Toledo Christian is favored to win the TAAC with, from left, Carson Oostra, Kyle Whitlow, Joe Claytor and Ethan Michael.
Have you ever heard of a team that lost four starters from the previous year being named the preseason favorite to win its conference?
Well, you have now.
Toledo Christian lost four starters from a team that won the Toledo Area Athletic Conference boys basketball crown with a 12-0 mark. The Eagles also advanced to the district final and were ranked among the top Division IV teams in the state.
And yet, despite those losses, TC is the favorite to win the league again.
"Obviously, we lost a great senior class," Eagles coach Dave McWhinnie said. "But we are excited about the talent we have back. We have worked hard to develop a program."
Toledo Christian was picked to win the league in large part thanks to the return of junior Ethan Michael, who last season was named TAAC player of the year, as well as four other lettermen and a strong group of underclassmen who excelled at the junior varsity level.
Ottawa Hills is expected to challenge Toledo Christian for the league title thanks to the return of three starters and six letterwinners from a squad that went to the district semifinals a year ago.
"Without question, if you look at the players who are back you have to give TC the nod [as preseason favorite]," Green Bears coach John Lindsay said. "Having said that, I've been extremely pleased with the work ethic of our players this offseason."
Here's a look at the teams in predicted order of finish.
Coach: Dave McWhinnie, 7th season
Last season: 22-1, 12-0 TAAC
Top players: Seniors Joe Claytor, 6-2, F; Carson Oostra, 6-1, F; Kyle Whitlow, 6-1, F. Juniors Ethan Michael, 6-6, C; Grant Sims, 6-1, G.
Outlook: The Eagles lost three all-league players to graduation in Tyler Boris, Blake Powell, and Jacob Weemes, as well as starting point guard Jack Sims.
But TC brings back quite a foundation upon which to build in Michael, the league's player of the year last season after averaging 12.6 points and 6.3 rebounds per contest.
"We expect big things from Ethan, but we expect good things from this year's senior class too," McWhinnie said. "These guys were our sixth, seventh, and eighth players last season, so they have a lot of experience. And they're very good players."
That may be true, but they also don't have much experience as starters. If they can replace the scoring, rebounding, and defense of the departed seniors, Toledo Christian again will be tough to handle."
Coach: John Lindsay, 12th season
Last season: 17-5, 8-4
Top players: Senior Brent Abendroth, 6-3, W. Junior Phillip Beans, 6-7, P. Eliot Browarsky, 5-11, G.
Outlook: While the loss of first-team all-league pick Andrew Wolff and his 13.9 points per game will hurt, the Green Bears bring back plenty of scoring from a year ago in Abendroth (13.3 ppg) and Beans (10.2 ppg), with Beans adding 6.6 boards per contest.
The group of six returnees also includes a third starter back in Browarsky, who started at point guard as a freshman.
"Brent Abendroth and Phillip Beans have been showing great leadership," Lindsay said. "They made sure our players did all the things they need to do to be successful.
"But we don't have any depth, so that's something we'll have to deal with all season."
Coach: Jim Sheehy, sixth season
Last season: 15-6, 10-2
Top players: Seniors Eric Rutkowski, 6-1, W; Kevin Sheehy, 6-4, C; Brenton Webb, 5-11, G. Juniors Patrick Hohenberger, 6-1, G; Will Kamelesky, 6-5, F-C; Josh Palmer, 6-0, G.
Outlook: The Cardinals took a severe hit in graduation, losing all-league performers Michael Ameling, Eric McCloskey and Nate Cassidy - not to mention roughly 75 percent of the team's points, rebounds, and assists.
While five lettermen do return, Jim Sheehy admits that playing important minutes at the varsity level will be a first for many of his players.
"How well we gel as a team will be important," Sheehy said. "I believe our kids will be up to the challenge."
Sheehy thinks the points lost to graduation will be replaced with a balanced offense. The team's bigger concerns will be with defense and rebounding.
Coach: Joe Miller, sixth season
Last season: 9-12, 6-6
Top players: Seniors Derek Oglesbee, 5-11, G; Brian Pruitt, 6-2, P; Travis Waggoner, 5-9, G; Collin Westine, 6-3, P; Nick Wiedenhoft, 6-1, G. Juniors Jake Burns, 6-2, P; Michael Hamann, 6-3, G.
Outlook: The Lakers lost Ben Cantu, who averaged a double-double in points and rebounds last season, but do return Wiedenhoft, an All-TAAC first team pick who averaged 14.3 points and 5.9 rebounds per game a year ago.
Wiedenhoft will team with Hamann to give Danbury one of the better backcourts in the league, while Pruitt, Westine, and Burns will look to replace Cantu as a low-post option.
"Wiedenhoft and Hamann are two great guards who have been leaders of this year's team," Miller said. "Both have been starters the previous two seasons. We have five or six more players who are very solid behind them, but we're not really deep beyond that."
Coach: Dave Regnier, 17th season
Last season: 11-12, 3-9
Top players: Seniors Marc Asher, 6-1, F; Josh Buck, 5-10, G; Peter Jung, 6-5, F; Paul Lanson, 6-1, F; Mike Noss, 6-0, G. Junior Stephen Behan, 5-10, G.
Outlook: The team lost all-league performer Walker Behan, who averaged 12.6 points per game, but returns three starters and five lettermen. Among the returnees is Walker's younger brother, Stephen, who averaged 8.0 ppg, as well as fellow guard Mike Noss, who scored 6.0 ppg.
"We do have some veterans with good game experience," Regnier said. "Plus, the guys are a close-knit, hard-working group, and we have decent size."
But depth will be a question that must be answered by some players with little varsity experience.
Coach: Jim Besgrove, ninth season
Last season: 5-16, 2-10
Top players: Seniors Dan Koch, 6-0, F; Erick Scharer, 6-3, G-F. Juniors Charles Artino, 6-5, C; Chris Keith, 6-0, G. Sophomores Ryan Canaday, 6-2, G; Ron Koch, 5-10, G.
Outlook: The Rangers lost their leading scorer from last season, Michael Waddell, but three starters and five lettermen are back. Among the top returnees are Scharer, who averaged 6.6 points per game; Artino, who had 6.4 points and 6.7 rebounds per contest, and Ron Koch, who started at point guard as a freshman.
There isn't much experienced depth behind the five returnees, though. And that may prove to be a problem early as Northwood plays half of its schedule before Christmas.
"Getting off to a good start is imperative," Besgrove said. "But I've got guys who can score some points, and our guys are buying into the defensive system we're using."
Coach: Dean Thompson, sixth season
Last season: 5-14, 1-11
Top players: Seniors Mike Beck, 6-1, F; Shawn Hassen, 6-2, G. Junior Omar Nazzal, 6-2, G-F. Sophomores Carter Bayer, 5-11, G; Jangus Whitner, 6-4, F.
Outlook: The Hawks struggled during the year last season, then lost all-league performer Shomari Hall - and his 17.0 points and 9.9 rebounds per game - to graduation.
But Thompson does have three starters back: Beck, who averaged 9.0 points and 5.7 rebounds per game; Hassen, who added 7.0 ppg and 5.7 rpg, and Bayer, who started at point guard as a freshman. Thompson also was pleased with the work his squad did in the offseason.
"Our team really picked up on strength and conditioning [in the summer]," Thompson said. "I believe we have one of the most physical teams in the league. And this is an extremely coachable group."