IT’S not three-time defending champion San Beda or last year’s runner-up Letran which emerged the top consensus as the biggest title threat in this season’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
Most of the coaches readily installed Arellano University as the team to beat when Season 89 of the country’s oldest collegiate league gets going Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
And the Chiefs’ solid showing in the Filoil Flying V Cup pre-season tournament has a lot to do with it.
“Basing on the Filoil performance, Arellano (is a team to beat because it) once placed ahead of us in the standings,” said San Beda coach Boyet Fernandez during the formal launching of the league on Tuesday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Although the Red Lions finished third in the Filoil tournament, the Chiefs made a lot of heads turn when they clinched a quarterfinal berth in the preseason meet after compiling a 6-3 (win-loss) record.
Lyceum’s Boni Tan, Emilio Aguinaldo’s Gerry Esplana, Topex Robinson of San Sebastian, and Caloy Garcia of Letran all agreed with Fernandez that Arellano - aside from the reigning champion – is a title favorite.
“Kasi sila ang intact lineup. The rest is a tossup,” said Garcia, who will be coaching in his rookie season for the Knights after taking over the job vacated by Louie Alas.
Arellano coach Koy Banal, however, played down the favorite's tag on a team team to be bannered by Filipino-Canadian swingman James Forrester and Davaoeno pride Nard Pinto.
“We want to manage expectations,” Banal said. “It’s one thing to achieve something in the preseason, but ang isang mahalaga sa amin is our daily routine, the effort that the players will give in day in and day out.
“(But) it’s good that we can go to the conference with the confidence that we can go up against any team,” he added.
Veteran Perpetual Help mentor Aric del Rosario echoed most of his fellow coach’s sentiments, but listed Mapua as a darkhorse.
The Cardinals, now handled by cage great Atoy Co, didn’t participate in major preseason competitions this year.
“San Beda at Arellano rin, pero natatakot ako sa Mapua kasi wala pa akong nakikita sa kanila,” the multi-titled coach formerly of University of Santo Tomas said. “Palagay ko si Atoy, gagawa ng sorpresa yan.”
Co, though, has a different team in mind.
“JRU kasi sila ang first game ko eh,” the former PBA MVP quipped, drawing laughter from the audience, before turning serious and said, “I’ll take it one game at a time.”