CIGNAL-Ateneo and Centro Escolar University -- two of the best collegiate teams in the country today -- clash on Thursday to begin the best of five title series of the 2019 PBA D-League at Filoil Flying V Centre in San Juan.
The Blue Eagles are coming in well-rested after sweeping Valencia City Bukidnon-SSCR last week in the semifinals.
Meanwhile, the eight-man Scorpions have been running on adrenaline since game-fixing allegations hit the team hard. Despite a depleted line-up CEU managed to survive St. Clare College Virtual Reality in three hard-fought semifinal games, including a 89-72 victory last Tuesday to earn the right to meet Cignal-Ateneo.
Tip-off is at 4 p.m.
Cignal-Ateneo is heavily favored to win the series although the ;possibility of CEU winning the title is not being discounted.
"They're in the Finals for a reason. They've been playing undermanned and that's what makes them dangerous," said deputy coach Sandy Arespacochaga.
The Blue Eagles will lean on Ivorian center Ange Kouame with Thirdy Ravena, Isaac Go, and brothers Matt and Mike Nieto providing support.
This will be the Cignal's third championship appearance, although this will be the first with the Ateneo core. The past two Finals runs were with the San Beda squad.
CEU coach Derrick Pumaren, on the other hand, has declared his troops champion even before the Finals could get started.
"For me, this team is already a champion. With all the adversities na nangyari, we still made it," he said.
"We know we're gonna be the underdog against Ateneo. We're facing the no. 1 college team in the land. But outside of the UAAP and the NCAA, we believe that we're also one of the best basketball programs in the land ngayon," said Pumaren.
Senegalese big man Maodo Malick Diouf will lead the charge for CEU along with Rich Guinitaran, Dave Bernabe, and Franz Diaz.