LYCEUM and Jose Rizal University are making noise ahead of the NCAA basketball tournament, but San Beda remains the consensus pick as the team to beat in Season 93 opening on Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Ninth out of the 10 teams in the NCAA last year, the Pirates turned heads with a third-place finish in the Filoil preseason tournament, while the Bombers reached the semifinals and have also been tagged as dark horse for the NCAA cage wars.
But all eyes now are on Boyet Fernandez, tasked to steer the Red Lions to a second successive title after Jamike Jarin led the team to victory last year.
"Sa San Beda kasi, bawal runner-up," said Fernandez during the pre-tournament press conference at the Mall of Asia Arena.
"Kailangan mag-champion kami. Ilalaban namin hanggang dulo," added Fernandez, who led the Lions to a perfect 11-win run to the title in the Filoil Cup.
He steered the Lions to two straight titles from 2013 before leaving to coach NLEX in the PBA, and now San Beda is counting on him to deliver the school's 10th win in 13 seasons.
"Nagpapasalamat kami sa mga coaches na kami ang team-to-beat. It's another pressure for our players and myself. But again, I do appreciate it," said Fernandez, who refused to be carried away by the assessment of his fellow coaches.
"We are just hoping that we can prepare and play the game that we want to play and be ready with these pool of coaches. I admire their coaching so it will be tough on me," said Fernandez.
NCAA policy board president Fr. Nemesio Tolentin of host school San Sebastian promises an exciting Season 93 with innovations including the 'NCAA On Tour' where games will be played in school gyms for the first time.
"As part of our centennial celebration in 2024, we have introduced some innovations and new programs. One of these is the NCAA On Tour where some of the games especially in the first round will be played in some schools or outside the usual venue. The purpose of this is to bring the games closer to the students and fans," said Tolentin.
San Beda opens its title defense on Saturday against host San Sebastian at 2 p.m. after the opening ceremony at noon. Last year's runner-up Arellano tests the mettle of Mapua at 4 p.m.