Teams on the rise usually set a modest goal: making the final four. In the upcoming season, there are a lot of teams that have a realistic shot at making the semifinals. Many of the coaches agree that this will be an exciting, unpredictable year where everything is up for grabs, and anybody can beat anybody.
College of St. Benilde Blazers
Last year: 6-12, 8th
Coach: Richard Del Rosario
Roster: Anton Altamirano, Roberto Bartolo, Alison Brandon Carlos, Christian Dela Paz, Ralph Deles, Dexter Garcia, Jonathan Grey, Carlo Lastimosa, Rhoel Maconocido, Jeffrey Ongteco, Mark Romero, Luis Sinco, Paolo Taha, Jan Tan, Joel Tolentino
The Blazers struggled a bit last year, finishing eighth. But the standings were incredibly close, with St. Benilde closing their campaign just one game behind fifth-place Mapua. They showed plenty of promise with former NCAA Rookie of the Year Carlo Lastimosa leading the way with an average of close to 15 points a game. Surprise contributor Jonathan Grey (12 points per game) and Mark Romero (10.6) also helped carry the cudgels for the gutsy Benilde squad.
They won’t be missing much from last year. Though Michael Pate and Timothy McCoy will be gone this year, Jan Tan will still be around to man the paint and will also receive help from rookie Robert Bartolo, who performed well both scoring and rebounding in the preseason tilts. The backcourt depth also gets a lift with former La Salle Green Archer and national youth team player Joel Tolentino joining incumbent playmaker Luis Sinco on that end.
St. Benilde will be looking to be a much-improved team this season, although they will face some very stiff competition for a spot in the final four. The influx of new talent to the team could give the Blazers a real shot at it, but with the teams all being so close, everything looks up in the air at the moment.
Jose Rizal University Heavy Bombers
Last year: 9-9, final four
Coach: Vergel Meneses
Roster: Alex Almario, Israel Camasura, Ronnel Carampil, Cris Dela Paz, Rommel Diapera, John Lopez, Michael Mabulac, Rhyle Maconocido, Nate Matute, Romnick Mendoza, Ralph Monserat, Clint Munez, Brandon Porter, Juan Salaveria, John Villarias
The Heavy Bombers will be losing a couple of names from their final four team last season, Raycon Kabigting and big men Jeckster Apinan and John Montemayor among them. That means they lose a little size this year. But JRU is a team that relies on their pressure defense to give them easy looks on offense, so how big an impact of that remains to be seen.
Nate Matute and Byron Villarias will likely take bigger roles on offense while John Lopez will be one of the guys who will need to step up in the post. Filipino-American recruit Brandon Porter could be an interesting addition to the squad, especially if he can learn Meneses’ system right away.
Again, the Bombers will likely continue to rely on their press to create opportunities for them, so losing a bunch of veterans might not hurt them too much. But they’ll be hard-pressed to make a repeat of their final four appearance last year, especially with some other teams showing improvement.