FANS of the oldest collegiate league will have to expect a down-the-wire showdown between defending champion San Sebastian College and San Beda today (Wednesday) at The Arena in San Juan.

The Stags and the Red Lions both sport a 7-0 (win-loss) slate as the top two teams in the 86th National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) clash for the first time since last year’s finals.

Updates on President Benigno Aquino III's presidency

San Sebastian currently holds the longest championship streak in the NCAA after copping five titles from 1993-1997.

“We’re expecting a tough, very intense game,” said Coach Ato Agustin.

Red Lions coach Frankie Lim, who steered San Beda’s grandslam feat from 2006-2009, said the game is just a matter of who’s got the bigger heart.

“We should play with a lot of heart and determination to beat them. I told my boys that it will never be easy beating them. Just leave everything on that floor and good things will happen,” he said.

“It’s all in the past now, its time to look at the present and I feel we have a stronger chance now,” added Lim referring to their heartbreaking setbacks last year to San Sebastian.

But before the 4 p.m. clash between titan squads, Jose Rizal University and Mapua will battle it out for solo third at the end of the first round.

Lim said his team might be strong in papers but this remains to be seen after the match today.

“Don’t forget, they’re not the defending champions for nothing and no matter what we say, they’re still the defending champions,” he said, whose big headaches centered on the highly-energetic duo of Ronald Pascual and Calvin “The Beast” Abueva.

Abueva is currently leading the pack in the MVP statistical race being No. 2 in scoring and No. 1 in rebounding with averages of 15.7 points and 11.7 rebounds a game while Pascual is No. 5 in scoring with a 14.3-point norm.

San Beda, on the other hand, will lean on the triumvirare of American behemoth Sudan Daniel, Borgie Hermida and Garvo Lanete that should give San Sebastian the biggest problems.

The 6-foot-7 Daniel, a former recipient of the UAAP/NCAA player of the week award, tops in blocks and No. 3 in rebounds with norms of 3.9 and 10.1, respectively, while the graduating Hermida is best in assists, norming 5.4 a game.

Meantime, the NCAA management committee said that they would be selling separate tickets for Wednesday’s blockbuster games.

The Jose Rizal-Mapua contest will play starting at 8:30 a.m. for the juniors and 10 a.m. for the seniors’ team while San Sebastian and San Beda will collide at 2 p.m. for the high school and 4 p.m. for the college squad.

Mancom chair Frank Gusi said this was done to accommodate a flurry of fans expected to pack the venue since the Stags and the Lions remained unbeaten in seven starts.

Rival league University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) started the trick last year when it sold a separate ticket for the storied Ateneo-La Salle rivalry. (Virgil Lopez/Sunnex)