Here’s our NCAA First Five (plus five) for 2016
COLORFUL FIGHT. In another well-fought war, it was San Beda that reclaimed the throne.
It’s been more than two months since the NCAA 92 Men’s Basketball Tournament was over and done with.
And in the end, there can be no doubt that each and every player represented the #SampungKulay and fought the good fight in the #IsangLaban.
10) ‘A gift from NU’ and other coaching changes
Coming off a long-awaited, much-wanted championship, Letran was forced into a coaching search with the sudden departure of Aldin Ayo.
Fortunately for the Knights, they wound up with a mentor who was coming off his own championship in the UAAP Juniors.
Jeff Napa fell short in leading overmatched Letran (9-9) back into the playoffs, but his steadying of a ship which, all of a sudden, lost its captain was more than enough for him to deserve to be called “a gift from NU.”
Same goes for fellow first-year mentors Jimwell Gican who brought back Perpetual (11-7) into the Final Four, Egay Macaraya who transplanted his winning culture into San Sebastian (8-10), and Ariel Sison who lifted EAC (6-12) out of the cellar.
9) Robins paint Juniors division Malayan red
For seven seasons, the NCAA Juniors was ruled over by San Beda.
With a domination of the once seven-time defending champions, the Red Robins are the new kings of the division while at the same time claiming for the school its first title in its history as Malayan High School of Science.
Making their feat even more impressive is that Malayan did it mostly without stalwarts Mike Enriquez and Sherwin Concepcion. The rest of the league just might have to get ready for a new dynasty.
8) San Sebastian as Team Diesel
With a 1-8 win-loss record after the first round, Egay Macaraya was off to a rocky start in trying to spearhead San Sebastian’s return to relevance.
Definitely, there was no quick turnaround for the man who had already turned Centro Escolar University into a basketball powerhouse.
Then the second round started and the Stags looked like they were back in golden form. Winning all but two of their last nine games, they were threatening to crash the playoff party until the very end.
Ultimately, Baste wasn’t able to do just that.
But with an intact core and the so-called “Egay Magic” seemingly already casting a spell, they may very well climb even higher on the standings next year.
7) Transferees take thunder of true freshmen
LPU’s Mike Nzeusseu is the Rookie of the Year for NCAA 92.
Only, the Cameroonian isn’t a true freshman.
Nzeusseu is a transferee from the University of Visayas who had immediate impact in his first go-round in the country’s first and oldest collegiate league.
The other new names who made noise also happen to be transferees – such as Lervin Flores, who came to Arellano via Fatima and Robert Bolick who came to San Beda from DLSU.
6) Ups for EAC and LPU, Downs for JRU and Letran
Considered contenders in the preseason, JRU and Letran found themselves on the outside looking in once the Final Four came along.
The Heavy Bombers were unable to recover from a terrible start to the season while the Knights were undone in the latter part of the tournament following a 4-2 beginning.
With the two traditional powerhouses taking a step back, upstarts EAC and LPU made the most of the opportunity to make headway.
They did just that as the Pirates and the Generals both finished with a 6-10 standing.
They will still need a few more wins to make themselves eligible for the playoffs, but their steady rise is nothing but good news for league-wide competition.
5) CSB ends 1-17 season with a bang!
When they finally won one and dodged becoming the first team to go winless through a tournament, the CSB Blazers jumped around the court and celebrated like they won the championship.
Of course, they didn’t and their final standing was 1-17 – the worst in the near-centennial history of the league.
Still, the Blazers didn’t care as coach Gabby Velasco shared then, “We’ve been waiting for this day to come. Kahit isang panalo, feeling namin, champion kami.”
Why wouldn’t they be overjoyed after such a trying season that often saw them play way out of their league.
Here’s to hoping you got all the lechon you wanted, Blazers!
4) Let’s call it a Knight
Taking the crown away from Mendiola for only the second time in the last 10 years, Letran’s morale was as high as it could ever be after last season.
And with a 4-2 start to the new season, a repeat looked to be within reach.
Only, the Knights went on a downward spiral and went 5-7 in their last dozen assignments.
Letran was eliminated from contention still with one game left on their schedule.
It was, without a doubt, an unceremonious exit especially coming from a Cinderella run to the championship.
3) The farewell tour of Jiovani Jalalon
Jiovani Jalalon is now starring for, well, Star in the PBA.
But all the Jalalon things he now does for the Hotshots were once the highest of highlights in the NCAA.
Just in Season 92, we all witnessed the pride of Cagayan de Oro average 21 points, 7.3 assists, 5.8 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks to become the lone local in the Mythical Team.
Jalalon may now be playing among all the great guards in the country currently, but for one whole season, he was undoubtedly the best guard in college.
2) Allwell Oraeme still towers above all
The spotlight fell on Jiovani Jalalon and even Rey Nambatac so much that most of us forgot just who the reigning MVP was.
That reigning MVP sure didn’t forget and just kept on working.
On the strength of per game counts of 15.8 points, 19.8 rebounds, 2.3 blocks, and 2.2 assists all while lifting Mapua to the third-seed, Allwell Oraeme muscled his way to back-to-back MVPs.
Not only that, he remained the most intimidating presence in the paint to also repeat as Defensive Player of the Year.
Now, all that’s missing for the Nigerian to truly have a legendary career is a championship.
1) Of course, NCAA Season 92 was all about San Beda’s REDemption
No more Ola Adeogun, Baser Amer, and Art Dela Cruz.
No more Donald Tankoua midway through the tournament.
No more twice-to-beat advantage after losing to Perpetual in the Final Four for the first time in more than 10 years.
And going up against the best guard in college.
No problem at all for San Beda as they roared their way to an awe-inducing ninth title in the last 11 years.
And they did it like they always have – creating new stars in Robert Bolick, Javee Mocon, and Davon Potts.
San Sebastian and Letran got one over them once apiece in the last 11 years, but the Red Lions remain the class of the league.
Follow this writer on Twitter, @riegogogo.