Division I Sleepers, Ranked

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Posted On: 11/5/18 5:00 AM

In last season’s rendition of the Division I preseason Sleepers article, four of the seven teams made it to the Regional Tournament. So even though Upper Arlington, Whitmer, Toledo St. Francis, Olentangy Liberty, Solon, Brush, Winton Woods, and Lakewood may not have been mentioned in our top eight earlier, the expectations are still very high for this second tier of State Champion contenders.

 

#9 Upper Arlington

Last season’s result: Eliminated in the District Championship by Dublin Coffman

Key departures: Dane Goodwin, Casey Jones, Will Grabovac

Key players: Max Martz, CJ Karsatos, Sammy Sass, Max Mollman, Jake Warriner (transfer from New Albany), Fred Wilkes II (transfer from Eastmoor), Kobe Buford, Josh Russell

Strangely not overly worried about the loss of the most accomplished high school basketball player in the 2018 class, Dane Goodwin. Obviously, they would’ve been way higher in our preseason list if we lived in alternative universe where he was a 2019 prospect. But, still, with Martz surrounded by a ton (and I mean a ton) of complimentary pieces, UA should at least win a District Championship this season. Getting more than expected from Karsatos, Warriner, Buford, or anyone else would push them to another level. Regardless, their collective size makes them an upset waiting to happen against smaller, “more talented” opponents.

 

#10 Lakewood

Last season’s result: Eliminated in District Semifinal by St. Edward

Key departures: Jacob Sala, Liam Doup, Jybrell Boyd

Key players: Tommy Sala, Zion Kolodynski-Darby, Tim Smith

Take away their two losses to St. Edward that bookended their season and the 21-3 Rangers were nearly perfect last year. However, St. Edward isn’t going anywhere any time soon and they even open with the neighborhood rival again this season.

However, part of the reason Lakewood is a good sleeper is because their road will travel through Ed’s again. As we outlined in the favorites article, their rival’s disadvantage is size. Meanwhile, Lakewood has the most talented frontcourt in Ohio with Sala (6’8”), Kolodynski-Darby (6’4”), and Smith (6’7”) — a trio of skilled D-II commits. If they can maximize their senior-laden front-line, Lakewood is going to be a handful for Ed’s and everyone else on the schedule.

 

#11 Winton Woods

Last season’s result: Eliminated in District Semifinals by Elder

Key departures: Jaylen Mason, Garrison Bailey

Key players: Greg Tribble Jr., Demari Martin, Aaron Ward (transfer from Princeton), Leroy Walker, Cleevas Craig (transfer from Fort Wayne Concordia IN), Rae’quan Prince, Rashaun Brown

Princeton will also be good this season; but, in our opinion, Winton Woods is the only Southwest Ohio program who has a chance to sneak up on Moeller in the Regional Tournament. Some people are batting their eyes at that last sentence since Moe beat them 69-37 last year, and that’s exactly why they’re a sleeper.

We’d argue that Moeller is a hair worse this season while Winton Woods should be much improved. Tribble is the headliner, and possibly Cincy’s best shot at Mr. Basketball given his potential numbers. Meanwhile, raw athleticism out of Martin, Walker, and Ward give them a chance to be good on the perimeter. Those long and quick wings should be inclined to pressure the ball because of their newcomer on the back-end, Craig, a 6’7” center prospect who was ranked no. 75 in Indiana’s 2020 class before transferring. Craig played on the UAA with UA Grind last summer and drew plenty of praise for his length and raw ability as a shot-blocker.

Bottom-line, their athleticism is going to frustrate teams and they should run a couple teams out of the building this season. If Tribble can be exceptional on the right nights, they could go places.

 

#12 Solon

Last season’s result: Regional Champions, eliminated by Moeller in the State Championship

Key departures: Sincere Carry, Ryan Bergen

Key players: Mike Bekelja, Trent Williams, David Marbury, Nick Close, Marcus Steele, Brandon Brown

The player who would’ve been our choice for Mr. Basketball last season, Carry, is off to Duquesne. He dominated games last season and was so crucial to their fast-pace style of play with his dynamic ability in the open floor.

It’s hard to say if they can replicate their style from last year without him, but I’ll bet they do a pretty good impression! Carry was the focal point, but the other four starters are all back and they played important roles also. The team shooting should rank among the best in Ohio once again. Bekelja has the makings of a big-time playmaker. Then, the senior frontcourt is a versatile and powerful collective. The cherry on top should be their hunger after almost reaching the mountain top as juniors.

 

#13 Brush

Last season’s result: Eliminated by Mentor in the District Semifinals

Key departures: Tyler Williams, Tahj Benton, Deion Burton, Dorien Grayer

Key players: John Hugley, DJ Dial, Andre Harris, Elmore James, Andre Franks, Corey Floyd, Jalen Dial, Antwan Woolfork

As Brush head coach Chet Mason will tell you, his program’s goal is to get kids into college, not necessarily win championships. But, they have at least four scholarship level players leading this roster, two of which are in their last HS season. So, the time is now for Brush to make a postseason run if it’s going to happen. Dial is a prototypical high school point guard with his four-year-starter experience and handle of the game. He’s flanked by a pair of defensively imposing wings. Finally, their biggest advantage is in the paint with 6’9” John Hugley, a giant low-post force who was recently offered by Nebraska.

 

#14 Whitmer

Last season’s result: District Champions, eliminated by Toledo St. John’s in the Regional Semifinals

Key departures: nobody!

Key players: Trey Syroka, Eddie Colbert, Leon Hughes, Areon Evans, Riley Keller, Cavon Butler

By the eye test and the actual results, Whitmer was the second best Division I team in Northwest Ohio last year. Everyone’s back. This should be their year. Chemistry should remain high, as nobody plays with an ego. They’re tough at each position.  Syroka and Colbert are two of the three most talented seniors in the conference. For all of these reasons, they’re our pick to represent Toledo in a Regional Final against an NEO foe. 

In order to advance past that round, they need to make Syroka’s life a little easier — too often he has to work really hard to create a shot or assist in an iso situation. He’s capable for sure, but a more efficient attack wouldn’t hurt, especially considering the shot-creation ability of Colbert and Hughes.

 

#15 Olentangy Liberty

Last season’s result: Eliminated in the second round by Northland

Key departures: Dan McFarland

Key players: Ben Roderick, Nick Nakasian, Mitchell Kershner, Mitchell Okuley, Llwaytt Hofer, Kal Jayaraman, Henry Hinkle

Their season was derailed rather quickly when Roderick, a 24.4 PPG scorer who was being recruited by Big Ten schools at the time, tore his ACL. They immediately dropped five in a row and six of seven, culminating in the Northland loss that sent them into the offseason. On the contrary, they were 10-7 with Roderick, including wins over Coffman, Lexington, Westerville North, and Westerville South. Roderick’s returned presence should allow everyone else to play to their strengths this season, giving them a lot of potential as a senior-laden crew.

 

#16 Toledo St. Francis

Last season’s result: Eliminated by Whitmer in the District Semifinal

Key departures: Tayler McNeal, Drew Swerlein

Key players: Jackie Harris, Jakiel Wells, Jamiya Neal, Grant Sonnenberg, Zion Justice

Our final Sleeper has a real chance to make postseason noise, especially considering the level of opportunity in the Toledo districts. Their our second-highest ranked team in that side of the region.

They will be led by a pair of seniors who have a high level of comfort playing with each other. Harris has especially taken a leap this summer, becoming arguably the most talented back-to-the-basket scorer in the 2019 class. He can also facilitate offense with outlet passes and his halfcourt vision. If Neal, a top 20 sophomore, can become more productive quickly, SFS could avenge their postseason loss to Whitmer this year.