Posted On: 11/6/18 5:00 AM

The move up from Division II for St. Vincent-St. Mary — a team who has won the past two Division II State Championships — opens up opportunity for a lot of teams. Heck, the Irish eliminated exactly half of the teams we consider favorites to win the title this season. A Trotwood versus STVM matchup may have felt as inevitable as Cavs-Warriors in 2017 had the Irish not moved up.

Now, though, we feel that Taft, Sheridan, Lexington, Benedictine, and Villa Angela-St. Joseph all enter the season with realistic hope of challenging the Rams.

 

#1 Trotwood

Last season’s result: Regional Champs, eliminated by St. Vincent-St. Mary in the State Championship

Key departures: Myles Belyeu, Hezekiah Shaw

Key players: Amari Davis, Carl Blanton, Justin Stephens, Sammy Anderson, Malachi Matthews, Keontae Huguely, Keshawn Huguely

The challenge of last season was replacing the scoring brilliance of Torrey Patton. This season, they need to overcome the graduation of Myles Belyeu, a player with tremendous defensive versatility who rebounded and attacked the rim like a grown man … a very athletic grown man.

To us, there’s not much of a chance that Trotwood doesn’t reload, however. At the end of the day, they lost just two starters. Anderson, a Division I football recruit, will easily step into the starting lineup as a defensive-oriented combo guard. Then, more playing time for Matthews means the Rams have a consistent shooting element. Finally, good luck stopping the slashing ability of Davis and Blanton, let alone the power of 6’6”, 235-pound center Justin Stephens.

 

#2 Benedictine

Last season’s result: Eliminated by Cleveland Heights in the second round (Division I)

Key departures: Mario Caywood, Chris Jefferson, Jerwon Thomas, Bryan Washington, Anthony Maxie (transfer to Richmond Heights)

Key players: Davin Zeigler, Andy Barba, Kevin Bishop (transfer from Shaker Heights), Jashun Cobb, Eric Buckner Jr.

Benedictine is our slight favorite to represent Northeast Ohio in the State Tournament, although there isn’t much separating them from teams like VASJ and Lake Catholic. With that being said, Zeigler and Barba’s health is imperative for this team. When healthy, we know what Zeigler, a BGSU commit, will bring in terms of playmaking. However, Barba will likely play more like a stretch four in their starting lineup, giving him a big responsibility on the boards with the undersized group.

 

#3 Taft

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

Key departures: Derrick Heard, Dashawn Lawrence, Michael Peppers, Mahamadou Samassa

Key players: Chris’seon Stringer, Demarco Bradley Jr., Nekhi Smith (transfer from Shroder), Dont’ae Mosley

When healthy, the senior duo of Stringer and Bradley is good for 35-45 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists by themselves, at least during conference play. They’re both lock-down defenders at their given positions, also, with Stringer being strong and quick enough to defend 2 through 4, maybe even smaller centers.

The really exciting thing, though, is that they just added Nekhi Smith, a Division I forward recruit and the best junior in the Cincinnati Metro Athletic Conference. The wide-frame 6’6” kid has become more physically dominate by the season. He should exploit mismatches inside with his natural, graceful scoring ability in the paint.

A Regional Tournament postseason matchup against Trotwood feels inevitable, doesn’t it?

 

#4 VASJ

Last season’s result: District Champions, eliminated by St. Vincent-St. Mary in the Regional Final

Key departures: Jerry “Gene” Higgins, Anthony Dinunzio, Delanoe Harris, Enavell Lighty (transfer to Shaker Heights)

Key players: Jaden Hameed, LaTrace Jackson, Jason Priah, Jonah Waag, Jordan Calhoun, Khalil Mitcham

Replacing the winningest player in team history, Higgins, is a huge task. Hameed, however, knows how to conduct an orchestra pretty well for a sophomore. He’s arguably the best pure floor general in Ohio’s 2021 class with his unselfishness, IQ, shooting ability, and a pretty floater. VASJ also tends to do an excellent job of utilizing all of their players, so expect steady contributions from the others. Finally, their Jackson-Mitcham front-line would give them a considerable physicality advantage against Benedictine in a hypothetical Regional Final. By the way, Waag is a super talented scorer and defender, but its’s hard to know how much he’ll play in this upperclassmen-oriented program.

Looking at their loaded schedule, VASJ could come in to the postseason with something like eight losses. Don’t be concerned about the overall record, rather how they fare against Benedictine on Jan. 11 and Feb. 15 and Gilmour Academy Jan. 18.

 

#5 Sheridan

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

Key departures: Dylan Emmert

Key players: Ethan Heller, Grant Heileman, Amere Royster, Luken Hill, Landen Russell

Sheridan will have a sour taste in their mouth this season, as the no. 7-ranked Generals were shocked by Waverly, thanks to a second half collapse in the District Semis. Instead of Final Four experience, they enter 2018-19 with a chip on their shoulder — an intangible that could prove helpful.

They also have almost all of their top contributors back, including 20-point-per-game scorer Ethan Heller. His shooting range and athleticism at the point is  key. Heileman and Royster go 6’8” and 6’6” inside. Then, Hill and Russell are a pair of underclassmen who came into their own last year. Our pick to represent Southeast Ohio this season should not be taken lightly if they make it to the Final Four.

 

#6 Lexington

Last season’s result: Regional Champions, eliminated by St. Vincent-St. Mary

Key departures: Bryant Givand, Mason Kearns

Key players: Cade Stover, Ben Vore, Josh Aiello, Kyle Johnson, Jack Dials, Nick Stehle, Jake Depperschmidt

They came out of nowhere last year, emerging as the Regional Champs in the toughest Division II bracket — one that included Wauseon, Beechcroft, Bishop Hartley, Bay Village, and Holy Name. This season, Cinderella has a bullseye on their back. But, we’re sure Stover is open to the challenge. The Ohio State linebacker commit averaged 18.5 points and 13.0 rebounds last year. When they’re efficiently running offense through him, the 6’4”, 205-pound playmaking forward will give them a chance against anyone in the postseason.