Toledo Christian is the choice, at least on paper, to claim the Toledo Area Athletic Conference boys basketball crown.
Unfortunately for the Eagles, the season won't be played on paper. Instead Toledo Christian will have to battle through more than just league opponents because a spate of injuries has left TC at less than full strength.
Guard Ryan Mathewson has missed most of the preseason because of a broken hand. Center Jacob Weemes has been slowed by an ankle injury, and Nate Ensey suffered a broken toe.
"We've been blessed with depth, but when you're missing players it becomes a challenge," coach David McWhinnie said.
"I'm concerned, because we'll have to have some first-year varsity players step up in some tough, early games."
That tough stretch includes games at Holgate, then home contests against Evergreen and Cardinal Stritch.
Stritch and Ottawa Hills are expected to challenge Toledo Christian for the title.
"Ottawa Hills has two really good kids and a bunch of solid kids around them," McWhinnie said. "Stritch has two good players in [Michael] Ameling and [Eric] McCloskey, and they're tough inside with [Garrett] Petty.
"They will be two of the better Division IV teams in the area."
Here is a look at the seven TAAC schools listed in predicted order of finish:
Coach: David McWhinnie, fifth season
Last season: 16-7, 8-4 TAAC
Top players: Seniors Kyle Bensch, 6-3 F; Ryan Mathewson, 5-9 G; Jacob Weemes, 6-2 F. Juniors Tyler Boris, 5-10 G; Blake Powell, 6-0 G.
Outlook: The Eagles have seven letter winners back, led by returning starters Bensch, who averaged 10.3 points and 4.3 rebounds per game, along with juniors Boris [7.4 points] and Powell [7.2 points].
McWhinnie said his biggest concern is to reintegrate injured players such as Mathewson when they become healthy.
If the injured players return quickly and are effective, the Eagles should be able to plug holes with players from last year's 17-3 JV squad.
Coach: Jim Sheehy, fourth season
Last season: 13-10, 7-5
Top players: Seniors Josh Gargac, 6-1 F; Garrett Petty, 6-4 C; Brad Rupp, 6-2 G. Juniors Michael Ameling, 6-3 G; Eric McCloskey, 6-0 G.
Outlook: The Cardinals have an interesting mix of talent at guard and experience on the frontline. The experience comes from Petty, who ranked among the league leaders with eight rebounds per game a year ago.
All-league performers Ameling and McCloskey provide talent in the backcourt. Ameling averaged 10 points, 5.2 assists and 5.0 rebounds per game last season, while McCloskey contributed 16.7 points and 5.8 rebounds per contest.
Sheehy said Stritch should be athletic, with the team's success depending on its ability to play defense and rebound.
Coach: John Lindsay, 11th season
Last season: 12-9, 8-4
Top players: Senior Aaron Crooks, 5-7 G. Junior Andrew Wolff, 5-11 W.
Outlook: The Green Bears got a late start to practice because of the football team's two-week run in the playoffs.
While that delay may have slowed the beginning of practice, the experience gained from playing in tournament contests can't hurt.
Lindsay expects the same athleticism that benefited the football team to buoy his squad. OH's primary concerns are a lack of height and experience.
Coach: Joe Miller, third season
Last season: 19-3, 12-0
Top players: Seniors Thomas Clifton, 6-2 G/F; Anthony Howard, 6-0 G; Kirk Lammers, 6-4 C; Kyle Mate, 6-3 F. Junior Cameron Roth, 6-5 F/C. Sophomore Nick Widenhoft, 5-11 G. Freshman Michael Hamman, 5-10 G.
Outlook: No team was hit harder by graduation than the Lakers, who lost five seniors - including league player of the year Jake Fanning and three other starters.
Clifton is the top returnee statistically; last season he averaged nine points and four rebounds per game. Mate is the top returnee in the frontcourt, providing four points and three boards per contest.
Miller said the team's chemistry has been good in the early season, which will be important as the Lakers look to gain experience.
Coach: Jim Besgrove, second season
Last season: 4-17, 2-12
Top players: Seniors Corey Canaday, 5-10 W; Shane Canaday, 6-0 P; Don Klenke, 6-1 p; Shane McGaharan, 6-2 P; Todd Reckley, 5-9 G; Scott Smith, 6-2 G; Matt Triggs, 5-8 W.
Outlook: Few teams can match the experience of the Rangers, who return seven seniors with varsity experience. Leading the way is Corey Canaday, who averaged 11.4 points per game last season.
Besgrove said he hopes to take advantage of his squad's depth by playing an up-tempo style and using 10 players on a regular basis.
Northwood's primary concerns are a lack of height and the rebounding problems that deficit may cause.
Coach: Deon Thompson, fourth season
Last season: 6-14, 1-11
Top players: Seniors Julian Banks, 5-10 G; Chris Sackman, 6-2 F; Ian Schmidt, 6-0 G. Juniors Nate Steen, 5-8 G; Stetson Lipps, 6-1 F.
Outlook: Thompson said he expects to have one of his deepest teams, with the rotation including nine or 10 players.
The problem is the Hawks only have four returning letter winners.
Banks averaged 10 points and five rebounds per game a year ago, while Lipps is a transfer from Anthony Wayne who improves the team's size.
Coach: Dave Regnier, 15th season
Last season: 11-12, 4-8
Top players: Senior Tylan Matthiesen, 6-0 G. Juniors Kris Benefiel, 6-1 F; Seth Flamm, 5-11 G. Sophomore Mike Noss, 5-11 G.
Outlook: Graduation stripped the Warriors of the league's top scorer, Scott Nietz (24.0 points per game), and top rebounder, Brian Dunnett (9.5 rebounds).
Regnier does welcome back his other three starters in Benefiel (6.5 points), Flamm and Noss.
But Emmanuel Baptist will be young, with only two seniors. Regnier expects the Warriors to be more athletic, and the team should develop depth as the season wears on.
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