Posted On: 11/5/18 5:01 AM
It’s time for our high school preseason coverage to really take off. We will predict all four First Team All-States, Mr. Basketball candidates, and, for now, the best teams in each division.
Buckle up, this one could drag on for a while, as we tell you why Moeller, Pickerington Central, St. Edward, Lorain, Hilliard Bradley, Dublin Coffman, Garfield Heights, and St. Vincent-St. Mary are our top eight Division I teams next season, and not in that order.
Last season’s result: Division I State Champions
Key departures: Jaxson Hayes, Jeremiah Davenport, Isaiah Payton, Carlos Garcia, Jack McCracken, Jackson O’Bryan, Dene White
Key players: Miles “Deuce” McBride, Alec Pfriem, Michael Shipp, Logan Duncomb, Jake Younkin, Max Land, William McCracken
This clearly isn’t about making bold predictions — Moeller is the safest bet to win the D-I State Championship this season, which would make them back-to-back champs.
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of having a healthy McBride, their West Virginia commit who can control an offense, get a good shot in crunch time, has experience, and will lock-down the other team’s best perimeter player.
We trust the coaching staff to bring the rest of the roster along. Guys like Duncomb, Younkin, and Land are all top 40 in their respective classes. Their talent should create to a lock-down defense with the 6’9” sophomore big man in the middle controlling the glass and paint. It also helps that they’re the only team from the Southwest Ohio Region that we consider a preseason favorite.
#2 St. Vincent-St. Mary
Last season’s result: Division II State Champions
Key departures: Scotty Walter, Jalen Ross (transfer to Canton McKinley), VannAubrey Thomas (transfer to Copley)
Key players: Lunden McDay, Seth Wilson, Chris Painter, Darius Cone, Keyshawn Jones, Malaki Branham, Marcus Johnson, Isaiah Ingol, Jordan Addison
From February 9 on, STVM rattled off 12-straight victories to win last year’s Division II State Championship, including a decisive 60-51 victory over Trotwood (it didn’t feel that close, either). Before that date, STVM was just 9-8, with losses against eight Division I powers from around the state. Thanks to Competitive Balance, those are the types of teams they’ll need to play in the postseason this year. However, we actually think it won’t phase them much. STVM should be significantly better this season, considering the loss of just one starter and the individual development of McDay, Wilson, Painter, and Branham. Wilson, the no. 2 sophomore in Ohio, has transitioned from a spot-up shooter to a dynamic playmaker, and STVM now has one of the state’s best floor generals.
It will be interesting to see which region they will be placed. Presumably, they’ll be in the one that mixes Toledo-area teams with NE Ohio participants. Typically, Lorain and St. Edward are also in that region. Even I f that’s the case, we’re still picking the Irish to get back to Columbus.
#3 Pickerington Central
Last season’s result: Regional Champions, eliminated by Solon in the Final Four
Key departures: Adrian Nelson, Josiah Fulcher (transfer to Lima Senior) Juan Elmore, Juan Woods, Jamir Simpson (transfer to Lima Senior)
Key players: Javohn Garcia, Coleton Landis, Tahleik Walker, Garner Wallace, Sam Towns (transfer from Springfield), Jaidon Lipscomb, JaJuan “Jay” Rodgers (transfer from Springfield), Jalen Crowell, Conner Maciag, Elhadji Thiam
By a thin margin, we decided to choose Pickerington Central as our preseason pick to represent Central Ohio in the Final Four for the third-straight year. First of all, they made it last year and lost just two starters. The loss of two of their top three scorers, however, will definitely be felt. But, they still have a ton of underclassmen ready to take on a role — a guy like Wallace will improve their defense and give them lineup flexibility. Also, their returners should excel with an expanded role, including a sneaky Mr. Basketball candidate in Garcia.
#4 Hilliard Bradley
Last season’s result: District Champions, eliminated by Pickerington Central in the Regional Final
Key departures: Braden Norris, Isaiah Speelman, Jack Rondy, Kory Taylor
Key players: Matt Allocco, Chris Mayfield, Jack Pugh, Zach Hummel, AJ Mirgon, Winston Stone, Colin Forman, Luke Erwin, Keaton Norris
Bradley loses two scholarship-level prospects who have been the faces of this program for three years, and somehow they might be better this season.
The new-look backcourt of Allocco and Mirgon is a tandem of truly savvy passers who take care of the ball and have leadership traits. Together, they should account for an excellent assist-turnover ratio.
Allocco and Mirgon’s ball-security will give them time to run their halfcourt sets, often drawn up to create mismatches on the blocks for their physical frontcourt players. It also helps when Pugh and Mayfield are walking mismatches as is — two guys who should dominate on those sneaky baseline cuts to the block. Sticking with the frontcourt, they’re replacing a 6’6” Rondy with less height but more power (Pugh, Mayfield, and Hummel).
#5 St. Edward
Last season’s result: District Champions, eliminated by Lorain in the Regional Semifinal
Key departures: Emmett Chambers, PJ Flannery, Patrick Daughtery, Elliott Tribaso, William Henry, Devin Hightower (transfer to Hoban)
Key players: Grant Huffman, Devontae Blanton, Montorie Foster, Demetrius Terry, Bryan Flannery, Lawson Nash, Spencer Crane
After a year break, we believe St. Edward has a very realistic chance to return to the Final Four, especially if the Regional placement is kind to them. In order to make that happen, this undersized group will need to team rebound to compensate for their lack of size. Their biggest projected starter is a 6’6” Blanton who has steadily worked on his perimeter game over the last year. If they can neutralize their size disadvantage on defense, though, St. Edward’s highly skilled offensive lineups should get them 20-plus wins.
Last season’s result: Regional Champions, eliminated by Moeller in the State Semifinals
Key departures: David Weatherington, Jaiden Sledge
Key players: Devon Grant, Taevon Pierre-Louis, Jordan Jackson, Kameron Davis
One thing we learned about high school basketball last season: you don’t need to be deep if you have a couple clear leaders and the others guys accept their roles, especially when one of those leaders is a D-I lead guard. Pierre-Louis and, especially, Grant powered Lorain past St. Edward and Toledo St. John’s on their way to the Final Four. With those two back, all they’ll need is a little more consistency from Jackson and to find complimentary shooters to make it back again.
#7 Garfield Heights
Last season’s result: Eliminated in District Championship by Shaker Heights
Key departures: Alonzo Gaffney (transfer to Brewster Academy), Alex Heath, Donovan Forte, Taj’Mal Toney, Keandre Graves, Julian Whiteside
Key players: Brison Waller, Meechie Johnson, Sonny Johnson Jr., Brent Darby Jr., Jesse Laster, Gilbert Davis
Nobody on this list is replacing more talent from last year’s lineup and Garfield Heights was also the least successful team of the favorites. But, how could you leave off a team with a mid-major/high-major inside-outside combo in Waller and Meechie Johnson? They should be able to win most games on pure athleticism and talent once again, similar to last season’s 18-5 group. But in order to truly do something special in the postseason, they need to find ways to make Johnson and Waller’s jobs easier by creating more efficient scoring opportunities.
Fortunately for the Bulldogs, we believe the other three NEO teams in this article will play in the Akron/Toledo Region. Therefore, we have the Bulldogs as favorites to reach the Final Four if it shakes out that way.
#8 Dublin Coffman
Last season’s result: District Champions, eliminated by Pickerington Central in Regional Semifinal
Key departures: Nicholas Carlson, Trevor Grady, Trip Zinni
Key players: Dominiq Penn, Derek Van Vlerah, Will Hunter, Luke Bartemes, Keaton Turner
Coffman has a D-I recruit as their lead guard in Dom Penn. He averaged 16.6 points last season and showed improvements in leadership and playmaking as a sophomore. This year, we expect him to keep guys involved even more. He’s surrounded by Van Vlerah, an athletic slasher. Then Bartemes will be the pure shooter. Hunter is the defensive irritant and secondary ball-handler. And if Penn needs a break, Turner can relieve him. What their missing is size, however — we’re worried about that.