WITH the core of their teams intact, Mapua and Jose Rizal University look to make the NCAA basketball finals this time after falling just short last season.
Semifinalists last season, the Cardinals have kept an almost intact line up led by reigning MVP Allwell Oraeme, CJ Isit and the comebacking duo of Andrew Estrella and Joseph Eriobu and are favored to make it to the Final Four for the second straight year.
The Bombers are also looking to improve on a semifinal finish and will again lean on Tey Teodoro, Paolo Pontejos, Jordan dela Paz, Gio Lasquety and the frontcourt pair of Abdoul Poutouochi and Abdul Razak Abdul Wahab.
"We've been playing a lot of tune up games and I'm happy with the way my team is playing," said Mapua coach Atoy Co.
"I just hope it will translate into another good NCAA season for us because we're really looking forward to make it back to the Final Four and hopefully the finals."
Jose Rizal coach Vergel Meneses, in contrast, was quick to downplay their chances.
"We're the least visible team in the pre-season so I'm surprised people consider us a favorite," said Meneses.
Jose Rizal played only in the Fr. Martin Cup this summer, making it to the quarterfinals.
"It's just the pre-season. But we will need Teodoro and Pontejos to really step up for us to have a chance," said Meneses.
After miserable performances in his first two years in charge, Co finally came through and made it to the Final Four, finishing third in the elimination round with a 12-6 win-loss record.
Mapua lost to eventual champion Letran, 90-91.
Jose Rizal had also done well last year by winding up fourth, also with a 12-6 card, but was beaten by San Beda in the semifinals, 68-78.