Games Saturday
(MOA Arena, Pasay City)
12:30 p.m. – Opening Ceremonies
2 p.m. – San Beda vs Letran (srs)
4 p.m. – Mapua vs Jose Rizal (srs)

MANILA, Philippines – Arellano University will come into the 92nd NCAA basketball tournament as the surprise title favorite after emerging with the most impressive performance among all 10 participating teams in the preseason.

And all coaches agree.

“Arellano is definitely the team to beat,” said Mapua coach Atoy Co, who echoed everyone’s sentiments during Wednesday’s press conference at the MOA Arena in Pasay City.

Although the Chiefs didn’t make the Final Four and wound up just fifth last year, they turned things around by topping four tournaments, including two conferences in the Fr. Martin Cup and finishing second to eventual Filoil Flying V Premier Cup champion La Salle a couple of weeks ago.

And Jio Jalalon and Arellano’s guard-heavy lineup are the reasons the Chiefs are setting the bar for the league this early.

“Jio Jalalon is college basketball’s best point guard today and (Kent) Salado the best back-up point guard,” said second-year San Beda coach Jamike Jarin.

Despite the early praise, Arellano coach Jerry Codinera said they have to work harder for a place at the top.

“I thank my fellow coaches for saying good things about our team. I guess it’s the product of our hard work,” said Codinera. “But it’s just the pre-season, so we have to prepare harder and earn our way up.”

The league opens on Saturday with defending champion Letran clashing with last year’s losing finalist San Beda at 2 p.m. and Mapua and Jose Rizal, both Final Four qualifiers, tangling at 4 p.m.

Arellano will then see action the next day against Perpetual Help at The Arena in San Juan City.

An expectedly extravagant opening number, which will be directed by Douglas Nierras, focusing on this season’s theme: “Sports Builds Character Achieving Breakthrough at Season 92” at 12:30 p.m.

“We’re expecting a very exciting NCAA season not just in basketball but in all our sports as well,” said NCAA president Fr. Aloysius Maranan, OSB, of host San Beda.

Also, the league will honor and celebrate the late great Carlos “Caloy” Loyzaga, whose number 14 he used in the 50s will be retired by San Beda.

NCAA Management Committee chair Jose Mari Lacson said the family of Loyzaga, known as the “The Big Difference” and considered the best basketball player this country has produced, including son Chito will be present to witness the historic event.

“Caloy Loyzaga has made not just San Beda and NCAA but also the whole Philippines proud so it’s about time we return what he had done by honoring him with this,” said Lacson.

Loyzaga, who passed away early this year, won a pair of championships with San Beda in 1951 and 1952, helped the country win gold medals twice in the FIBA-Asia Championship (1960 and 1963) and four times in the Asian Games (1951, 1954, 1958 and 1962) and a bronze in the FIBA Worlds in 1954 in Rio de Janerio, Brazil.

That bronze in Rio happened to be unmatched until today.

Chito will also declare the games open, according to Lacson.

There will be four new coaches this season including Letran’s Jeff Napa, who has taken over from Aldin Ayo who has left to coach La Salle in the UAAP.

Also new to the fold are San Sebastian’s Egay Macaraya, Perpetual Help’s Antonio Tamayo, Jimwell Gican and Nosa Omorogbe and Emilio Aguinaldo’s Ariel Sison, who happens to be the school’s Dean of Information and Technology.

League commissioner Andy Jao said they will tap a set of referees from three groups this season.

“We don’t want to use the same referees every year so we’ve decided to tap three groups for this year and all are accredited by the SBP (Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas),” said Jao.

The league also announced it will implement a new numbering system – from 00 to 99 – this season to coincide with FIBA’s implementation of it last year while increasing the age limit from 18 to 19 years old in high school and 24 to 25 years old in college to go in sync with the K-12 calendar.

The age adjustment will only be implemented until the 96th season.

Games will be shown on ABS-CBN Sports + Action live on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.

The Arena in San Juan City will host majority of the elimination round games with the marquee matches set at the MOA Arena.