Expectations are high for several area college men's basketball teams.
Both Hillsdale and Findlay hope to continue their rise to the top of the NCAA Division II national rankings; Ohio Northern wants to take the next step after reaching the NCAA Division III semifinals a year ago; and Siena Heights looks to continue to rank among the top NAIA Division II teams in the country.
Here's a look at each of the area small college men's basketball teams.
Coach: Buck RileyLast season: 14-13, 4-8 Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association
Top returnees: Junior guard Steve Brooks (Central Catholic), junior forward Dan Walter (Tiffin Calvert), senior center Chris Howard (Adrian).
Outlook: It will be bombs away for the Bulldogs again this season as Brooks, who was named first-team All-MIAA last season, leads a corps of top long-range shooters.
Brooks was one of four Bulldogs to make at least 33 treys last season, a group that also includes Walter.
The Bulldog bench will feature some familiar names in Bedford product Tony Peake, a sophomore forward, and Britton-Macon's Brad Maska, a sophomore guard.
Coach: Guy NealLast season: 16-9, 6-6 Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference
Top returnees: Senior forward Rod Overmyer, sophomore guard Scott Remaklus.
Outlook: Few teams took as hard a graduation hit as Bluffton, which lost five players who last season scored more than two-thirds of the Beavers' points.
Much of the scoring burden will fall on two of the better 3-point shooters in the HCAC in Overmyer and Remaklus. The pair combined to hit 100 treys in 25 games.
Coach: Tom PalomboLast season: 17-11, 7-5 HCAC
Top returnees: Senior forward Eric Viney, junior guard Mike Kurdziel (Whitmer), sophomore guard Jason Smolenski (St. Francis), sophomore guard Juan Vela (Fremont Ross).
Outlook: The Yellow Jackets took advantage of last year's move to the HCAC, winning the league's regular-season and tournament titles. But Defiance lost three seniors from that team.
Coach: Ron NiekampLast season: 19-8, 10-7 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference
Top returnees: Senior guard Kyle Hunt (Central Catholic), senior guard Bob Mitchell (Anthony Wayne), senior center Jeff Reese, junior guard Charles Warren.
Outlook: The Oilers finished last season with a bad taste in their mouths. The team, which was ranked sixth in the Great Lakes Region of Division II, lost six of its final eight games but still finished with a 19-8 record.
That's good but not good enough at Findlay, where coach Ron Niekamp has led his team to 20 wins 10 times in 16 seasons. And that poor finish should provide motivation for Findlay, which did not lose a single player from a year ago.
The Oilers have plenty of weapons to shoot for a GLIAC South Division title. One of the biggest is the 6-7 Hunt, who averaged 19.6 points per game in earning first-team All-GLIAC South Division honors last season.
Several other top players come from area high schools: senior forward Tony Hiser is a Patrick Henry grad, and senior guard Jamarcus Hampton is from Sandusky.
Coach: John HillLast season: 9-17, 5-13 Ohio Athletic Conference
Top returnees: Senior wing Ryan Klebowski, senior post Paul Meyer (Anthony Wayne), senior post Ryan Niemic (Perrysburg), junior wing Josh Patterson, sophomore guard Kevin Slates (Woodmore).
Outlook: Last season The 'Berg came close; this season they hope to get over the hump and win the close games last year's team always seemed to lose.
Much of the burden of leading the team will fall on a tall senior frontcourt led by 6-9 Ryan Niemic, 6-6 Paul Meyer and 6-6 Ryan Klebowski.
Among the players looking to find playing time in the backcourt is junior wing Pete Latkovic.
Coach: Ed DoumaLast season: 23-8, 13-4 GLIAC
Top returnees: Junior guard Brooks Miller (Evergreen), junior center Matt Mlynarchek, junior guard Jonathon Dues.
Outlook: The Chargers advanced to the NCAA Division II Great Lakes Regional tournament, where they lost by two points to eventual national champ Kentucky Wesleyan.
Can Hillsdale repeat, and perhaps improve, on last year's 23-8 performance? A key will be replacing the scoring lost by the graduation of Ed Carter, who averaged more than 12 points per game.
But the Chargers still have plenty of weapons, led by the 6-10 Mlynarchek. Sophomore Chris Northcross will help Mlynarchek inside, while Miller and Dues will provide outside scoring.
Coach: Joe CampoliLast season: 27-4, 17-1 OAC
Top returnees: Junior guard Aaron Fries, junior post Craig Woholgamuth, sophomore wing Chad Bostelman (Napoleon), sophomore guard Jim Conrad.
Outlook: The Polar Bears will have a tough time topping last season's 27-4 run that pushed them to within two games of the national Division III title. What's more, ONU lost three key players to graduation, including All-American Kris Oberdick from St. John's Jesuit.
And to top it off, the Polar Bears don't have a single senior on this year's roster.
But Ohio Northern already has moved up to seventh in this year's Division III national rankings, and with good reason. Fries returns at the point guard position, and Bostelman and Conrad both scored in double figures last season as freshmen.
Coach: Fred SmithLast season: 31-6, 10-4 Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference
Top returnees: Senior guard Sean Carlson (Adrian), senior guard Myron Gray, junior forward Steve Biggs, sophomore forward Doug Gray (Lenawee Christian).
Outlook: The Saints are ranked seventh in the most-recent NAIA Division II poll, and their 7-0 record is proof that the ranking is no fluke.
Coach Fred Smith, who early this season won his 400th game at Siena Heights, has six seniors on the roster, led by guards Carlson and Gray.
But the Saints have plenty of scoring depth. Four players - Carlson, Gray, Jason Rennie and Biggs - are scoring in double figures, and six players average at least nine points per game for a team scoring 90 points per contest.
Coach: Steve FlemingLast season: 9-17, 8-10 American Mideast Conference
Top returnees: Senior point guard Kipp Huntsberger, senior forward Phil Westfall, junior guard J.C. Lenk, junior guard Nilzarrel Townsend.
Outlook: The Dragons are without all-league performer Josh Martin as well as Doug Taylor, both lost to graduation. But Tiffin returns plenty of other weapons, making the Dragons' offense tough to stop.
One of those weapons is Huntsberger, who hit 63 3-pointers and added 74 assists last season. But three others Dragons - guards Lenk and Townsend as well as forward Brian Thompson - also scored in double figures a year ago.
Rebounding may be a concern for Tiffin, which makes strong inside play by newcomers such as 6-8 Joel Richards and 6-5 Greg Barnes vital.
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