The perpetual rivals San Beda College and Letran Knights are on top of the standings at the end of the first round, but with the UPHSD Altas, Arellano Chiefs, JRU Heavy Bombers, and the Mapua Cardinals hot on their trails, no one is a lock for the Final Four just yet.
Teams dealing with changes have struggled early on, but they are not to be counted out just yet.
Here’s a quick look at the first half of the season of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament:
With all eyes on the San Beda Red Lions and other contenders, the Letran Knights stole the show at the first half of the tournament. The Knights, notably playing without a foreign reinforcement, won their first seven games before a shocking loss to the Emilio Aguinaldo in their eighth game.
The “House of Chaos” closed out their first half of the season by coming from behind against the Mapua Cardinals to hold on to solo first at the end of the first round. While Rey Nambatac is leading the scoring charge for the Knights, their team has mostly relied on their relentless defense to notch their impressive start.
King Lion Roaring
Perennial favorites San Beda have kept their dominant form to start the tournament, blowing out their first two games against the Mapua Cardinals and the EAC Generals. However, they were caught by surprise by their rivals, the Letran Knights in their third game. Since then, they have won their next five games before getting tripped by the Arellano Chiefs in a rematch of last year’s finals in the very last game of the first round.
In the middle of the Lions’ success has been do-it-all forward Art Dela Cruz. The second generation superstar has been making a name for himself, leading the early MVP race with his excellent play this season. Dela Cruz is the only player in the league who is in the top five of points, rebounds, and assists department, while also figuring among the top 10 in the steals category.
Two-Pronged Altas Attack
The Altas barely made it to the Final Four last season, but that seems to be a distant memory with their excellent showing this season. They have managed to sweep all the other teams this season, save for the top two teams in the Letran Knights and the San Beda Red Lions.
Scottie Thompson and rookie Bright Akhuetie have been anchoring the Altas charge this season. Thompson has been beasting over the past few games, registering three triple-doubles over the season, including a 13 point, 13 rebound, and 17 assist masterpiece against JRU to close out their first half of the season. Akhuetie, meanwhile, has been averaging a double-double in points (22.7) and rebounds (11.9). Both players have been early favorites in the MVP race alongside San Beda’s Art Dela Cruz.
Don’t Count the Chiefs Out
Last year’s runners up looked like they would have a difficult time replicating their feat last season, losing a couple of key players to graduation. They lost their first game against JRU in their opener, but they did manage to beat the teams they were supposed to beat, including a hard-fought overtime battle with the Mapua Cardinals. They would lose to the Letran Knights and the UPHSD Altas and the Letran Knights, but they would hang on for solo fourth as they managed to avenge their winless Finals showing against the San Beda Red Lions in the penultimate game of the season.
Chief playmaker Jiovani Jalalon leads the way for Arellano, leading the team and the league with 9.6 assists per game, as well as 2.0 steals per game. Reigning rookie of the year Dioncee Holts continues to be a presence on the defensive end, averaging 1.6 blocks in the tournament. The Chiefs may not be as strong of a contender as they were last year, but their total team effort has them hanging around the Final Four picture as they remain a dangerous team to go up against this season.
Bombing For a Place on Top
The JRU Heavy Bombers were one of the favorites coming into the season, having won the Filoil Preseason Premier Cup against reigning UAAP Champion, NU Bulldogs. However, they didn’t have a great start to their season, splitting their first two games, and getting shocked by the San Sebastian Stags on their third game. They did manage to score the biggest comeback of the season with a monumental comeback against the Mapua Cardinals.
While they don’t have a player among the top stat stuffers in the league this season, Tey Teodoro has emerged as one of the heroes for the Bombers’ bid to a Final Four slot.
Cardinals Keeping In Pace
This year’s hosts welcomed back former rookie of the year Josan Nimes back into their lineup, and they were optimistic that they would be competitive this season. Through the first half of the season, however, they have only managed to beat the bottom four teams. While they have managed to keep in step against the top teams in the league, they have had issues in closing out opponents. They suffered the worst meltdown so far in the tournament, allowing the JRU Heavy Bombers to come back from 18 points down with three minutes left in the game.
Apart from Nimes, the Cardinals have relied on the league’s leading rebounder, Allwell Oraeme in their quest to snag a Final Four slot.
The Struggle Is Real
The season is just in its midway point, and while there is still enough time to improve on the teams’ standings, some teams have dug themselves into a difficult hole. Four teams have found themselves with identical 2-7 records after the first half of the season.
The Emilio Aguinaldo Generals lost four of their first five games by double digits, before breaking into the win column with a win over the San Sebastian Stags. They also scored the biggest upset of the tournament so far, registering the lone loss of the streaking Letran Knights in their very next game. However, it couldn’t carry them to a longer winning streak, losing their next two outings to stay in a logjam at the bottom of the standings.
The Saint Benilde Blazers knew they had an uphill battle coming into the tournament, but they tried to hold their own against the other teams. Unfortunately, they’ve only managed to beat fellow cellar-dwellers Emilio Aguinaldo and San Sebastian.
The San Sebastian Stags started off with back-to-back wins, but has lost their next five games. Their former coach, Topex Robinson, hasn’t had much luck either with his new team in the Lyceum Pirates, only managing to beat two other struggling teams in the Saint Benilde Blazers and the Emilio Aguinaldo Generals.