The MPBL Playoffs will start Tuesday and just as expected, the Bataan Risers, Davao Occidental Tigers secured the top seed in the north and south divisions, respectively.
Up north, the Risers carry a home court advantage when they play the Caloocan Supremos at the People’s Center. Bataan is undoubtedly the favorite in their race-to-three tussle because of its more talented and experienced players.
The Risers have ex-pros Gary David, Pamboy Raymundo, Byron Villarias and Rob Celiz among others, but they also have a young and talented crew who can back up their more illustrious teammates, guys like Richard Escoto, spitfire guard Yvan Ludovice, center Ryan Batino and the vastly-improving Gab Dagangon.
One of the 10 founding members of the league, Bataan has made a quick turnaround, from an eighth place finish last season, to notching the top seed at the end of the eliminations in the MPBL Datu Cup. Unless they won’t be upset by the Supremos, the Risers could assure themselves of at least a top four finish in their division.
Head coach Jojo Lastimosa is excited appearing in his first ever playoffs in MPBL. He lead the SCTEX-NLEX team to a championship in an amateur commercial league in Marikina two years ago.
Caloocan is counting heavily on guard Almond Vosotros in terms of point production, but the former Gilas Cadet will certainly need more help from the rest of the squad. Perhaps, the bright spot for the Supremos will be up front as they have big guys like Mark Sarangay and Rene Pacquiao to man the middle and this is something head coach John Kallos will need to take advantage of.
Down south, Davao Occidental Tigers is heavily favored against either Imus or Cebu.
Its opponent had yet to be determined until Monday night, but the Tigers are already preparing for both, proof of their determination to advance quickly to the semifinal round.
Just like Bataan, Davao Occidental is also teeming with experienced players led by Mark Yee, one of the strong contenders for the MPBL MVP award.
A former enforcer who turned out to be a star in the fastest growing regional amateur basketball league, the 6-foot-3 power forward is also getting a big help from fellow ex-pro Leo Najorda, Billy Robles, Bonbon Custodio and center Bogs Raymundo.
Off the bench, the Tigers also draw production from Eman Calo, James Regalado, Louie Medalla and Joseph Terso.
THEN, THERE’S THE NO. 2 SEEDS
Over at the north side, there’s Makati Super Crunch, the hottest team in the league, which will face the Quezon Capitals. With a 15-game winning streak, it’s not surprising why the Super Crunch are tipped to win the best-of-three series against the Capitals.
In the south, Batangas Athletics is still vying for a possible top two berth against General Santos City Warriors. Should the inaugural staging champions prevail over the Warriors, the Athletics will take the No. 2 seed while a loss would relegate the Muntinlupa Cagers to the second rank in the south. The second seed squad will face either Cebu or Imus.
San Juan Knights, the third seed in the north, will battle No. 6 Navotas Clutch in their own series.
Pound for pound, it looks like the Knights have the advantage, but the Clutch had proven they can also be a tough customer. Their previous victory over the Manila Stars and their ability to push the top tier teams to the limit, would certainly make Navotas a no nonsense squad.
Still remained unsettled are the No. 3 and No. 6 seeds in the south.
Bacoor will still play an extension period against Parañaque. Due to an error in judgment by referee Jay Castroverde in a game that could have ended up as tied by the end of regulation, Commissioner Keneth Duremdes ordered that an extension period be played on Monday.
Following Zamboanga’s loss to Pampanga last Saturday, Bacoor can secure the No. 5 spot in the south with a win against Parañaque.
No. 4 Manila and No. 5 Bulacan will slug it out in their own series up north while either Batangas or General Santos City will take the No. 4 spot and will play either Bacoor or Zamboanga.
Rey Joble is a member of the PBA Press Corps and Philippine Sportswriters Association.