By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
Senior Reporter
NATIONAL Collegiate Athletic Association Season 94 league-leaders San Beda Red Lions and Lyceum Pirates begin their Final Four campaign today with intent of making full use of their twice-to-beat advantage over their respective foes to advance outright to the Big Dance.
Set at the FilOil Flying V Centre in San Juan City, the top-seeds and defending champions Lions take on season hosts Perpetual Help Altas at 4 p.m. in one playoff bracket while the second-running Pirates collide with the third-seeded Letran Knights at 1:30 p.m. in the other pairing.
The Lions and Pirates carry twice-to-beat advantages over their opponents after finishing 1 and 2 in the elimination round.
As of this writing it remains to be seen if the Altas will maintain hold of the fourth spot as they are the subject of a league inquiry over eligibility of some their players.
The league policy board met anew over the issue last Tuesday, the final play date of the elimination round, but has yet to come out with a decision.
If found to have committed a violation, Perpetual Help forfeits all of its games, handing in the process the playoff spot to the College of St. Benilde Blazers, the fifth place team with a 10-8 record, just a win below the Altas (11-7).
However, if Perpetual Help keeps the spot, it pushes through with the semifinal against San Beda, a team that swept it the elimination round.
The Lions will rely anew on their balanced attack and depth on both ends of the court when they go on and try to book another finals seat in the country’s longest-standing collegiate league.
San Beda is top five in league offense with 76.9 points per game in Season 94 while tops in defense, allowing just 62.2 points to its opponents.
It is being led by the “Big Three” of Robert Bolick (16.4 ppg and 5.5 apg), Donald Tankoua (13.1 ppg and 9.3 rpg) and Javee Mocon (12.7 ppg and (9.3 rpg) while also getting valuable contributions from James Kwekuteye, AC Soberano, and Calvin Oftana, among other bench players.
The Lions won in each of their two encounters with the Altas in the elimination round, taking the first round, 67-65, and the second, 80-72.
Perpetual Help, meanwhile, is in the top five in offense and defense, averaging 77.4 points per game and allowing 75 points to its opponent.
It has four players averaging in double digits in scoring, namely Prinze Eze (18.2 ppg, 16.5 rpg and 3.3 bpg), Edgar Charcos (14.2 ppg), Jelo Razon (11.6 ppg) and Kim Aurin (11.3 ppg).
“We have to be ready come the semifinals regardless of who we face,” said San Beda coach Boyet Fernandez as he highlighted the kind of mindset they should have in the playoffs.
In the other semifinal pairing are the Pirates and Knights, two teams that split their meetings in the classification phase.
Lyceum took the first encounter, 87-82, and lost in the second, 80-79.
The Pirates are the most explosive team in the season, averaging 86.6 points, while steady in defense, allowing 74.7 points.
Reigning league most valuable player CJ Perez paces the Pirates with numbers of 18.7 points, 8.4 rebounds, four assists and 3.3 steals per game, followed by big man Mike Nzeusseu with 13.7 ppg, 9.6 rpg and 1.9 bpg, Jaycee Marcelino (13.3 ppg), and MJ Ayaay (9.1 ppg).
On the part of Letran, veteran Bong Quinto leads with all-around numbers of 15.1 points. 8.1 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game.
JP Calvo has been good for 14.1 ppg and 5.1 apg and big man Larry Muyang averaging 12.1 ppg and 8.8 rpg.
As a team, the Knights are both second in offense (80.8 points) and defense (73.8 points).
While facing a twice-to-win disadvantage, Letran coach Jeff Napa said they are ready come what may.
“From our end we will just be ready for whoever we face in the Final Four and where we end up. That’s the Letran way. Ready to go to battle,” Mr. Napa said.
If necessary, Final Four rubber matches are set for Oct. 29 with the best-of-three finals commencing on Nov. 6.