MANILA, Philippines—Don’t let the offseason picture fool you, Letran is still the team to beat in the upcoming NCAA Season 99 men’s basketball tournament, or at least that’s how College of St. Benilde coach Charles Tiu sees it.
Tiu knows the Knights all too well. After all, it was Letran that dealt the Blazers a stinging loss in the NCAA Season 98 Finals.
However, times have changed for Letran, which lost five major cogs in Fran Yu, Tommy Olivario, Brent Paraiso, Louie Sangalang and King Caralipio. Despite that, Tiu still avoids undermining the defending champions.
“Obviously, the team to beat is still Letran. Let’s not pretend that they haven’t lost the championship for three straight years so they’re still the favorites,” said Tiu in the league’s presser at Mall of Asia Arena on Thursday.
“As we say, I think all the coaches will agree, every game you can’t take for granted and that’s the beauty of our league. There’s no team you can look at and say ‘it’s a sure win,’ so we really have to play hard and compete with our best.”
The Knights won the coveted three-peat last season after defeating the Blazers in three games with Caralipio taking home Finals MVP.
Now, with almost a fully revamped look, the Knights are looking to pull off a rare four-peat.
Under new tactician Bajar, the Knights will surely rely heavily on Kurt Reyson, who has been solid in various preseason tourneys for Letran.
CSB captain Robi Nayve, of course, knows it to be true, seeing that he was the assigned defender against the feisty sharpshooter in the finals.
“Given that they’re the defending champions, even though they lost a lot of vets, I believe Kurt Reyson will be able to provide especially in the scoring aspect,” the graduating guard said.
“We expect that he’ll do the same thing this coming season,” he said.
The Blazers will have ample time to prepare for their Season 98 rivals with their clash set all the way until the end of the first round on October 22.
Both squads, however, will have opening day duties this Sunday as Letran takes on host school Jose Rizal University while CSB faces Lyceum in the second game at Mall of Asia Arena.