Evergreen has two of the top returning players in the Northwest Ohio Athletic League with Brock Bates, left, and Chad Mossing. The Vikings' only NWOAL title came in 1998.
The logic Northwest Ohio Athletic League coaches used in selecting a favorite to win the boys basketball crown was simple.
In a league where only three all-conference players return, the team that has two of those three players is the favorite.
Hence Evergreen, which welcomes back All-NWOAL first-team pick Brock Bates and second-teamer Chad Mossing, is picked to claim just the second league title in school history. The Vikings' only other title was in 1998.
"Evergreen looks to be the favorite because of the players they have returning," said Doug Krauss, the coach at defending league champ Archbold. "Bryan, Patrick Henry, Wauseon and ourselves probably will be in the mix. But it would be wise not to overlook any league teams this season."
Archbold was picked second despite huge graduation losses, while Bryan stood third because of its large number of returnees. Both Patrick Henry and Wauseon also were hit by graduation, but the recent success both schools have experienced makes them candidates for a strong season as well.
The Vikings are favored not just because of Bates and Mossing, but also because of two other returning lettermen and a roster with good size.
"We have four returning lettermen this season, so I believe experience should be a major strength for us," Evergreen coach Jerry Keifer said. "We have high expectations for this season. We hope to compete for a league title, but we know it won't be easy."
Here is a look at the teams in predicted order of finish:
Coach: Jerry Keifer (15th season)
Last season: 11-11, 4-4 NWOAL
Top players: Seniors Brock Bates, 6-9, C; Zack Oswald, 6-2, F. Junior Chad Mossing, 6-2, G. Sophomore Lucas Pennington, 6-5, F.
Outlook: While the Vikings lose just one starter from last year, the graduation of three-year letterman Corey Truckor - and his 11.8 points per game - is a blow.
That blow is softened by the return of Bates, who averaged 11.3 points and 9.7 rebounds per contest, as well as Mossing, who added 11.9 points as a sophomore.
Besides the 6-9 Bates, Evergreen has three other players who are taller than 6-2, so height should be a strength. But experience beyond the four returnees is a big question.
"We have six new players who have never played in a varsity basketball game," Keifer said. "They are working hard, though, so hopefully somebody will emerge and [claim] the fifth starter and sixth-man roles."
Coach: Doug Krauss (24th season)
Last season: 20-5, 8-0
Top players: Seniors David Rupp, 6-2, F; Paxson Miller, 6-4, P; Breon Price, 5-9, G.
Outlook: The Blue Streaks lost four players who combined to average more than 45 points per game, including Gene Goering, a first team all-Ohio selection who graduated as Archbold's all-time scoring leader, and Justin Rupp, a second-team All-NWOAL choice.
David Rupp is the team's lone returning starter, and he probably will shoulder a bigger scoring and rebounding role. And depth should become a strength thanks to a large junior class that tasted success at the JV level last year.
The team's quickness should help its pressure defense and fast-break offense, both of which will be necessary to overcome a lack of size.
"Last year's team was successful because our team's members understood their roles and did them well," Krauss said. "This year we'll need to work hard to keep our defensive intensity up and give ourselves a chance to compete."
Coach: Doug Billman (third season)
Last season: 6-16, 3-5
Top players: Seniors Danny Gallagher, 6-1, G; Jacob Hollabaugh, 6-2, G; Matt Jones, 6-1, G; Andy Shaffer, 5-11, G. Junior Austen Alabata, 6-7, C.
Outlook: Few teams return as much experience as the Golden Bears, whose losses include all-league pick Andy Park.
Bryan welcomes back five seniors, including top scorer Jones (10.1 ppg), as well as three other senior lettermen who combined for more than 20 points per contest. Alabata adds height and experience after averaging 6.4 points and 7.1 boards per game as a sophomore.
But Alabata is the only player on the roster taller than 6-2, so rebounding and interior defense are concerns.
"We have a good core of returning players and a very strong senior class, so overall our experience is a strength," Billman said. "But we must become better defensively and improve our team rebounding."
Coach: Kent Seemann (third season)
Last season: 17-6, 7-1
Top players: Seniors Austin Bower, 6-3, P; Branden Kerr, 6-0, G; Brian Kline, 6-0, G; Clay Maas, 5-11, G. Juniors Aaron George, 6-0, G; Dylan Tonjes, 6-1, G/P.
Outlook: The Patriots also took a wicked graduation hit, losing three all-league players in twins Kyle and Kevin Tietje and guard Zach Botjer as well as three other lettermen.
The only two lettermen back are Bower and George, who combined to score just four points per game a year ago. To make matters more difficult, PH got a late start on practice because of the football team's deep postseason run.
"With the loss of a lot of offense and experience, we will be looking for leaders to step up this year," Seemann said. "We also will need to have some younger players step in and fill some very important roles for us."
Coach: Chad Burt (first season)
Last season: 15-6, 6-2
Top players: Seniors Mitch Baird, 5-11, P; Jordan Brock, 5-10, G/W; Josh Dominique, 5-9, G; Michael Thompson, 5-11, G/W. Junior Tyler Hinkle, 6-2, P.
Outlook: The Indians took the hardest graduation hit of all, losing 10 seniors - including all-league pick Richard Russell (16 ppg, 6 rpg) and four other regulars who combined to earn 13 varsity letters.
The only returning letterman is junior Tyler Hinkle, who averaged 4.5 points and 3.0 rebounds per game.
Burt said his new squad has good overall quickness, but the biggest questions involve sorting out roles for each player and developing depth at each position.
"With only one returning letterwinner, we have very little experience competing at the varsity level," Burt said. "But this group has been playing together for a while, so we hope to be competitive in the league each night."
Coach: Eric Prigge (first season)
Last season: 1-20, 1-7
Top players: Seniors Patrick Brown, 6-2, W; Danny Irving, 5-10, G. Junior Logan Burdue, 5-9, G.
Outlook: Prigge, a Patrick Henry graduate, moves a few miles up the road to take over the Tiger program. There's no place to go but up from last year, and there are several returnees who make forward progress possible.
One of those is Brown, who averaged 10 points and four rebounds per game, and another is Irving, who made 46 3-pointers and added nine points per contest.
The numbers are good for LC, as is the team's height. But questions remain, especially in the areas of defense and consistency.
"We will have a large group of kids competing for playing time," Prigge said. "We're excited about the opportunity we have in front of us, and we understand it all starts with our effort level and attitude."
Coach: Matt Smith (first season)
Last season: 13-9, 4-4
Top players: Seniors Ben Gustafson, 6-1, W; Chad Lewis, 6-3, W; Vince Wielenski, 5-9, G; Dylan Worley, 5-7, G.
Outlook: It wasn't bad enough that the Bulldogs suffered graduation losses that included all-league guard Brad Betz (19.4 ppg), frontliner Michael Montion (5.9 ppg, 4.8 rpg) and three other lettermen.
The toughest blow was that Chad Lewis, a second-team All-NWOAL pick last season, is out until January with a torn ACL.
To compound the problem, the 6-3 Lewis, who last season averaged 18.3 points and 11.0 rebounds per game, is the only player on the roster taller than 6-1.
"We have little experience coming back, and many of our new players will be pushed into the mix right away," Smith said. "We hope to play hard, aggressive defense and hope that is good enough."
Coach: Cory Sprow (seventh season)
Last season: 7-14, 2-6
Top players: Seniors Sammy Arredondo, 5-10, F; Austin Gunn, 5-10, G; Chaz Rash, 5-10, G. Juniors Nate Jackson, 5-11, F/G; Jordan Turner, 5-11, G.
Outlook: The Panthers lost six lettermen from last season, and that group contributed more than 35 points per game. Among the biggest losses were Eric Vaughan, who averaged 9.4 points and 8.4 rebounds per contest, and Aaron Betz, who scored 9.6 points per game.
Delta should get good guard play because of its experienced returnees and the athleticism of its newcomers. But there is little height on the roster, with no player standing taller than 6-2.
"Finding consistent scorers is a concern, as is a lack of size for rebounding and defending the post," Sprow said. "But we have very athletic kids, so we must get the most out of them every night."
Coach: Abe Wyse (first season)
Last season: 3-18, 1-7
Top players: Seniors Jake Buchanan, 5-10, G; Ryan Heller, 6-4, C; Ryan Miser, 6-2, F; Brit Moore, 5-8, G; Lane Reese, 6-3, F; Austin Weisz, 6-1, G.
Outlook: Wyse is the fourth new coach in the league, and he will welcome back six lettermen from last season.
Among the most important of those lettermen is Moore, a three-year point guard who averaged 9.6 points and 3.0 assists last year, and Reese, who earned his second letter a season ago with 6.2 points and 4.6 boards per game.
There are good numbers and good size on the roster, with three players on the varsity roster standing taller than 6-2.
"Our inexperience in varsity basketball is a concern, and our inexperience with a winning tradition also is a concern," Wyse said.