TWO teams considered title contenders make their NCAA men’s basketball tournament debut Thursday when they take on separate dangerous opponents at The Arena in San Juan.
Arellano and University of Perpetual Help face San Sebastian and Emilio Aguinaldo College, respectively, in the hopes of jumpstarting their highly-anticipated campaigns this season in the country’s oldest collegiate league.
The Chiefs tangle with the Stags at 4 p.m., before the Altas collide with the Generals two hours later.
Arellano coach Koy Banal welcomed the tag put on his team, which fared well in the recent Filoil Flying V Cup pre-season tournament where it compiled a 6-3 win-loss card for a berth in the quarterfinals.
“We need the confidence going into the season, but we can’t feel (too) good about it,” Banal said on Wednesday. “There is a tendency to relax when you hear people talk about your good chances.
“We always remind the players that it is one thing to be tagged as a team to watch and it is because of their hard work in the preseason. The other thing is to keep on working hard that we may achieve our goal,” added Banal, who recently became part of the coaching carousel among San Miguel Corp. teams in the PBA after being shipped to Petron from San Mig Coffee as assistant to new Boosters mentor Gee Abanilla.
However, the Chiefs, bannered by athletic Filipino-Canadian swingman James Forrester and Davaoeño playmaker Nard Pinto, aren’t expected have a walk in the park against the rebuilding Stags, who are aiming to atone for their 69-74 loss to Letran on opening day.
The Altas, led by Earl Thompson and foreigners Femi Babayemi and Nosa Omorogbe, are coming off their first Final Four appearance in eight years in Season 88, a feat they hope to duplicate or even surpass this year.
“Hamon sa akin `yung expectation sa amin. Dadaanin ko na lang sa experience,” said multi-titled Altas mentor Aric del Rosario, the oldest among NCAA coaches at 73.
The Las Piñas-based squad will be facing a Generals side that made a late run last season before barely missing a semifinal spot.