Posted On: 11/7/18 5:00 AM
photo: WCPO in Cincinnati
Even in a system where players come and go every four years, sometimes all we need to do is look at last year’s results to predict what will happen next. This season’s Division III postseason race is a clear example as we expect three of four 2017-18 Final Four participants will return to Columbus. Along with that top three of Deer Park, Lutheran East, and Harvest Prep, we also think Cardinal Stritch, Purcell Marian, and Warrensville Heights belong in the discussion.
#1 Lutheran East
Last season’s result: Regional Champions, eliminated by Deer Park in the State Semifinal
Key departures: Jordan Burge, David Gulley, Dominic Braswell
Key players: Nehemiah Benson, EJ Farmer, Dayvon Adams, TJ Blevins, Samuel Johnson, Sirr Hughes (transfer from Beachwood), Colin Albert (transfer from Beachwood), Jalin Billingsley (transfer from Western Reserve)
Lutheran East has a construction of talent that could compete at any division in Ohio. The issue, however, is chemistry and the scarcity of opportunity to develop it. We named them a favorite last preseason and while they made it to the Final Four, it wasn’t pretty and was facilitated by a relatively watered down region. They were 9-13 entering the postseason, albeit against a very challenging schedule. But they lost to less-talented teams because they were working in their transfers after the half-way point. This season, the word is that Billingsley will sit a significant amount of games, which could take away their advantage in the post.
Regardless, there’s a reason we have them at no. 1. Benson, Farmer, Adams, and Blevins give them a stable of talent that has enough familiarity. By next year, the new additions should make them dominant. But, even with the question marks, they still come in as the favorite to win it all.
#2 Deer Park
Last season’s result: Division III State Champions with an undefeated record.
Key departures: Damani Mcentire, Jalen Rose, Dayshawn Blair
Key players: Mark Wise, Steven Gentry Jr., Ibrahima Athie, Joseph Hocker, Deshaun Mcentire, Will Burns, Julian Anderson
Deer Park shouldn’t be quite as dominate as last year. Let’s look at what they lost in the 2018 class:
- Mcentire led the team in points (19.5), steals (5.6), and field goal percentage (52.9 percent). He was also second in rebounds (6.4) and assists (4.3). In other words, he was their best player. Mcentire’s defensive ability keyed their State Tournament weekend, even recording six steals, two blocks, and eight rebounds in their championship game victory over Africentric.
- Rose was a 6’4″-6’5″ wing/forward who could shoot, pass, drive, and make plays. His willingness to take and make shots gave them lineups where they had five scorers and enough athleticism to switch everything on defense.
To summarize, their losses should make their defense a step slower and their offensive slightly less skilled.
However, Wise and Gentry were just sophomores last year. Those two are both impact defenders and playmakers. Athie and Hocker are both a year stronger, giving them the most physically imposing frontcourt in Division III. Just because we don’t anticipate an undefeated State Championship run doesn’t mean we’d be surprised if they took down Lutheran East and company again.
#3 Harvest Prep
Last season’s result: Regional Champions, eliminated by Africentric in the State Semifinal
Key departures: CJ Penha, Isaiah Cumberland, Sean Peterson, Daniel Nyarko
Key players: CJ Anthony, Soul Hines, Brandon Beavers, Elijah Glenn, Avonti Duncan, Bryce Beavers
In high school basketball, guard-play remains the most important thing year after year. Harvest Prep has a trio of experienced upperclassmen in their backcourt — Anthony, Hines, and Brandon Beavers — who should direct this team back to the State Tournament. At the point guard spot, Beavers had a ridiculous 135-31 assist-turnover ratio as a junior. His command of the ball allows Anthony and Hines to focus on scoring. Meanwhile, Glenn will need to at least neutralize their size disadvantage on the boards, despite averaging just 4.1 last season at 6’5″.
#4 Cardinal Stritch
Last season’s result: Eliminated by Archbold in the District Finals
Key departures: Terrance Taylor, Alex Adams, Collin Yost
Key players: Joey Holifield, Jordan Burton, Little Anderson, Ashton Caryer, Nolan Finch, Jhaiden Wilson
Unless Harvest Prep is placed into the mix, we’re picking Cardinal Stritch as the Final Four representative out of an always-tough Bowling Green/Toledo Region. Since junior Joey Holifield has entered the program, Stritch has really taken off but back-to-back eliminations by Archbold has to sting. Archbold, though, is a long-shot to rebound after graduating their 2018 class and Stritch should be better than ever. Burton and Anderson have both grown as scorers since last year. They also have the option of going 6’6” and 6’6” in the post with Caryer and Finch, a tandem that will protect the rim and rebound like crazy.
#5 Purcell Marian
Last season’s result: District Champions, eliminated by Deer Park in the Regional Semifinals
Key departures: Ace Taylor, Bryan Williams
Key players: Alex Dotson, Javonta Lyons, AJ Garrett, Bryan Warah, Jared Baldock
A year after being eliminated by eventual-State Champion Deer Park in an overtime Regional Semifinal thriller, we’re sure Purcell has revenge on their mind. And, fortunately for them, they’ve lost far less than Deer Park since. Five of their six top scorers return. Their collective athleticism and size should be their strength on both ends. Dotson is a 6’4” primary ball-handler with poise, quickness, and slashing ability. Lyons, their top scorer from a year ago, uses power to get to his spots offensively. Finally, there isn’t a combination of rebounders in Division III better than Garrett and Warah. We may have Purcell fifth, but the margin between them and Lutheran East isn’t significant.
#6 Warrensville Heights
Last season’s result: Eliminated by Revere in the Division II District Finals
Key departures: Shawn Dunnings, Javon Johnson
Key players: Brandon Rush, Ramelle Arnold, Aundray Farmer, Jamal Brown, Deytin Giddens
We’re actually pretty surprised Warrensville Heights was moved back down to Division III this season. That change is bad news for Lutheran East and great news for Brandon Rush, a senior and our preseason pick for Ohio’s Division III Player of the Year. While they will lack height in the frontcourt, Rush and Arnold are both individually unguardable on most nights. If those two dynamic ball-handlers can maximize their scoring ability, Warrensville Heights could surprise some people and take the LUE’s spot in Columbus.