After two years of hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Collegiate Athletic Association is back as it ushers in Season 97 with face-to-face men’s basketball and women’s volleyball actions.
“For two years we’ve been waiting for contact sports to return and we’re excited to have basketball and volleyball games back. The preparations are very challenging with the pandemic situation but with the support of GMA, I know this will be successful,” said College of St. Benilde’s Dax Castellano, NCAA Season 97 Management Committee chairman, during yesterday’s media launch at the GMA Network Studio 6.
“I’m very sure it will be a successful and entertaining competition.”
The most awaited men’s basketball tournament takes center stage on opening day (March 26) with Letran starting its title-retention bid against host College of Saint Benilde at the La Salle Greenhills Gym.
Most of the coaches conceded that Letran remains the team to beat with San Beda and Arellano as strong contenders to the crown.
But with the short and tough single-round elimination, coach Gibert Malabanan of Lyceum all teams will have a fair chance. “Lahat ng is a team to beat because of the format. Every game is crucial.”
Coaches Egay Macaraya of San Sebastian and Charles Tiu of CSB agreed.
“Letran pa naman ang first game name pero yes, lahat ng team, although Letran being the defending champion remains tough and solid.”
The coaches, all speaking via zoom, have rued the challenge of training under the bubble set-up and the short preparation of their teams.
Louie Gonzales of Jose Rizal University said he had to remind his players to make the most out of their time being with their families before they entered the bubble training. “At lahat ng gagawin namin ay para sa pamilya namin.”
(Games on March 26 @ La Salle Greenhills Gym )
2:30 p.m. – Opening Ceremonies
3:30 p.m. – CSB vs Letran
7:05 p.m. – San Beda vs LPU
The Knights and the Blazers collide at 3:30 p.m. right after the hour-long opening ceremony.
San Beda begins its quest for redemption as it takes on Lyceum of the Philippines University, with Gilbert Malabanan making his collegiate coaching debut, in the second game at 7:05 p.m.
Both matches will be aired on the league’s new television carrier GTV or GMA-7.
The NCAA will also hold women’s volleyball, which will immediately start right after the men’s basketball event, as well as online taekwondo and chess events.
Other marquee match-ups in men’s basketball are at Season 95 Finals rematch between San Beda and Letran at 12 noon on April 12, Letran and LPU, which met in the Season 95 second step-ladder semis at 3 p.m. on April 17, and San Sebastian and Letran, which squared off in the Season 95 first step-ladder semis on April 26 at 3 p.m.
The tournament format calls for single-round eliminations, veering away from the traditional double-round robin for this season.
“We agreed on a single-round format because this is a challenging time,” said Castellano. “We have four phases, the eliminations, play-in, semifinals, and Finals. We are prepared for it.”
The top two teams after the elimination round will make it to the semis outright.
Giving more excitement is the play-in format which will determine the other two semifinals involving teams that will finish from third to sixth after the elims.
“We give chances to the No. 5 and 6 teams to make it to the semifinals,” said Castellano.
In the play-in, the 5th and 6th-ranked teams will cross paths in a do-or-die game, with the winner facing the loser of the match-up between the 3rd and 4th-ranked squad, to determine the last semifinalist.
The winner of the No. 3-No. 4 showdown will make it to the semifinals. The top two teams in the semifinals earn twice-to-beat incentives.
Ties for the No. 6 spot in the play-in, Castellano said, will be determined via FIBA quotient.
Fans and cheering squads are prohibited at the Mandaluyong venue as the NCAA is holding its men’s basketball tournament in a bubble.
With the country’s health situation getting better as of late, Castellano is not discounting the possibility of having an audience in the crucial stage of the season.
“Should our situation improves further, games for the semis, Finals could move to bigger venues and potentially, with fans,” said Castellano.
The pre-game opening ceremonies, which have the theme “Stronger Together. Buo ang Puso”, will be aired on GMA after Eat Bulaga and will be hosted by Ms. Universe Philippines Rabiya Mateo, Manolo Pedrosa and NCAA hosts Martin Javier and Sophia Senoron.
The opening shines even brighter with performances from some of the biggest Kapuso stars led by Asia’s Limitless Star Julie Anne San Jose, Garrett Bolden, Thea Astley, Jessica Vullarubin, Mariane Osabel, Jeremiah Tiangco, Nef Medina, Villmark Viray, and Anthony Rosaldo.
Further displaying world-class Filipino talent is Asian’s Got Talent first season winner and male shadow play group El Gamma Penumbra. Rallying behind the student-athletes are the schools’ respective cheerleaders.
The Season 97 rites will also honor some of the country’s sports legends who are proud products of the NCAA. They include CJ Perez from Lyceum, Marvin Hayes (JRU) Caloy Loyzaga (posthumous, San Beda), Francis Munsayac (EAC), Maria Aresa Lipat (CSB), Michael Saguigit (UPHSD), Freddie Webb (Letran), coach Roger Gorayeb (SSC-R) Jiovani Jalalon (Arellano U) and Chito Victolero (Mapua).
“For sure, viewers will be very excited for Season 97 with the return of the face-to-face physical games. We’ve already seen the athlete on bubble training at nakita natin yung commitment and passion nila to return inside the court,” said Oliver Victor Amoroso, Vice President of the GMA Regional TV.