ESPN5.com's college hoops writers preview the 10 teams competing in the 95th season of the NCAA.
Season 94 performance: 15-3 (2nd place), lost to San Beda in the finals
After two consecutive runner-up finishes, the quest to finally break through and win a title remains for the Lyceum Pirates. However, if you ask head coach Topex Robinson, success isn't merely defined by the wins and losses.
"We're just so excited with the opportunity for us. If it was always about winning, it's not about us, and if that's all there is, we could be like everyone else who falls short every time and feel down about it," said Robinson who has his troops living by the mantra of inspiring others.
"But for us, it's all about how we stay in the competition. If we're not aiming for 1 and 2, we're not here right now. It's always about sustaining that kind of playing. We're bettering ourselves from last year."
The task of finally getting to the mountaintop will be a lot more challenging this year with the departure of superstar CJ Perez and versatile forward MJ Ayaay.
"Obviously, not having the best player that donned an LPU jersey is a challenge for us," said Robinson about to Perez who was drafted first overall in the PBA. "But for us, we will honor them (CJ and MJ), thanking them for bringing us to where we are right now, but we'll also welcome the challenge to our players on what legacy you want to bring, how do you want to be remembered when you used to play for LPU? We always have that kind of mentality that what can I do today that my future self could be proud of?"
The future of Lyceum now rests on the explosive and entertaining duo Jaycee and Jayvee Marcelino. The twins have been a staple to the Pirates' style of high-octane offense and pressure defense. Without Perez, the twins are now in the spotlight alongside center Mike Nzeusseu. The Cameroonian big man is still recovering from a finger injury but Robinson is hoping he will suit up as soon as possible.
"We don't have a go-to guy per se, but we have a lot of guys who are willing to contribute and are going to make our season exciting," said Robinson. "Losing CJ and Ay means that we'll have other guys who will have an opportunity."
"We also have good acquisitions, new guys that are proven winners. That's exciting for us," he added.
Robinson will also rely on his new recruits such as Jayson David, Renzo Navarro, and Jerwyn Guinto, who are a fit to Lyceum's running and gunning style.
Lyceum has built a rare culture where the players are asked to live by the words love, serve, and care. Where inspiring others is not merely a cheesy code but a battle cry that the team rallies on.
"I don't care if we lost two straight championships, it's not gonna change our culture," Robinson said. "It's just gonna strengthen it because it stood the test of time. I know our time will come, it might not even be this year, but I know it will."
SAN BEDA RED LIONS
Season 94 performance: 17-1 (First place), beat Lyceum to win the title
For the winningest school in NCAA basketball history, the expectation is the same every year: to win the championship.
The San Beda Red Lions will gun for their fourth straight title, a feat that will give the school its 12th trophy in the last 14 years and 23rd overall. Success breeds expectations and no one is more aware than this than head coach Boyet Fernandez.
"If you're a Bedan, you're really looking forward to entering the finals and win the championship," Fernandez said in Filipino. "We've been in the finals for 13 years, 11 championships, San Beda is used to winning."
Aside from the nine schools aiming to be at the top spot, San Beda faces the daunting task of trying to win without superstars Robert Bolick and Javee Mocon.
"The challenge is how we will set up, how they will fill the shoes of Robert and Javee, how will they mature," Fernandez said about his squad.
San Beda boasts of veterans who are used to the bright lights in AC Soberano, Donald Tankoua, Clint Doliguez, and Calvin Oftana. They are able leaders who are more than capable of competing. But the spotlight is now on a pair of talented sophomores, up and coming stars who will continue the school's winning tradition.
Evan Nelle, a brilliant playmaker and streaky shooter out of San Beda high school, is joined by Fil-Canadian versatile guard James Canlas. This promising backcourt of San Beda will be the team's main weapons heading into the new season.
"If you look at the way we played in the FilOil (Flying V Preseason Cup), it's really both of them, sophomore guards being a tandem," said Fernandez when the Red Lions won the preseason title.
"I already told these two guys that you really have to play the way San Beda plays and you really have to be the leaders of this team. (Evan) is the point guard, (James) is playing the two, so again, I need a leader in this team. Without Robert and Javee, we need these two. As long as they continue to play beautiful music together, we'll be a team to be reckoned with."
The Red Lions are fresh from winning the FilOil championship but were first humbled in the PBA D-League where they lost in the quarterfinals. Nonetheless, they gained valuable experience along the way.
"In the D-League, there are players who are ex-pro, semi-pro, others played in the ABL. Evan is still young, so he got to play against those players so it was a huge help to get experience," the coach said. "Games in the D-League and Filoil helped speed up their maturity. But of course, you have to play more games."
When the season starts, the Red Lions will think nothing less than to achieve a coveted 4-peat and continue the winning ways of San Beda.
"Our motivation is to have that winning culture. Whether it be an exhibition game, practice game, NCAA game, we will go and try to win. That's expected from us," said Fernandez. "We don't want to fail the school, the alumni. It may not always result in wins, but we will always fight."