also be a best-of-three.