Arranged in chronological order, here are my picks for 10 must-watch Fil-Oil games, featuring rivalries, storylines, player match-ups, and of course, Ateneo versus La Salle-ness.
1. April 14 - 4pm - Group A: SBC Red Lions vs DLSU Green Archers
Of all the opening day games, this is the most intriguing because these two marquee teams underwent a ton of offseason changes. Both will have new coaches, Ronnie Magsanoc for San Beda, and Gee Abanilla for DLSU, and both will parade some fresh new line-ups, most notably two guys with huge star potential, Julius Armon and Jeron Teng, respectively. When they played each other last year, it was a close affair, with San Beda banking on superior end-game execution late to edge La Salle 70-68. Will that be the case this year? We'll find out soon enough.
2. April 21 - 3:30pm - Group A: SBC Red Lions vs ADMU Blue Eagles
When these two teams met last season, it was Kiefer Ravena's grand debut, then the second time, it was the Eagles' coronation night, as they won their first FilOil title. Toss in the fact that once again, these two squads are the defending champions of their respective leagues, and the whole Semerads defection/hijacking (depending on which side you're from) issue, and this is a must-watch game.
3. April 27 - 1:45pm - Group B: SSCR Golden Stags vs NU Bulldogs
Ask Bobby Ray Parks what aspect of the game he was most unready for in the UAAP and he'll tell you it was the physicality that he was least prepared for. Again, this was in the UAAP. Now he'll be up against probably one of the most physical teams ever, the reigning PCCL champs. And while the Stags don't have nearly the deep line-up that NU will be parading, they will have Calvin Abueva and Ian Sangalang, two guys who could probably go toe-to-toe against Parks and Emmanuel Mbe, and even come out on top.
4. April 28 - 1:45pm - Group B: ADU Falcons vs FEU Tamaraws
Two teams that always bring it that will come out with revamped rosters. We'll find out how Adamson will look like minus the dynamic point guard duo of Jerick Canada and Lester Alvarez, while on the flip side, we'll also get a glimpse of how FEU defends without Aldrech Ramos patrolling the paint. And more importantly, whether or not these two squads are still Final Four contenders.
5. May 4 - 3:30pm - Group B: FEU Tamaraws vs SSCR Golden Stags
A battle between the two bridesmaids in their respective leagues last season, it will also be a contrast in styles, as FEU will try to catch fire from long-range via RR Garcia and Terrence Romeo, while the Stags aim to dominate the shaded area with Abueva and Sangalang. Most intriguing side story? The Bringas brothers playing against Baste, as Arvie (the younger) was a high school standout there, while Mark (the elder) had a cup of tea with the Stags in NCAA Season 84 before transferring to FEU.
6. May 5 - 3:30pm - Group A: DLSU Green Archers vs UST Growling Tigers
It'll be brother versus brother when Jeron Teng faces off against Jeric Teng, with the two likely guarding each other in the process. Also, an underrated plot line: two Petron Blaze Bosters assistants going up against each other in Abanilla versus Pido Jarencio.
7. May 16 - 1:45pm - Group B: EAC Generals vs AU Chiefs
With the NCAA looking to impose a ban on foreigners a few seasons down the road, Fil-foreigners might become the thing, and these two squads have a headstart on it, with EAC tapping Joshua Torralba and Igee King last season, and AU revamping its roster to feature AJ Serjue and James Forrester. If the rest of their respective squads click, either could wind up as a dark horse in their mother league. This game could be a good gauge of that aforementioned "clicking."
8. May 23 - 1:45pm - Group B: FEU Tamaraws vs AU Chiefs
Oh look, an old friend for Far Eastern. Former championship-winning FEU coach Koy Banal will play across the Tamaraws this time, backed up by his new squad, the Arellano University Chiefs. Not only is AU's coach new, their squad looks a lot different, what with Gerald Lapuz and Andrian Celada out, and some Fil-for blood injected. Bert Flores going up against his old mentor will definitely be worth watching, along with a RR Garcia-Vergel Zulueta scorers' duel.
9. June 2 - 11:30am - Group A: SBC Red Lions vs CSJL Knights
A likely NCAA Finals preview, San Beda has added motivation coming into this game, as Letran is the school that was the biggest advocate of eliminating foreign players. Meanwhile the host school Letran will be looking to kick off their hosting stint with a bang by declawing the defending champs. Warning: this game WILL get physical.
10. June 2 - 4pm - Group A: ADMU Blue Eagles vs DLSU Green Archers
On one hand, La Salle is 4-0 against Ateneo in the FilOil. On the other hand, in those four years, Ateneo has always wound up raising the UAAP trophy a few months later. Trend, omen, or coincidence? Whatever it is, this is definitely a must-watch game. As if I needed to tell you that!