The Cardinals played two contrasting games against the Knights last season, but the result was the same: a win for Mapua. In the first round, the Cards clobbered Letran in almost all categories, finishing 66-51. The second round game though was a come from behind affair that saw the Knights collapse in the fourth quarter, allowing Mapua to escape, 63-60.
This season will be all about the impact one guy can have on a team, and that's Yousef Taha for the Cardinals. Having a legitimate big man down low, in a season without Sudan Daniel to boot, means defenses will have to adjust, which could likely mean easier shots for the barrage of shooters on the Mapua line-up.
Stat to watch: Fourth quarter point differential; in spite of the Taha addition, the Cards were still prone to late collapses, seemingly more confident when they play catch-up. For Mapua to go far in this tournament, they'll need to be able to put opponents away.
Player to watch: Allan Mangahas; though Taha is the emotional leader, the guy yelling and firing his teammates up, the leader on the floor has to be Mangahas, the graduating floor general. Against a team like Letran that loves to press, expect him to play extra minutes as the squad's best ball handler.
This season's incarnation of the Letran Knights looks a lot like last year's squad; just subtract Jaypee Belencion for Kevin Racal and you're basically good to go. The Knights still love to force turnovers and get out and run, but it's not like they have a choice. The roster still has height and depth issues, and the fiery temper of head coach Louie Alas might boil over during a particularly bad stretch of play.
Stat to watch: Turnovers; here's an oft-said basketball adage: "Teams that like to press don't like to be pressed." In the case of Letran, they're a team that likes to force turnovers, while they themselves cough up a fair amount. If Franz Dysam and rookie Mark Cruz can't handle the ball, this will be a long night for Letran
Player to watch: Kevin Alas; Alas has a ton of talent, but a gunner's mentality that never wavers. He shot just 32% from the field, 19% from beyond the arc in the Fil-Oil Tournament, but there were games where, due to guys fouling out, the Knights had no choice but to give it to him. There's nothing wrong with taking over a game, but early on, if he can create shot opportunities for his teammates, Letran will be a lot better off.
Prediction: Mapua Cardinals