LETRAN and San Sebastian will go into the 90th NCAA basketball tournament hard-pressed to match if not surpass their placing last year after losing several key players.
The Knights are now without big men Raymond Almazan and Jonathan Belorio, while the Stags will have to make do without Leo de Vera, Raffy Gusi, Mark Trinidad, Ranimark Tano and Giuseppe Vergara.
Letran coach Caloy Garcia is hoping his other big men Jamil Gabawan, Reneford Ruaya and Reynaldo Publico, Jr. would be able to deliver.
"It will be tough to fill in the inside void but we're hoping last year's finals experience have strengthened my other big men," said Garcia, who in his first year as coach steered the Muralla-based dribblers to a second place finish behind San Beda.
San Sebastian mentor Topex Robinson, meanwhile, will need holdovers Jovit de la Cruz, Jamil Ortuoste, Bradwyn Guinto, Jaymar Perez and Bobby Baculanag to step up and lead the young squad featuring rookies Earvin Alvarez, Michael Calisaan, Ryan Costelo, Jerick Fabian, Justin Mercado, Spencer Petta, Jeffrey Santos and Rhanzelle Yong.
"I lost some key players last year so I will need my veteran players to be shining examples to my younger guys," said Robinson, noting that the Stags should be okay considering they managed to do well and place third last year after losing their “Pinatubo Trio” of Calvin Abueva, Ian Sangalang and Ronald Pascual.
“We've been in this kind of situation last year and we did okay. We just need to play as a team and have faith on the system for us to be okay again this season,” he said.
The Stags and Knights clash in the 3 p.m. game on Saturday in a rematch of their semifinsl duel last year.
"It will more or less show on the direction we're going this year," said Garcia.
"It's a good gauge on how we'll do because we all know Letran stronger teams in the NCAA," said Robinson.
San Beda, winner of four straight championships and seven of the last eight, and host Jose Rizal clash in the 1 p.m. opener.