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Topnotch basketball begins

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OCTOBER is here and October is the month of topnotch basketball here in our country and elsewhere.
Locally, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) will hold its best-of-three Finals late in the month.

Perennial titlist San Beda College, the only founding member left in the 10-team league, seeks to retain the crown in Season 93 but streaky Lyceum of the Philippines University, bannered by NCAA Most Valuable Player candidate CJ Perez (an Ateneo and San Sebastian College-Recoletos discard) and mentored by first-time Pirates bench tactician Michael Christopher (Topex) Robinson, has other things in mind.

The Pirates currently are 15-0 with three games remaining in the 18-game elimination round, including a 96-91 decision over the Red Lions (13-1) in first-round action last July 14.

The second-round encounter between the two schools will be held on October 19 in the final game of the elims schedule at the Filoil Flying V Centre in San Juan City.

Lyceum’s 15-0 start so far equals the SSC-R Golden Stags’ record of 15-0 to open the 2009 NCAA wars. While the Stags (19-4) eventually romped away with the championship hardware, the Recto Avenue, Manila-based school wound up the elims in a tie with San Beda at 16-2, lost to the Red Lions in a playoff to determine the No. 1 seed and was forced to a do-or-die contest by the Jose Rizal University Heavy Bombers in the semifinals before sweeping San Beda in the Finals, 2-0.

The all-time NCAA mark of most consecutive regular-season victories to open a season belongs to the Red Lions, who went 16-0 in sweeping the elimination phase involving nine schools (sans LPU) during Season 86.

That year (2010), San Beda advanced to the Finals outright with a thrice-to-beat edge against its foe San Sebastian College. The Red Lions whipped the Stags, 2-0, with a double-digit winning margin each time (20-15) to complete an 18-0 season. It was the best-ever championship-resulting sweep in the NCAA’s 93-year existence.

In Season 80 of the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP), Ateneo de Manila University is still immaculately clean at 6-0 in the eight-school loop with the Blue Eagles’ remaining first-round assignment against reigning league MVP Benoit Mbala and the defending champion De La Salle University Green Archers to be held on Sunday, October 8, at the Mall of Asia (MOA) Arena.

De La Salle, which will face winless University of the East (0-5) on Wednesday, October 4, before clashing with its arch nemesis Ateneo four days later, had earlier lost to the University of the Philippines (3-2) in a game that could be nullified by the UAAP Board due to player ineligibility (once the 20-day Temporary Restraining Order by the courts expires).

The Green Archers were 13-1 during the elimination round of Season 79 – their lone setback coming from the hands of Ateneo – and then won three playoff games, including a 2-0 sweep of the Blue Eagles in the Finals, for a 16-1 season finish.

Overall, it was the fifth UAAP Finals matchup between De La Salle and Ateneo, which last defeated the former in a titular series in 2008.

In the professional Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), the best-of-seven Finals of the Governors’ Cup will soon unveil upon the completion of a pair of best-of-five semifinal series featuring defending champion Barangay Ginebra against Talk ‘N Text and Meralco vs. Star.

In the U.S. National Basketball Association, the 30 member teams are deep into action in the preseason schedule, which started last Saturday (Sunday, Manila time). Each team will play no more than six exhibition games.

The reigning NBA titlist Golden State Warriors, after dropping a 108-102 decision to the Denver Nuggets in their preseason opener, will play a pair of games against the Minnesota Timberwolves in Shenzhen and Shanghai, People’s Republic of China this week. The Warriors, who will be returning to the U.S. on October 9, will make their fourth and final preseason appearance on October 13 against the Sacramento Kings.

The 72nd renewal of the 1,230-game NBA regular wars will commence on October 17 (October 18, Manila time) – the earliest the regular season has started in 37 years. On opening day, the Cleveland Cavaliers will host ex-Cavs star Kyrie Irving and the Boston Celtics in a rematch of the 2017 Eastern final playoffs (won by Cleveland in six games) and the Golden State Warriors will have their “championship ring” ceremony at the Oracle Arena before facing the Houston Rockets that feature NBA MVP runner-up James Harden and ex-Los Angeles Clippers star guard Chris Paul.

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