Usually at this point of the NCAA basketball season, the San Beda Red Lions are seated comfortably atop the standings. Well, what do you know, the defending champion is just second, its lone defeat coming at the hands of the current No. 1 group.
Six games might be too small of a sample size, but it would be hard to ignore how the Lyceum Pirates have been hijacking teams to find themselves a couple of games away from sweeping the first round of the collegiate tournament:
vs JRU Heavy Bombers - 96-75
vs San Beda Red Lions - 96-91
vs San Sebastian Stags - 78-73
vs Arellano Chiefs - 99-65
vs Benilde Blazers - 98-55
vs Perpetual Altas - 76-58
The Intramuros-based squad, which almost eliminated UAAP titleholders La Salle in the Filoil semifinals, is building on its preseason success with a dominating start to Season 93. The Pirates have already matched their number of wins last year—finished 6-12—after sinking Perpetual earlier today.
Many credit the return of CJ 'Baby Beast' Perez for Lyceum's ongoing brilliance, but there is more to this fearsome crew than its dynamic captain of the ship.
Last time around, Cameroonian Mike Nzeusseu was a double-double waiting to happen—his pair of 20-20 outings defined their three-game winning streak. Now, the reigning Rookie of the Year doesn't have to carry the Pirates and can focus on being an imposing presence...shooting threes?!
His numbers may have dipped (10.7 points per game), but it seems that Nzeusseu comes up bigger in tight contests:
vs SBC - 18 pts, 13 reb
vs SSC-R - 10 pts, 13 reb
Except against the Red Lions, at least five players from Lyceum have put up eight or more points in each match. Their balanced scoring says a lot about the effectiveness of coach Topex Robinson's system and how everyone, both the veterans and transferees, has bought into it.
Jesper Ayaay - 10.2 ppg
JC Marcelino - 9.8 ppg
Wilson Baltazar - 8.5 ppg
JV Marcelino - 7.5 ppg
With the surplus of weapons, the Pirates have the ability to "flip the switch":
vs JRU - 53 2nd-half points, 24-5 run in the 4th quarter
vs AU - 36 pts in the 4th
vs UPHSD - 16-0 run in the 3rd
*all the guns on one side of a ship
Impenetrable belt armor*
The Marcelino twins aren't just capable offensive options; JV and JC are as dangerous on defense. While Perez and Nzeusseu can stop players in their tracks as physical freaks, the brothers are relying on their relentlessness to suffocate opposing superstar guards.
vs JRU - limited Teytey Teodoro to 13 pts (38% shooting), three TOs
vs SBC - limited Robert Bolick to two pts in the 4th
vs AU - limited Kent Salado to 11 pts (33%), four TOs
As a team, Lyceum forced a whopping 94 turnovers in its last three games—27 vs AU (translated to 27 points), 40 vs CSB, 27 vs UPHSD (23 points). Let that be a warning.
*designed to prevent projectiles from penetrating to the heart of a warship
All you have to do is look at these stat lines to gauge the unparalleled impact of the comebacking swingman on the Pirates:
vs JRU - 22 pts, 10 reb, 4 ast, 2 stl
vs SBC - 24 pts
vs SSC-R - 20 pts, 5 reb, 3 ast, 2 stl
vs AU - 16 pts, 3 reb, 2 ast
vs CSB - 14 pts, 6 reb, 7 ast, 4 stl
vs UPHSD - 19 pts, 7 reb, 3 ast , 2 stl
Looks like being away from basketball for two years lit a fire under Perez. Baby Beast is raring to take the wheel and steer Lyceum to its first-ever championship in the NCAA.