All eyes on Red Lions as NCAA cage ‘wars’ erupt

SAN BEDA sets in motion its bid for a fourth straight championship against host Arellano University today in the NCAA men's basketball tournament at the Mall of Asia Arena.

In what could be the most exciting backcourt duo since the time of Borgie Hermida and Pong Escobal during the early days of the Red Lions dynasty, sophomores James Canlas and Evan Nelle, with their impressive off-season performance, hope to lead  the Mendiola-based squad on top.

"I already told these two guys that you really have to play the way San Beda plays and you really have to be the leaders of this team. Without Robert (Bolick) and Javee (Mocon), we need these two," said San Beda coach Boyet Fernandez.

"As long as they continue to play beautiful music together, we'll be a team to be reckoned with," he added.

The Lions-Chiefs clash is set at 4 p.m. , capping the league's first-ever Sunday opening day doubleheader.

Equally exciting is the 2 p.m. duel between Lyceum of the Philippines University and Letran in a rematch of last year's Final Four.

Aside from the highly-touted Canlas-Nelle tandem, San Beda is looking good to extend its reign behind former Finals MVPs Donald Tankoua and Arnaud Noah, who are on their final year of eligibility, as well as holdovers Calvin Oftana, Clint Doliguez and AC Soberano.

Cholo Martin, Fernandez's long-time assistant who will be facing his alma mater for the first time, hopes to bring back Arellano as one of the elite teams after missing the Final Four in the last two seasons.

Kent Salado, battling injuries in the last two years, returns in his final year for the Chiefs, who will parade transferees Justin Arana, Gelo Sablan and Alfren Gayosa to bolster their campaign.

Holdovers Rence Alcoriza and Archie Concepcion will also be the vital cogs for Arellano.

Pirates coach Topex Robinson welcomed an early season meeting with the Knights, who are now handled by Bonnie Tan.

“Letran has a rich tradition of winning championships, being in the finals, and in the Final Four so it’s an opportunity for our team to also grow playing against the top teams in the NCAA. We’re excited for our opportunity,” said Robinson.

Now without prolific CJ Perez, twins Jaycee and Jayvee Marcelino, Mike Nzeusseu and Reymar Caduyac will now carry the load in LPU's bid for another championship berth, and hopefully the crown that has eluded the league's youngest program in the past few seasons.