San Beda. Letran. Archrivals. NCAA Finals. Obviously, it doesn’t get any better than this (unless, of course, if it’s Ateneo vs. La Salle in the UAAP Finals, sorry).
The men’s basketball tournament of the country’s oldest collegiate league, which, according to a Nielsen measurement, now has more viewers than the other league (hindi nga?!) comes to its final phase, with the Red Lions and the Knights locking horns today, Thursday, Oct. 18, at the start of the best-of-three title series at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Both teams will be meeting in the Finals for the third time in the 88-year history of the league and will be gunning for a tie-breaking and league-leading 17th men’s basketball title.
So who’s your pick? We give you each team’s First Five Reasons they will win the title:
Colegio de San Juan de Letran Knights
Season record: 12-6, third seed, defeated twice-to-beat San Sebastian in the Final Four.
Third in the league in offense averaging 72 points per game and defense, allowing only 68.6 points, and leads the league in blocks with 4.9 rejections a contest
Alas is definitely the Knights’ ace. Averaging 20 points, more than five rebounds, four assists, and two steals per game, Alas is set to be named to the NCAA mythical team for the second straight year. The prolific fourth-year guard is also just two games removed from erupting for a career-high 43 points, built mostly on a scintillating 10-of-13 clip from Intramuros parking lot-distance, in their first Final Four game against San Sebastian that forged a sudden-death affair for the right to face San Beda in the Finals. When the chips are down, the Knights go to him. Thanks, dad (coach Louie Alas) for all the touches!
With five more legitimate threats after Alas, the Lions will have to pick their poison. Let’s start with point guard Mark Cruz. Despite being the smallest player in the league at just 5’5”, Cruz stands tall with his playmaking poise and automatic mid-range jumper. He also plays better than older brother Marvin, the former University of the Philippines Maroon who’s now a PBA journeyman.
Kevin Racal is the team’s other star Kevin. Like Alas, he’s also a fantasy monster, contributing to all statistical categories. In their first Final Four game against the Stags, he had 10 points, 14 rebounds, and seven assists.
Big men Jam Cortes, Jonathan Belorio, and Raymond Almazan are more known for their defense. The troika will be given the unenviable job of guarding the Lions’ Nigerian slotman Ola Adeogun.
It has been five years since the Knights last made it to the NCAA Finals and seven years since their last championship. Those facts alone attest that they are hungrier than the Lions, who have been in the Finals for the last seven years.
The Knights are peaking at the right time. They once languished at eighth place in the 10-team field following a 1-3 start to the season. But after the 6-foot-7 Almazan came back from a mysterious two-month disappearance (enter the various tsismis here), the Knights have turned it up a notch and have now racked up eight straight wins and 10 of their last 11. Cinderella season in the making? We’ll find out soon.
Letranation’s Twitter craze
You just have to check this out. This may not help the Knights in their title bid, but at least this gives NCAA fans their daily dose of comedy. Junjun Alas, Kevin’s older and (literally) big brother, has inspired someone to create a parody account of him. Hilarious.
PHOTOS BY JAN DIZON COURTESY OF WWW.INBOUNDPASS.COM