Ottawa Hills is the pick to win the TAAC with, from left, Kevin Nugent, Phillip Beans and Eliot Browarsky.
Last season there was little difference between Ottawa Hills and Toledo Christian.
The teams shared the Toledo Area Athletic Conference title, with each winning on its home floor and completing the rest of the league schedule unbeaten.
This year it remains hard to differentiate between the two. Both return an all-league post player who has signed to play college ball at the Division I level. Both bring back a second-team All-TAAC player as well.
That's why everyone expects a similar result this season, with the Green Bears holding a slim edge in a preseason ballot of the league's coaches.
"It's quite an honor to be recognized by the coaches around the league," Ottawa Hills coach John Lindsay said. "We're excited to accept this challenge.
"We had two very competitive games [against Toledo Christian] last year, and I expect that this year will be no different. We have great kids on both teams, and the kids on both sides love to compete."
The Green Bears welcome back 6-8 post player Phillip Beans, who has signed with Holy Cross, as well as point guard Eliot Browarsky and three other lettermen.
The Eagles counter with 6-7 post Ethan Michael, who has signed with the Air Force Academy, and point guard Grant Sims along with four other lettermen.
"Ottawa Hills has great players and a great coach, so we expect nothing less than a great game when we match up," McWhinnie said. "It's neat to see two Division I-caliber players match up, and both teams have great point guards and a lot of great depth and role players."
Challengers for the title should also include Cardinal Stritch and Danbury.
Here is a look at the teams in predicted order of finish:
Coach: John Lindsay, 14th season
Last season: 19-4, 11-1 TAAC
Top players: Seniors Phillip Beans, 6-8, P; Kevin Nugent, 5-9, G. Junior Eliot Browarsky, 6-0, G.
Outlook: The Green Bears welcome back Beans, a first-team All-TAAC player who led the league in both points (18.8) and rebounds (11.3) per game, as well as two other starters in Browarsky, a second-team all-league selection (12.3 points, 7.0 assists) and Nugent.
But the losses will be a challenge to overcome, especially that of first-team all-conference choice Brent Abendroth, who averaged 18.4.
While the five returning lettermen provide leadership, the biggest question facing Ottawa Hills is how quickly its younger players can adapt to the varsity game.
"We'll have three sophomores getting significant playing time, so our youth and varsity inexperience will be concerns," Lindsay said. "But if we can stay healthy, I believe we will be very competitive throughout the season."
Coach: Dave McWhinnie, eighth season
Last season: 21-2, 11-1
Top players: Seniors Cory Brittenham, 6-2, G/F; Levi Hutmacher, 6-1, F; Ethan Michael, 6-7, P; Jake Rightnowar, 5-11, G; Grant Sims, 6-1, G.
Outlook: The Eagles return six lettermen, a group led by two-time TAAC player of the year Michael, who last season averaged 15.3 points and 10.1 rebounds per game, and Sims, a second-team all-league pick who added 12 points and four assists per contest.
Toledo Christian is one of the few squads that will start five seniors, but Michael and Sims are the only starters back. The depth of the Eagles beyond that five also is a question entering the season.
"I expect that rebounding and taking care of the basketball will be this team's strengths," McWhinnie said. "We will pressure the ball on defense and hope to wear teams down."
Coach: Jim Sheehy, seventh season
Last season: 16-6, 8-4
Top players: Seniors Patrick Honenberger, 6-1, W; Will Kamelesky, 6-5, P. Junior Johnny Newis, 5-9, G.
Outlook: The Cardinals return just two lettermen from last season, and the losses include first-team all-league pick Kevin Sheehy and his team-best 10.4 points and 7.8 rebounds per game.
But Stritch does have two starters back. One is Kamelesky, a second-team All-TAAC pick who averaged 10.2 points and 5.6 rebounds, and the other is Honenberger, another senior who added 8 points and 3.5 rebounds.
There isn't much experience on the roster, and there also isn't much size. As a result, the Cardinals must rely on solid outside shooting and defense.
"In order for us to be where we want to be, we will have to play very good defense and rebound," coach Sheehy said. "And with our inexperience at the varsity level, we have to gel as a team quickly."
Coach: Joe Miller, sixth season
Last season: 10-12, 6-6
Top players: Seniors Michael Hamann, 6-3, G; Troy Hammersmith, 5-10, G; Jacob Krynock, 6-1, P. Junior Vincent Manuella, 5-10, G. Sophomore Hunter Stephens, 6-4, P.
Outlook: The Lakers return just one starter from last season, and the six seniors lost include all-league guard Nick Wiedenhoft, who averaged 16.6 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.
But that lone returnee is a good one. Hamann led the team in assists with 5.7 per contest and added 14.5 points and 4.2 rebounds per game.
So Hamann will have a lot of weight on his shoulders as he helps blend a number of new starters, as well as a number of players getting their first varsity minutes, into a cohesive unit.
"Our hope is that the leaders and experience of Michael will help us," Miller said. "From there we hope to bring our younger kids along and be competitive."
Coach: Jim Besgrove, 11th season
Last season: 5-16, 1-11
Top players: Seniors Charles Artino, 6-5, P; Spencer Guerrero, 5-7, G; Chris Keith, 6-0, W. Juniors Ryan Canaday, 6-2, W; Ronnie Koch, 5-9, G; Andrew Pietras, 6-3, P. Sophomore Jake Pressley, 6-3, W/P.
Outlook: The Rangers return four starters from last season as well as top reserve Keith, who averaged 11.0 points and 3.0 rebounds off the bench. The team's top four scorers - Keith, Canaday (10.9), Artino (8.8) and Koch (8.8) - are back, as well as top rebounders Artino (7.1) and Koch (4.7).
The concern is with depth, especially beyond the four seniors and six lettermen returning.
"We have some young kids we are excited about, kids with good size," Besgrove said. "But our young players will need to step up and give us some quality minutes, and our seniors need to lead by example to help with this."
Coach: Jim Robinson, first season
Last season: 6-15, 2-10
Top players: Senior Omar Zazzal, 6-2, F. Junior Carter Bayer, 5-10, G.
Outlook: The Hawks welcome back five lettermen and a pair of starters, a group led by Bayer, who averaged 13.3 points per game a year ago in earning second-team all-league honors.
But Maumee Valley also may have a secret weapon in Robinson, who has won 475 games at several local schools, most notably Maumee.
Robinson said he expects his team's guard play and defense to be strengths, with his biggest concerns focused on his team's experience - or, more accurately, lack of experience.
"We know we're building a new program," Robinson said. "Right now our goal is that we want to be competitive."
Coach: Dave Regnier, 18th season
Last season: 11-13, 4-8
Top players: Seniors Stephen Behan, 5-10, G; Josh Miller, 5-8, G; Josh Steele, 5-10, G. Sophomores Tony Behan, 5-10, G; Caleb Smith, 6-2, F.
Outlook: The Warriors welcome back just one player from last season, but that one is a good one in Stephen Behan, who was voted second team all-league after averaging 17.5 points and 5.2 assists per game.
Making things trickier for Emmanuel Christian is a lack of upperclassmen - there are just four seniors and no juniors on the roster - and a lack of height, as the roster lists just one player taller than 6-0.
"We know we're throwing some untested sophomores into the fire, so we are looking simply to improve daily," Regnier said. "I like these guys; they work extremely hard and are very intelligent."
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