Three-peat champion San Beda University is still favored to go all the way in the oncoming NCAA Season 95.
This, according to the rest of the playing field.
"The team to beat is San Beda. Still San Beda because they are the defending champions," University of Perpetual Help head coach Frankie Lim said in the preseason press conference, Monday at MOA Arena.
Four other mentors agreed with the assessment, including Arellano University's Cholo Martin, Emilio Aguinaldo College's Oliver Bunyi, Jose Rizal University's Louie Gonzalez, and Mapua University's Randy Alcantara.
Still, the Red Lions will be gunning for a fourth consecutive championship minus Robert Bolick and Javee Mocon and will instead follow the lead of the talented, but nonetheless young backcourt of James Canlas and Evan Nelle.
Cameroonian powerhouse Donald Tankoua will, of course, do his best to steady the ship while Clint Doliguez and Calvin Oftana provide versatility at the wings.
While they remain the favorites, the three-time kings of the first and oldest collegiate league in the country will be facing their toughest test in recent history with all of Lyceum of the Philippines University, San Sebastian College-Recoletos, and archrival Colegio de San Juan de Letran nothing but determined to take away the crown from Mendiola.
The Pirates, even without former MVP CJ Perez and team captain MJ Ayaay, are the deepest they have ever been with Marcelino twins Jaycee and Jayvee anchoring a crew that includes explosive Cameroonian Mike Nzeusseu and heady Reymar Caduyac as well as prized transferees Jayson David and Renzo Navarro.
"If I have to, I pick LPU," Letran head coach Bonnie Tan said.
San Sebastian mentor Egay Macaraya could only agree. As he put it, "Yung Lyceum, siyempre, lalaban pa rin."
Meanwhile, the Golden Stags will ride the streaky shooting of Allyn Bulanadi and RK Ilagan to charge back into promised land. Flanking them will be enforcer JM Calma and glue guy Alvin Capobres.
Finally, the Knights are only raring and ready to build on their breakthrough a season ago even under a new head coach in Bonnie Tan. The veteran mentor will rely on the imposing frontcourt of Rookie of the Year Larry Muyang, Jeo Ambohot, and Christian Fajarito as well as the leadership of Jerrick Balanza to repeat their title feat back in 2015.
NCAA 95 tips off on Sunday at MOA Arena and will feature matchups between contenders LPU and Letran at 2:00 p.m. and then defending champion San Beda and season host Arellano University at 4:00 p.m.
As always, the latest season of the first and oldest collegiate league in the country will be on ABS-CBN S+A Channel 23, ABS-CBN S+A HD Channel 166, LIGA SkyCable Channel 86, LIGA HD SkyCable Channel 183, iWant and livestream.
Follow this writer on Twitter, @riegogogo.