ALL teams, except La Salle of course, are pointing to the Green Archers as the team to beat in the UAAP men’s basketball tournament which opens this Sunday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
For La Salle coach Aldin Ayo, being unanimous title favorite in Season 79 has greater responsibilities.
“Wherever you go there will be pressure. Pressure will motivate us,” said Ayo, an NCAA champion coach who took over from Juno Sauler late last year to man the Archers’ bench.
“There are lots of expectations sa team namin but our goal is to work really hard sa practices and games,” he added.
With bullstrong Cameroonian Ben Mbala making his long overdue debut, La Salle will test the mettle of defending champion Far Eastern University on Sept. 7 at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Expect a lot of fireworks this early, as the Archers and the Tamaraws have unfinished business, as their last tune-up match was halted due to physical play.
“FEU (is the favorite) cause they’re the defending champions,” said Ayo, who also tipped Season 77 champion National University and Adamson as hot favorites.
After three years of waiting, Mbala will finally strut his stuff in the league to help La Salle regain the championship it won in 2013.
The Archers have the strongest frontline in the league with Mbala, Prince Rivero, Abu Tratter and rookie Justine Baltazar leading the way.
“I’m super excited. I’ll finally be able to help our team,” said Mbala.
With key players Mac Belo, Mike Tolomia, RR Pogoy and Russel Escoto gone, the Tamaraws looked hard-pressed to make a run at a record 21st title.
However, FEU coach Nash Racela maintains positive outlook to be at par with heavyweights like La Salle behind holdovers Raymar Jose, Prince Orizu and Monbert Arong.
“We just promise to give our best and be competitive this year. We have a completely different team this year compared to last year,” said Racela, who is now on his fourth season with the Tamaraws.
Hostilities in men’s basketball will actually begin on Sunday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum, with season host University of Santo Tomas taking on Ateneo at 4 p.m., right after University of the Philippines battles Adamson at 2 p.m.
The season opener will feature four new coaches - national mentor Tab Baldwin for the Blue Eagles, Boy Sablan for the Growling Tigers, Bo Perasol for the Fighting Maroons and comebacking Franz Pumaren for the Falcons.
Bridesmaids for three of the last four seasons, UST hopes to reach on top without the trio of Kevin Ferrer, Ed Daquioag and Karim Abdul.