The Northern Lakes League boasts three of the best big men in the state of Ohio and the battle among these towering inside forces should determine who will pull down the 2012-13 NLL title.
Anthony Wayne senior Mark Donnal (6-foot-9) and Bowling Green senior Vitto Brown (6-8) will both be playing in the Big Ten next winter.
Donnal, who averaged 19.6 points and 9.2 rebounds per contest, will play for the University of Michigan. Brown, who scored 19.3 points and pulled down 12.3 boards per game, will play at the University of Wisconsin.
Behind the prowess of those elite forwards, AW and BG are expected to finish one-two in the league this season. Both teams tied for third place last year with 9-5 league records.
Not to be overlooked is Napoleon 6-5 senior forward Jordan Lauf, who led the league in scoring last season with 21.9 points per game.
Anthony Wayne went 16-7 and reached the Division I district final last season.
“It's nice when people expect things out of you,” AW coach Bryan Borcherdt said.
“Our kids are expecting things this year out of themselves that they didn't last year. In the offseason we spent a lot of time getting better. We realize it will be a highly competitive league this year.
“We are picked to win it now. But each team has at least one outstanding player. It will be 14 tough games.”
Borcherdt said the key will be how each team's supporting cast steps up.
The Bobcats won the NLL title two seasons ago. It was the program's first title since 2002-03.
Aside from Brown, who weighed offers from Toledo and Bowling Green, the Bobcats feature 6-6 senior Nolan Dill who finished fourth in the league in rebounding.
“The NLL is fantastic with the number of quality teams, individuals, and coaches,” BG coach Von Graffin said.
“It is certainly going to be tough to get and stay on top in this league. We are trying to win our third league title in the last 10 years and make a tourney run. If we can stay injury free, stay focused and do it 'together' we will be successful. We should be in the mix.”
Napoleon's Lauf will play at UT next season. Lauf finished ahead of both Donnal and Brown in scoring and was second to Brown in rebounding. He led Napoleon to the league title (13-1) in the school's first season in the NLL.
Graffin said the NLL has never produced a Big Ten basketball player.
“This year we have two and another going to the MAC,” he said. “That says a lot about the development of the NLL over the years. It will be a heck of a league. You can't go anywhere in the NLL and not play well and hope to win. The coaching is too good.”
Bowling Green plays at Anthony Wayne on Jan. 4. The teams meet again on Feb. 8 at BG.
Perrysburg, which won seven titles from 2001-2009, is not to be counted out.
Anthony Wayne has not won an NLL championship since 1997-98.
“Nothing has been awarded yet,” Borcherdt said. “It will be a very exciting season in the NLL. The league is as good as it has been in a long time. You have to fight for wins. It will be fun and exciting.”
Here is a look at the teams in predicted order of finish based on a preseason coaches' poll:
Coach: Bryan Borcherdt, second season
Last season: 16-7 overall, 9-5 NLL
Top players: Seniors Mark Donnal, 6-9, C; Grant Fiock, 6-4, F; Hunter Debo, 6-1, G; Ose Omofoma, 6-2, F. Juniors Matt Fox, 6-1, G; Jake Reid, 6-5, F.
Outlook: After going 16-7 in his first season and finishing third in the NLL, Borcherdt is expected to have the team capable of winning it all.
Three starters and six letter winners are back, including Donnal.
“The Generals will have a solid inside, outside approach this season with Michigan commit Mark Donnal anchoring down the middle, with Jake Reid, and outside threats coming from Hunter Debo, Matt Fox, and Grant Fiock,” Borcherdt said.
Fox poured in 10.0 points per game, while Fiock averaged 9.0 points and 4.0 rebounds per contest.
Reid, Debo, and Omofoma each contributed offensively and saw significant varsity time.
But a key will be the need to stay healthy. “With an experienced team that won 16 games last year and got to the district final, we look to compete in what will be a highly competitive league,” Borcherdt said.
Coach: Von Graffin, 11th season
Last season: 12-10, 9-5
Top players: Seniors Vitto Brown, 6-8, F; Andrew Herringshaw, 6-0, G; Nolan Dill, 6-6, F; Evan Gardner, 6-2, W. Sophomore LaMonta’ Stone, 5-6, PG.
Outlook: The Bobcats are 102-38 in the NLL under Graffin and 134-83 overall.
Returning this season are four starters and five letter winners. Every night last season, Brown averaged double figures in points (19.3) and rebounds (12.3). Stone started at point guard as a freshman and averaged 7.1 points and 3.0 assists per game. Gardner chipped in with 6.3 points per game.
Dill averaged 8.8 rebounds per contest. Herringshaw broke his collar bone this fall but should be back in four to six weeks.
“Team chemistry is much better but is still a work in progress,” Graffin said. “We have played at a very high level and expectations for this team are extremely high. Again, we have challenged ourselves with an incredible nonleague schedule as well,” Graffin said.
Coach: Dave Boyce, 13th season
Last year: 14-8, 10-4
Top players: Seniors Shane Edwards, 6-3, W; Bryant Byrd, 6-1, PG; Juniors Nate Patterson, 6-4, C; Nick Moschetti, 6-2, W.
Outlook: Boyce enters the season with a stellar 201-62 career record.
This season he counts returning experience and depth at all positions as strengths. Edwards earned All-NLL second team honors after averaging 13.1 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 3.8 assists per game. Byrd also is back after tallying 5.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 4.2 assists per game. Patterson and Moschetti each scored 4.0 points per game, while Patterson also finished with 4.2 rebounds per game.
Boyce also expects junior forward Matt Kaczinski (6-5), senior forward Chris Schimmoeller (6-1), and junior guard Matt Mesker (5-10) to contribute valuable minutes. Boyce has three starters and five letter winners back. But his concerns include a need to be more consistent and a lack of size.
“We have some talent and experience,” Boyce said. “We must prove we can be consistent on a daily basis with our effort and our production. We have an incredibly tough schedule, but look forward to competing with some of the best teams in the area and the state.”
Coach: Tim Badenhop, fifth season
Last season: 18-4, 13-1
Top players: Seniors Jordan Lauf, 6-5, F; Brandon Horman, 5-9, G; Juniors Anson Lankenau, 6-0, F; Bryant Schlade, 6-0, C. Sophomore Blake Dunbar, 5-8, G.
Outlook: The Wildcats captured the league crown in their first season competing in the NLL. But the loss of four seniors to graduation presents a need for many players to step up. Badenhop, who is 52-34 at Napoleon, will lean heavily on the supremely talented Lauf. He averaged 22.0 points and 9.0 rebounds per game. Senior Charlie Harris saw some playing time (2.0 points and 2.0 rebounds per game).
“With only one returning starter, many opportunities are available for new team members,” Badenhop said. “We must improve every week.”
Coach: Marc Jump, 20th season
Last season: 11-13, 5-9
Top players: Seniors Brandon Stewart, 6-0, G; Marvin Brock, 5-10, G. Juniors Nate Hall, 6-3, F; Matt Morrison, 5-8, G; J.J. Pinckney, 6-3, F; Justin Schaffer, 5-11, G. Sophomore Jeremiah Roberts, 6-3, F.
Outlook: Jump enters this season with a 222-190 career record. But he has no returning starters and just three letter winners. Nine seniors and all five starters have graduated. However, he says he believes the strengths for his Cougars will include overall team quickness and length and attitude.
“The players have been very enthusiastic toward our challenge this year,” Jump said.
Yet that lack of varsity experience, with only two players with varsity stats, could spell trouble in a senior-dominated league. Rebounding also could be a trouble spot and a difficult non-league schedule may be hard to overcome.
Southview reached the Division I district semis last year. “We are the least experienced and have the fewest returning starters of any team in league,” Jump said.
Coach: Stan Joplin, second season
Last season: 4-17, 1-13
Top players: Seniors Marquan Hodges, 6-2, G; Curtis Hassell, 5-10, G; Dilyn Good, 6-6, F; Anthony Jones, 6-2, F; Ty Shy, G. Juniors Markese Hicks, 5-9, G; Chad Roy, 6-5, F; Logan Weimer, 6-8, F.
Outlook: With seven returning letter winners, Joplin has depth. He also has good size.
He has seven starters back as well. Hodges tallied 6.0 points and pulled down 3.3 rebounds per contest. Hassell scored 6.2 points per contest, while Jones chipped in with 6.3 per game.
However, potential trouble areas include committing turnovers and trouble rebounding consistently.
“We lost a lot of close games last year in the last two minutes,” said Joplin, the former University of Toledo men's coach. “Hopefully we can change that.”
Coach: Derek Sheridan, fourth season
Last season: 8-13, 5-9
Top players: Seniors Dominique King, 6-0, G; Jason Wanamaker, 6-1, G; Sean McGovern, 5-9, G; Dillon Kline, 6-6, C; Sam Kamer, 6-4, F; Zack Cliff, 6-5, F; Jamiri Bennett, 5-11, G.
Outlook: Sheridan will look for King to have another outstanding season after the guard earned All-NLL second team honors. King poured in 13.8 points per game, pulled down 4.3 rebounds per contest and dished out 2.9 assists. Wanamaker also contributed with 7.0 points and 3.0 rebounds per game. McGovern and Kline also chipped in offensively, while Cliff and Bennett also saw varsity time.
Sheridan said his top prospects include junior guard Chris Harding, sophomore guard Jason Matcham, sophomore guard Brendan Callahan, sophomore point guard Louie Mauro, and sophomore Brian Utter.
Coach: Terry Shadle, fourth season
Last season: 8-14, 4-10
Top players: Seniors Conner Hartnett 6-0, G; Jeff Czerniakowski, 6-0, G; Chris Nowicki, 6-1, F; Brandon Villolovos, 6-1, F; Deon Valentine, 6-0, G. Juniors Adam Downing 5-11, G; John Wendt, 6-2 F.
Outlook: Four of five starters and seven letter winners are back for Shadle. Hartnett is the top returning scorer (17.0 ppg.) and rebounder (5.0 per game). Czerniakowski averaged 8.0 points and 5.0 assists per game, while Nowicki chipped in with 5.0 points per game. Villolovos and Valentine also saw significant playing time.
“We have seven seniors so we will have experience,” Shadle said.
“Our guard play will be strong. We will be a good perimeter team, and we will be difficult to be pressed. We are going to be very aggressive defensively. Having so many seniors, we will have depth.” But lack of size is going to be a big factor. But he said his team's depth will allow him to wear foes down.
Contact Mark Monroe at: email@example.com, 419-724-6354 or on Twitter @MonroeBlade