Oct. 22, 2015
Who is your NCAA Finals pick?
This is actually a question I ask myself.
But let me break it down for you first and do the basketball Math before we answer.
Championship experience: Clearly, it’s San Beda. 10 straight finals appearance. Eight championships in the last nine years. Ola Adeogun, Baser Amer, Art dela Cruz are seasoned veterans and, with the exception of the rookies, have at least experienced playing in the finals and winning. Of the Knights, Kevin Racal, Mark Cruz and Rey Publico played in the finals in 2012 under Louie Alas and 2013 under Caloy Garcia while Nambatac made his finals debut in 2013.
So it’s San Beda.
Go-to-guy(s): San Beda has Adeogun, Amer, dela Cruz and recently, practically everyone. But I think Racal, Cruz and Nambatac have more clutchness with them. I mean, they’ve been doing the heavy lifting for the Knights practically the whole season, aren’t they?
Height and heft: You don’t have to be an Albert Einstein to figure this out. The mere mention of Adeogun and his Cameroonian back-up, Donald Tankoua should clear this one up. But I paused a bit when San Beda coach Jamike Jarin told us the average height of San Beda is 6-2 while Letran 6-3. But still. You can’t argue if you have two of scariest giants in college basketball.
Defense: It used to be that San Beda is the toughest defender I know. But when Jarin came in, everything’s changed. Under Jarin, the Lions have transformed to lockdown and drain-the-blood-of-the-opponents-through-defense to a high octane team that will make the Phoenix Suns under then coach Mike D’Antoni proud. Now Letran has became the San Beda I once knew. Defense has been the Knights’ meal ticket the whole year. They’re the best in forcing teams turnovers. Without exception.
Offense: As much as I love Nambatac, Cruz and Racal shooting at will, I have to give Jarin’s style of play due. San Beda is a track team hiding in a basketball body.
Hunger: Hard to stay hungry if your players are used to winning. So this is a no-brainer.
Speed: Again, these Lions can stare eye to eye with Usain Bolt and get away with it.
Bench: San Beda is loaded in every position. Amer has Dan Sara and Ranbill Tongco. Ryusei Koga has Amiel Soberano and Cabanag. Dela Cruz has Jayvee Mocon and Michole Sorela. Ola has Tankoua. You can’t say that on Letran, who rely heavily on limited a rotation.
Mileage: Letran’s defensive mayhem has been in full gear for four months now. And the Knights are starting to feel it. San Beda has endured injuries by playing all their 15 players each game. They will come into the finals healthy and fresher. Have you seen the Lions use their bench to finish off the Jose Rizal Bombers in the Final Four?
Head-to-head: The Lions and the Knights will be facing each other for the third time in the last four years. When the two faced in 2012 and 2013, San Beda won both games in three games. San Beda also owns a 2-1 edge over Letran this season with the latter taking their first round meeting and the former the second round and their playoff for the top seeding.
Coaching: If we’re talking about past accomplishments, Jarin should beat Ayo by a mile. He’s got multiple UAAP high school titles with the Ateneo Blue Eaglets and steered the Batang Gilas, our national youth squad, to the FIBA Worlds for the first time in our lives. Ayo, in contrast, won two titles as a player under Louie Alas in 1998 and Binky Favis in 1999 but hasn’t really won the big one as a coach. But I will throw these factors out of the ring and look at the time capsule that is 2015. While Jarin has a better head-to-head, Ayo has done an excellent job making do of what little he had. And that is enough for me to give this one to…
X-Factor: If I will be given a chance to pick 6 players to face another team in a game where I have to bet my house, I’ll choose Adeogun, Racal, Cruz, Amer, dela Cruz and Nambatac without blinking. But if I’m going to choose just one in a two-on-two game with me as the other player and my dog’s life is on the line, Adeogun will be my guy. I mean come on? He doesn’t pile up astronomical stats like Bright Akhuetie and Allwell Oraeme. But if he needs to stop people and get something done, Ola will do it. He’s the guy that will make and break teams. So yes, Ola is my Colossus.
My answer: I love underdogs. We all love underdogs. And as much as Jarin didn’t want to admit it, I agree with Ayo that the Knights are the underdogs. But as much as I want to romanticize this season by wishing Letran a Cinderella finish, I couldn’t.
Looking at above, it’s San Beda 8, Letran 4.
My heart tells me Letran, but my head is screaming San Beda. And usually, what’s inside my head prevails most of the time. So yes, it’s San Beda. But in three games. Yes three.
But heck, Aldin Ayo and these stubborn Knights have proven me wrong the whole season.
Follow me on Twitter: @JoeySVillar
(Photos courtesy of pba.online.net and Tiebreaker Times)