Pretenders are gone, and contenders remain.
And after 55 games, the 2017 PBA D-League Foundation Cup goes into overdrive as the playoffs begin on Thursday at Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig.
Armed with a twice-to-beat advantage, Tanduay and Centro Escolar University both look to move forward to the next level and join Flying V and Cignal HD in the semifinals.
However, getting through the quarterfinals isn’t going to be a breeze for the two, with Batangas and Marinerong Pilipino waiting for an ambush.
Despite the Rhum Masters being slotted as the third-seed, coach Lawrence Chongson is far from convinced that his team, led by Lester Alvarez and Paul Varilla, has a clear advantage against the Skippers when the two teams cross paths at 5 p.m.
“To be honest, I’ve been here a long time and I’ve seen a lot of things happen. Sa pinapakita ng team ko, we might have a hard time contending,” he said. “Aasa kami sa swerte at talbog ng bola, but I think we can squeeze it out naman sa quarters.”
Chongson has every reason to feel that way after Tanduay eked out a gritty 76-74 victory over Marinerong Pilipino last June 19, where a technical foul on John Lopez sent the latter on a downward spiral.
Skippers coach Koy Banal is taking that game into account as he hopes to rectify their miscues and force a winner-take-all affair.
But it will be a completely different Marinerong Pilipino squad come the playoffs, with the Mark Isip-led team winning its last five games and bolstering its side with the addition of scorer Robbie Herndon.
Banal, though, warned his Skippers to not take the opposition lightly, noting, “Ibang klase na ang playoffs and it’s not going to be smooth sailing for us. But we’ll bank on our veterans who’ve been there before.
We’ll just keep on believing.”
In the first game, Scorpions coach Yong Garcia isn’t keeping his eyes away from their foe, knowing that the
Batangueño crew he’ll be facing will be a much different crew from the one they beat, 72-70, last June 15.
“Sa ngayon, naka-focus kami sa preparations namin. We can’t worry about other things but yung preparation talaga against sa Batangas,” he said, as he will once again bank on Rod Ebondo and JK Casiño to lead CEU in the 3 p.m. tiff.
Batangas coach Eric Gonzales, on the other hand, was frank in saying that there’s no other option for his crew, which will lean on diminutive guard Cedric de Joya and new recruits Robby Celiz and Leo Avenido, other than showing up and do battle.
“Mahirap ito para sa amin, pero maganda ang expectations sa amin ng mga bosses at syempre, ilalaban natin yan,” he said.