TO no one's surprise, San Miguel was the unanimous choice as the team to beat in the 2019 PBA Philippine Cup, which opens this Sunday at Philippine Arena in Bulacan.
The league's board of governors agreed the Beermen remain the yardstick for the rest of the teams this season as they aim for a fifth straight Philippine Cup championship.
"Of course, San Miguel is the team to beat," said Ginebra governor Alfrancis Chua during the season launch on Tuesday. "It's all-Filipino, so lahat dito iniisip how to stop June Mar (Fajardo)."
"SMB is gunning for its fifth straight and they're the benchmark," said Phoenix governor and board treasurer Raymond Zorrilla.
Blackwater governor Silliman Sy agreed, saying: "San Miguel will be one of the toughest teams to beat, but as strong as the other teams are, I'll bet my money on San Miguel."
Already boasting a formidable lineup bannered by four-time PBA MVP June Mar Fajardo, Marcio Lassiter, Arwind Santos, Alex Cabagnot, Chris Ross, and Christian Standhardinger, the Beermen got deeper with the addition of guards Terrence Romeo and Paul Zamar, as well as the return of Ronald Tubid .
But that doesn't mean the other teams won't give the Beermen a run for their money.
"San Miguel, Ginebra, at Purefoods," Alaska governor and PBA vice chair Dickie Bachmann answered when asked about his choices for top favorites in the season-opening conference.
"Kumpleto ang lineup ng mga teams sa San Miguel group," said Columbian governor Bobby Rosales.
NLEX governor Rodrigo Franco said: "There areno secret with those teams. San Miguel is the strongest team, the team to beat. Magnolia is coming from a championship, so that's another plus for them, and Ginebra will always be a strong team."
"They've always been the benchmark," said Meralco governor and concurrent Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) president Al Panlilio.
San Miguel governor Robert Non, however, was quick to play down the label as overwhelming favorites.
"Bilog ang bola. You can never tell," Non said. "Yung first championship with June Mar, ang natira doon sa group na yun, anim na lang dahil nagtatandaan na sila. Sana yung mga bagong recruits namin mag-adopt kami and we're hoping.
"Pero kung sa papel, malakas kami."
Magnolia governor Rene Pardo agreed, noting "The beauty of the PBA now is you can never tell. Akala nga nila magdo-dominate ang San Miguel for the whole season pero isa lang na championship ang nakuha nila. Like for us, without an import, we're hoping Marc Pingris will be able to catch up and play."
Other teams, like Rain or Shine, are determined to slay the giants.
"We've tried to strengthen our team and we're already able to solve our problems involving our coach and players," said Rain or Shine governor Mamerto Mondragon, obviously referring to the feud between starting center Raymond Almazan and coach Caloy Garcia.
NorthPort governor Erick Arejola draws confidence from the arrival of top rookie Robert Bolick. "We've got a good rookie, so hopefully we can enter the quarters or even semis this conference," he said.
PBA chairman and TNT governor Ricky Vargas is unfazed by the tall odds.
"Everybody is a team to beat. You go to the game saying we will win, and you don't go there saying you will lose. So I think, really, it's TNT on my mind," he said.