EIGHT of the record 14 teams, led by perennial title contenders St. Clare College-Caloocan and Philippine Christian University, will strut their wares as the 16th NAASCU basketball championship comes off the wraps tomorrow (Aug. 25) at the Cuneta Astrodome in Pasay City.
St. Clare, which finished runner-up to Centro Escolar University in the last three years, will open its campaign against comebacking AMA Computer University in the first game at 11 a.m.
PCU, which underwent massive pre-season build-up that included a second-place finish in the MBL Open during summer, will test the mettle of another returning team, Lyceum of Subic, in the fourth game at 4 p.m.
Other opening-day matches will pit Colegio de San Lorenzo against City University of Pasay at 1 p .m. and Philippine Merchant Marine School against Our Lady of Fatima University at 2:30 p.m.
The other six member-teams, which drew opening-day byes, are Rizal Technological University, Manuel Luis Quezon University, New Era University, De Ocampo Memorial College, EARIST and Enderun Colleges.
“NAASCU is bigger and better this year. This is the biggest in terms of membership with 14 teams from only eight last year and the biggest in terms of events with 10,” said NAASCU chairman Ernesto Jay Adalem of St.Clare.
Adalem also said the television coverage by Solar Sports and Basketball TV makes this year’s staging like no other in the league’s long history.
NAASCU commissioner Fritz Gaston said a wide open race is now expected following the leave of absence of CEU.
Handled by coach Jinino Manansala, the Caloocan City-based Saints loom as the top favorite with a near intact line-up bannered by 6-6 Cameronian center Steve Fongue.
Manansala, who also served as consultant of MBL third-placer New San Jose Builders, also hopes to draw the best from his veteran-laden bench that counts on Mark Puspus, Aris Dionisio, Paeng Rebulio, Nico Principe and Jordan Rios.
Expected to crowd St. Clare for the title are PCU Dolphins of the father-and-son tandem of Loreto and Elvis Tolentino; AMA Titans of coach Mark Herrera;RTU Blue Thunder of coach Johnedel Cardel; OLFU Phoenix of coach Ralph Emerson Rivera; CdSL Blue Griffins of coach Boni Garcia; and PMMS Mariners of coach Aldrin Moran te.
MLQU Stallions, another multi-titled team on the comeback trail under coach Jimmy Manansala Jr., is the tournament darkhorse.
Manansala, who is best remembered for leading the St. Clare Baby Saints to the NAASCU title in 2014, will lean on the high-scoring guard Christopher Bitoon, Niko Lao, Ronnie Pangan , Justine Padua, Jeymark Mallari, Allen King de la Cruz, John Paul Balidoy and Daryl Aurelio.
CdSL, on the other hand, will pin its hopes on 6-4 Kenneth Yemeli of Cameroon, 6-5 Jun Gabriel and 6-0 Mark Kenneth Carongoy.
Aside from basketball, the other sports i n the NAASCU calendar are volleyball, athletics, swimmin g, chess, badminton , table tennis, taekwondo, street dance and cheer dance.