With the big red juggernaut called the San Beda Red Lions barreling their way to a 16-game sweep of the elimination round of NCAA Season 86, the playoffs just got more interesting.
Instead of the traditional Final Four that pits the top two teams and arms them with twice-to-beat advantages against the third and fourth placers, it’s going to be a slightly more complicated format: The Stepladder.
HOW THE STEPLADDER WORKS
First off, the Red Lions gain automatic entry into the Finals.
And if that’s not enough of an incentive for San Beda fans out there, they’ll also be enjoying a rare thrice-to-beat advantage.
That means in the NCAA Finals, the Lions need to win just two games to win the championship while whoever they’re playing against will need to beat them three times.
Liken it to San Beda enjoying a 1-0 lead in a best-of-five series.
The other three teams, meanwhile, will have to engage in a mini-tourney of their own. The Mapua Cardinals (who finished fourth) and the third-running JRU Heavy Bombers will play a knockout match against each other.
Winner gets to play the defending champions San Sebastian Golden Stags in a knockout game for a spot in the Finals.
GAME 1: MAPUA CARDINALS VS JRU HEAVY BOMBERS
Strengths: The Cardinals are a tough cover because they run a pretty unconventional offense. They have bigs who can stroke it from the outside (Macky Acosta, for one); strong, sturdy wings who can punish defenders on the inside (Erwin ‘Wency’ Cornejo); and streaky point guards who can just scorch opponents from beyond the arc (the returning Tantan Banal).
They have one of the most creative backcourt scorers in the NCAA in Allan ‘the Snake’ Mangahas.
This former Rookie of the Year, who averaged 12.6 points and 4 assists despite a slow start to the season, can hurt defenses in a variety of ways from scoring around the basket to finding open teammates to sniping from the outside.
Mangahas has the ability to score 20 or more in a game and has already done so in multiple occasions this year.
Weaknesses: They may have a lot going for them, but consistency is definitely not one of them. This is a high-ceiling, low-floor team: hthey’re good, they’re really good. But when they aren’t, well, they can be pretty darn ordinary.
This team has a tendency to coast through games when the focus isn’t locked down like it should be. Too often, they fall in love with the outside shot and shoot themselves out of games.
Without a good post scorer to keep the perimeter defense honest, it’s pretty easy to contest their threes.
And really, these long contested (and sometimes, at the end of the shot clock) jumpers are exactly the kind of shot coaches don’t want their players taking.
The Cards also have to play out the rest of the season without the injured Andretti Stevens, whose high energy play proved crucial in big games. It would be interesting to see if the other players can muster up enough of a playing fire without their firebrand teammate.
Intangibles: When they are at their best, Mapua can compete with any team in the league. San Beda tore through the NCAA field with an average winning margin of 21 points, but the Cardinals came closest to beating the Red Lions, losing by just five points, 64-69, in the first round.
If you need any more proof, ask the Letran Knights: In a crucial second round tiff, the Knights entered the final three minutes of the game up by 14 points before Mapua made a charge and somehow pulled off a 63-60 victory. When they’re turned on on, this team is dangerous.
WORDS BY MIKKEL BOLANTE (of the interestingly named sports blog Patay ang Butiki)