ATENEO, a team still with a gaping hole to fill in the frontcourt, takes on reloaded Southwestern University on Saturday in one of three matches kicking off the Filoil Flying V Hanes Premier Cup at The Arena in San Juan.
The five-time defending UAAP champions Blue Eagles are expected to have their hands full against the Cobras in the 6 p.m. final game of a tripleheader to usher in the new season of the preseason tournament.
Ateneo has lost starters Greg Slaughter and Nico Salva as well as back-up center Justin Chua after winning a fifth straight championship in the country's premier collegiate league.
The Blue Eagles will now rely on Kiefer Ravena, Juami Tiongson, and Ryan Buenafe along with Chris Newsome, who will now be suiting up for the Katipunan-based squad after red-shirting for two seasons.
Ateneo coach Bo Perasol admitted that the frontline still needs to be addressed.
“Without our big men, no matter what we have in Kiefer Ravena, Ryan Buenafe, or even Chris Newsome is negated by the vacuum inside,” Perasol said.
It will be interesting to see how the Blue Eagles will react to the loss of their big men against the Cobras, who retooled their lineup after Ben Mbala committed to play for De La Salle in the UAAP.
With Mbala now with the Green Archers, 6-foot-11 Fabrice Siewe is expected to take over the center spot for the Cobras with Fil-Americans Francis Ortega, Raymart Acuno, and Melvin Holper shoring up the frontline.
Perasol said that they are slowly adjusting to the absence of Slaughter, Salva, and Chua as well as the departure of Oping Sumalinog, and Tonino Gonzaga.
“I think it is slowly sinking in that they are already gone,” said Perasol.
In other games, defending Filoil Cup champion National University takes on NCAA champion San Beda at 2 p.m. following the 1 p.m. opening rites.
Kib Montalbo is set to make his Filoil debut for La Salle as it takes on UAAP runner-up University of Santo Tomas at 4 p.m.