The first round of the NCAA ended with a bang, with some big-time showdowns, including the much-awaited San Beda-San Sebastian match, and some very crucial games that could have playoff implications down the road. If the standings are any indication, the second round should be extremely exciting as teams gear up to make runs at the final four.
1. San Sebastian Stags
(Overall record: 7-2; Last week: 2nd)
In the first meeting between two teams that have met in the NCAA finals in each of the past three years, San Sebastian made a show of force against San Beda, dominating the game early and staving off a big second half rally by the Red Lions to win by a comfortable nine points.
Though San Beda has plenty of depth this year, San Sebastian has a bunch PBA-caliber players that already transcend the college game, particularly Calvin Abueva (21 points, 21 rebounds, nine assists vs San Beda), Ronald Pascual (28 points, five rebounds) and Ian Sangalang (who had a relatively quiet nine points and 10 rebounds). That could spell all the difference if they can all bring their A-games when the finals roll along.
2. San Beda Red Lions
(Overall record: 7-2; Last week: 1st)
The Red Lions lose the top spot after falling to the Stags, but they did show some pretty strong character in what was a tough week. San Beda fell behind by huge margins in its game against San Sebastian, but mounted a very impressive second half comeback that cut the Stags’ lead down to just one point by the end of the third.
Even more impressive was the way the Red Lions shackled Letran three days later, giving up just 43 points, the second-lowest total allowed by any team this season. With a big win to close out the first round, the Red Lions forced a three-way tie atop the standings, and grabbed themselves a spot near the top of the Power Rankings as well.
3. Jose Rizal University Heavy Bombers
(Overall record: 7-2; Last week: 3rd)
JRU had an impressive win this week, beating final four hopefuls Letran in very definitive fashion. With the victory, the Heavy Bombers proved that they are a cut above the rest of the NCAA (excluding fellow league-leaders San Sebastian and San Beda, of course), successfully hurdling every other team they’ve faced.
They finish the first round with a share of the top spot in standings, something few expected of the Bombers this year. With a cushy lead up top, they can probably put their focus into finding ways to hang with the Big Two teams – who’ve beaten them by an average of 24 points in two meetings this season – when the second round begins.
4. Perpetual Help Altas
(Overall record: 6-3; Last week: 4th)
With few playing dates this week, the Altas remained idle but should be happy that the Knights, who were hot on their heels after three straight wins, lost to both JRU and San Beda. That assured that Perpetual will be in solo fourth at the end of the first round, and in solid position to make the final four for the first time in eight years.
But they might need another sprinkle of that Aric Magic in the second round as their huge start might be showing signs of slowing after a close shave against EAC and a nine-point loss to Arellano in their last two games.
5. Mapua Cardinals
(Overall record: 4-5; Last week: 6th)
Mapua’s starting to show signs of life after dropping four games in a row in the middle of the first round. The Cardinals hit the halfway-point with two straight wins, including a big one against Arellano with both teams entering the game with identical 3-5 records.
The victory, built around another huge game from big man Mike Parala, put the Cards slightly ahead of the Chiefs in the standings, and kept its flickering hopes of a final four berth alive. If they can keep defending at the level they are, they allowed just 49 points from Arellano and are giving up just 65.3 for the season, they could keep themselves in the playoff picture, especially if they can put together a solid run in the second round.
6. Letran Knights
(Overall record: 4-5; Last week: 5th)
It’s been a rough season for Letran, which was projected to be one of the favorites early in the season. The Knights were barely hanging onto a .500 record entering this week, and tough assignments against San Beda and JRU slammed the brakes on what was a three-game winning streak.
Kevin Alas had been stellar of late, averaging 22.7 points in the four games before the Knights’ final assignment against the Red Lions. But he was held scoreless until the late in the third quarter versus San Beda and finished with just six points. Alas can’t do it all alone, and he’ll need bigger contributions from his teammates if they want to close in on the fourth-place Altas, who’ve moved two games clear of the Knights at the moment.
7. Arellano Chiefs
(Overall record: 3-6; Last week: 7th)
The Chiefs have struggled to find consistent performers this season and that didn’t change this week. Nard Pinto, the leading scorer in the past two games, finished with just four points against the Cardinals while early season breakout star James Forrester scored just two as Mapua whipped them by 19 points this week.
The season is far from over for the Chiefs, though. They trail Mapua and Letran by just one game in the standings, and it isn’t far-fetched to see the Chiefs overtaking the Intramuros rivals if they can string a couple of wins together.
8. Lyceum Pirates
(Overall record: 2-7; Last week 10th)
The Pirates were among several teams idle this week, and though it was uneventful for Lyceum, a spate of suspensions for the other teams at the bottom of the standings could give the Pirates an opportunity to rise a little.
Lyceum has showed some promise in a few of their losses, staying within striking distance against both San Sebastian (four points) and Letran (six points) near the halfway mark of the fourth quarter. Chris Cayabyab raised his game in the last few assignments, but the Pirates have to learn to close out games stronger if they want to pull a couple of surprises in the second round.
9. Emilio Aguinaldo College Generals
(Overall record: 2-7; Last week: 8th)
EAC ran into some bad luck even when it snapped a seven-game losing streak against Saint Benilde. Despite guard Francis Munsayac being the recipient of elbows from two different Benilde players, the Generals will see some guys from their side also receiving suspensions for their role in the incident.
Munsayac was handed a one-game ban for taunting while Jorem Morada, who had a pair of 20+ point games during their skid, will also miss a game for entering the court. Not even EAC coach Gerry Esplana was spared, drawing a one-game suspension on top of his ejection from that game.
10. Saint Benilde Blazers
(Overall record: 3-6; Last week: 9th)
After a pretty strong start to the season, handily beating Lyceum before dropping a close two-point loss to San Sebastian, the Blazers have had their share of struggles, especially in the past few games. They’ve lost four of their last five games, including a blowout loss to cellar-dwelling EAC that could end up costing them a few contests early in the second round.
Point guard Joel Tolentino, who sparked a near-brawl with less than a minute remaining in the game, was suspended for three games by NCAA and Benilde will badly need somebody to step up in his absence, as they’ve performed below expectations even in games where they had a complete lineup.