FOUR of the NCAA’s top five teams take to the court on Monday in a blockbuster twinbill when men’s basketball action resumes at The Arena in San Juan after a flood-induced break last week.
In a rematch of last year’s Finals - and possibly a preview of this year’s title series - San Beda and San Sebastian collide in the main game at 6 p.m. shortly after the equally exciting encounter between Jose Rizal University and Letran at 4 p.m.
The defending champions Lions are looking to retain their hold on the top spot as they aim for their seventh win in eight outings. On the other hand, the 6-2 Stags, upset by Mapua last week, 61-54, hope to end the first round of eliminations on a high note.
Unlike last year when they were favored and completed a 2-0 sweep of the Stags in the Finals, the new-look Lions are coming in as the slight underdogs against the Stags in their first meeting this season.
“It’s a huge challenge,” said Lions coach Ronnie Magsanoc, who cites the Stags’ formidable frontline of Calvin Abueva, Ronald Pascual, and Ian Sangalang as the biggest obstacle for his squad.
“Pang national-team quality na sila. Experience and talent-wise, edge talaga nila (Stags).”
Gone from San Beda's lineup are last year’s Finals MVP Dave Marcelo, Garvo Lanete, and Jess Villahermosa, three vital cogs in the Lions’ Season 87 title run.
But the Mendiola-based squad still has enough weapons left in big men Ola Adeogun, Jake and Kyle Pascual, and Arthur dela Cruz to counter the Stags’ so-called 'Pampanga’s best.'
The Lions defused the Bombers, 62-37, last August 4 in a game that showcased their daunting defensive form. And they will definitely be relying on that same weapon again to stop the Stags -- the league’s top offensive team with an 84-point average per game.
JRU and Letran clash earlier in the battle of two other title contenders.
Star player Nate Matute and the rest of the Bombers, who are tied with the Stags in second place, hope to bounce back from their poor offensive showing against the Lions.
Matute, who ranks among the league’s leading scorers at 19.1 points per game, scored just four measly points against San Beda.
The Knights, in fifth place with a 4-3 win-loss mark, are looking to finally have a healthy lineup led by Kevin Alas, as they try to extend a three-game winning streak.
Juniors’ play begins at 10 a.m.