The closer the league gets to the playoffs, the more exciting the final four race gets. And the race got even tighter this week, with three teams – Jose Rizal University, Perpetual Help and Letran – fighting for the last two spots in the playoffs. With the playoff hunt in full swing, and some of college ball’s brightest stars putting in some incredible individual performances, this week was certainly an eventful one in the NCAA – and in our weekly Power Ranking.
1. San Beda Red Lions
(Overall record: 11-2; Last week: 1st)
The Red Lions maintained its lofty standing with another blowout win, this time against JRU. And San Beda got the job done through excellent defense once again. They held the Heavy Bombers to just 45 points, giving JRU a total of 82 points in their two meetings against the Red Lions combined. In the second round, they’ve conceded just 52.5 points per game. They only scored 67 points against the Bombers – slightly below the league average of 71.5 – but it was more than enough as they clinched their fifth consecutive win and their ninth in the last 10 games.
2. San Sebastian Stags
(Overall record: 11-3; Last week: 2nd)
The Stags seem to have put their struggles firmly behind them. They’ve won their last two games by huge margins (20 and 15 points), including one this week against Mapua behind an unbelievable 21-point, 20-rebound, 10-assist performance from resident superstar Calvin Abueva. But they also proved they weren’t a one-man team, with Ian Sangalang posting a very impressive 28 points and 10 rebounds in the game as well. An easy patch in the schedule has helped the Stags right the ship, but they’ll have to prove they can sustain it as they close out the eliminations with very tough games against Letran, JRU, Perpetual and San Beda.
3. Letran Knights
(Overall record: 8-6; Last week: 4th)
This year’s hosts are still half a game behind both JRU and Perpetual in the standings, but with both of their rivals struggling in the second round, Letran is looking poised to make a serious challenge for one of the last two spots in the final four. The Knights have won four of their last five games, with their lone defeat being a close decision to the league-leading Red Lions. Behind the return of center Raymond Almazan and a breakout week from Kevin Alas (who scored 30 and 35 points in games against Lyceum and Saint Benilde this week), Letran certainly looks like the hottest of the three teams firmly in the hunt for the semifinals.
4. Perpetual Help Altas
(Overall record: 8-5; Last week: 5th)
The Altas have been up-and-down in the second round, following a loss to Letran (which is quickly catching up in the standings) with a win over then third-place JRU. This week, they add another curveball by dropping a two-point decision to the lower-ranked EAC Generals. They’ve got a tough schedule looming late so Perpetual will need to hope they can put some separation between them and their fellow final four hopefuls when they battle Arellano and Mapua this week and cellar-dweller Lyceum before closing out the elims against San Beda and San Sebastian.
5. JRU Heavy Bombers
(Overall record: 8-5; Last week: 3rd)
JRU dropped their second round match against San Beda, 67-45, this week. It’s the third loss in four games for the Bombers, which isn’t a great sign for a team that finished the first round tied for first place. But the good news for JRU is that their fate is very much in their hands. If they can get through this week where they have assignments against Lyceum and Saint Benilde, the two teams at the bottom of the standings, they’ll be in great position entering a head-to-head against Letran that could prove instrumental in the final four race.
6. EAC Generals
(Overall record: 5-8; Last week: 6th)
EAC got some measure of revenge against Perpetual this week. In the first round, they were the victims of a last-second game-winner from Jett Vidal. In this one, they came back from a 17-point deficit to edge the Altas, 73-71. Even better, they did it in a game where star center Cedric Happi Noube scored just six points with Jan Jamon leading the way. EAC is on a roll now, winning their fourth in five games. They’re not out of the semis race yet, mathematically speaking, so if they can keep this streak up, the Generals could make the race very interesting.
7. Arellano Chiefs
(Overall record: 5-8; Last week: 7th)
The Chiefs have had a quiet campaign so far, but like EAC, they’re not out of the playoff hunt quite yet. John Pinto and James Forrester led them to a huge win over Mapua this week, and have already knocked off one final four hopeful when they nipped JRU to open up their second round campaign. If they can do the same against another playoff contender – they have a match against Perpetual this week – they could really put a wrench in the plans of the other teams. And keep themselves in the running for a potential berth for the playoffs.
8. Mapua Cardinals
(Overall record: 5-9; Last week: 8th)
Mapua had it rough this week, falling to Arellano by just two points and getting crushed by San Sebastian in their other game. They’ve opened the second round with just one win against four losses, and every additional one takes them further away from their hopes to make it to the final four. The Cardinals will still have chances to salvage some pride, though, starting this week when they try to play spoilers against Perpetual, which beat them in overtime in the first round.
9. Saint Benilde Blazers
(Overall record: 4-10; Last week: 9th)
The Blazers finally got Joel Tolentino back after a three-game suspension, but it did little good against a streaking Letran squad that beat them 97-83 in a game where Carlo Lastimosa (23 points) was outdueled by Kevin Alas (35 points). The good news for Saint Benilde is that they may have just passed the toughest part of their schedule with second round meetings against San Beda, San Sebastian, Perpetual and Letran all in the books. With the schedule getting a bit lighter, relatively speaking, look for the Blazers to try to grab a win or two as they try to close a very disappointing season on a bright note.
10. Lyceum Pirates
(Overall record: 2-11; Last week: 10th)
Lyceum stumbled to their eighth straight loss after falling to Letran this week, beating EAC’s streak of seven earlier this season, though that’s not exactly a mark they’d be proud of having. Their back-to-back wins against EAC and Mapua in the first round seems so far away now, but it certainly isn’t too late to play spoilers for some of the higher-ranked teams. This week, the Pirates get their first opportunity to do just that when they battle a struggling JRU squad in the thick of the playoff picture.