The first round is about to come to a close, and while the second half of the season will definitely be something to look forward to (with teams getting chances to extract revenge for first round losses and, of course, the eventual race for the final four), there are a couple of exciting matches left in the first round to wrap up, including a highly-anticipated showdown between San Beda and San Sebastian. Here’s how the teams stand as we near the halfway-point of the eliminations:
1. San Beda Red Lions
(Overall record: 6-1; Last week: 2nd)
The two-time defending champion Red Lions flexed their defensive muscle last week, holding Mapua down to a then season-low 52 points (tying Lyceum’s 52 in a lopsided loss to Arellano last July 14). They then topped that by limiting JRU to a historically-bad 37 points last Saturday en route to back-to-back double-digit wins.
They finished a great week on top of the standings after rival San Sebastian slipped up last Monday. Nobody’s playing better basketball than San Beda at the moment, and that puts them right on top of the NCAA power rankings as the end of their first round nears.
2. San Sebastian Stags
(Overall record: 6-2; Last week: 1st)
San Sebastian has some reason to worry heading into its matchup against San Beda to close the first round. The Stags barely escaped Emilio Aguinaldo College last week with Ian Sangalang out with a knee injury. He returned against Mapua less than 100 percent, even posting nine points and eight rebounds in just 23 minutes, but the Stags still fell victim to an upset loss that dropped them from the top spot.
With San Sebastian’s Big Three carrying so much of the load for the Stags, they can’t afford to have any of them operating at less than full capacity, especially when they go against the very dangerous Red Lions.
3. Jose Rizal University Heavy Bombers
(Overall record: 6-2; Last week: 3rd)
JRU has come under fire for its seeming inability to beat the best of the NCAA. They only have two losses in the season: to San Sebastian and this week to San Beda.
It’s worrying that they looked so out of it in both losses. The Heavy Bombers lost by 23 points to San Sebastian by allowing a whopping 101 points, the only triple-digit output this season. This week, they lost by 25 points to San Beda in a game wherein they scored a season-low 37 points.
There is no easy formula for JRU at this point, but it definitely needs to find a way to come out stronger mentally when it comes to the big games if it wants to challenge the top teams come playoff time.
4. Perpetual Altas
(Overall record: 6-3; Last week: 4th)
The Altas have proven to be one of the better teams in the NCAA this season, but they showed they still have issues to work out after falling to the unpredictable Arellano Chiefs, 63-54, to end their first round campaign.
They’ve played a lot of close games this season, with two overtime contests and three other games decided by five points or less. These growing pains will serve them well in the future, including the Arellano game where they allowed the Chiefs to close them out with a 14-3 run late in the game.
5. Letran Knights
(Overall record: 4-3; Last week: 5th)
It’s been a low-key campaign so far for the Knights, but they are quietly making a quality run with three wins in a row after hitting a soft patch of the schedule. They’re right on the cusp of the final four picture, and an upset win in one of their upcoming games against JRU or heated rival San Beda could put them in a decent position to make a splash in the second round.
But the mystery of what exactly is going on with Mythical Five center Raymond Almazan, who has reportedly missed not just games but also all team activities in the past days, continues to hurt the squad as they head into some very tough matchups.
6. Mapua Cardinals
(Overall record: 3-5; Last week: 7th)
The Cardinals posted a huge upset win over San Sebastian this week by holding the Stags down to just 54 points. But while they’ve been impressive defensively this season, Mapua has been so offensively-challenged that it hasn’t won a game where they allowed more than 63 points.
That’s a very high standard to have to keep up — the league average is around 72 points — and the Cardinals will probably need guys to step up offensively, like rookie Joseph Eriobu did with a team-high 15 points against the Stags, if they want to turn their fortunes around.
7. Arellano Chiefs
(Overall record: 3-5; Last week: 8th)
Arellano has struggled to find consistent performers this season, but they haven’t had a shortage of guys stepping up with surprise showings. After the emergence of James Forrester earlier, it’s transferee Nard Pinto making some noise with a 15-point, 13-rebound, six-assist showing in the Chiefs’ win against Perpetual this week.
Pinto has led the team in scoring four different times in eight games, and more importantly, twice in the last two games as the Chiefs look for a player that can show up on a regular basis.
8. Emilio Aguinaldo College Generals
(Overall record: 2-7; Last week: 10th)
After a spate of losses in close games, including back-to-back defeats by a single point against Perpetual and San Sebastian, the Generals finally broke through with a huge 76-61 win over the Blazers this week.
It’s been repeated that EAC’s record (1-7 before this week) didn’t properly represent the quality of the team. And they sure showed it this week, taking a cue from their dominant big man Cedric Happi Noube, who led the team with 18 points, 21 rebounds and five assists as they dominated Saint Benilde.
9. Saint Benilde Blazers
(Overall record: 3-6; Last week: 6th)
The Blazers’ freefall down the rankings this week is not just because of their on-court struggles but because of their problems off of it as well. They entered their clash against EAC short-handed, with star guard Carlo Lastimosa and Jonathan Grey sitting out reportedly due to disciplinary measures. But they compounded it when Rhoel Maconocido got involved in an altercation between teammate Joel Tolentino and EAC’s Francis Munsayac, and got himself ejected even with the result no longer in doubt. A pretty tough week overall for the Blazers.
10. Lyceum Pirates
(Overall record: 2-7; Last week: 9th)
Currently, the Pirates find themselves on a four-game slide. You don’t mind the losing so much, but unlike EAC, which suffered several close shaves this season, Lyceum has struggled to even stay competitive, dropping five of their seven losses by over 10 points. That’s a little troubling, considering this is a team that has the talent to at least stay in games, as shown in their back-to-back wins over EAC and Mapua earlier this season.