CINCINNATI -- The Ohio high school boys’ basketball season officially started Friday night.
And while the football season wrapped up in Columbus, here are nine basketball teams to watch this season.
There may not be a dominant team in the Cincinnati area this season and that could make for some interesting games in the tournament.
The state basketball finals are scheduled for March 23-25 at Ohio State.
These nine teams are from all divisions and are based on last season’s results, personnel returning and perspective from area coaches. The list is in no particular order:
Moeller (23-4 in 2015-16)
The Crusaders return plenty of talent from a team that was a Division I regional semifinalist in March.
Look for senior forward Riley Voss (Cornell signee), who averaged 6.6 points and five rebounds last season. He was first-team all-Greater Catholic League South division. Senior guard Keegan McDowell (Liberty signee) averaged 9.3 points and four rebounds. He was second-team all-GCL South. Watch for junior point guard Isaiah Payton (4.6 ppg.) and senior guard Caleb Canter (3.2 ppg., 2.7 rpg.).
Moeller opens the season Friday night against Pickerington North at Southern State Community College. Moeller coach Carl Kremer opens the season just nine wins away from 500 for his career.
La Salle (21-4)
The Lancers will have to wait a while for some of the football players to get back into basketball form.
Coach Dan Fleming likes the group he has returning led by his son, senior 5-foot-11 guard CJ Fleming (Bellarmine signee).
“He didn’t play AAU this summer but spent three to four hours every day trying to improve,” Dan Fleming said. “I have been surprised how much better he has gotten since last season.”
CJ Fleming averaged 18.3 points, 3.2 rebounds, one steal and one assist last season. The Lancers also have senior guard Tre Crigler (8.8 ppg.) and senior forward Joe Hartmann (5.0 rpg.).
“Joe and Tre are going to decide what kind of year we are going to have,” Dan Fleming said. “If they can be consistent and contribute every night we will be very good. They both have started since they were sophomores so they know what the deal is and now are very experienced.”
The Lancers are waiting on football players Da’Meak Brandon, Tyler Richardson, Josh Whyle and Sam Hildebrand. La Salle opens the season at Turpin Dec. 10.
Oak Hills (16-8)
The Highlanders are one of the most experienced teams this winter.
Senior 6-5 guard Ryan Batte (Ashland signee) averaged 16 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.5 assists and a steal last season. Watch for senior 6-4 guard Luke Rudy who shot 47 percent from the 3-point line last season. He averaged 12.5 points and 5.4 rebounds.
Junior guard Nick Deifel (8.4 ppg., 2.8 rpg.) and senior guard Cameron Naber (6.7 ppg.) are other players to watch.
Coach Mike Price likes the intensity in preseason practice and the experience on the floor. Oak Hills can be a very solid shooting team with all five guys capable of making a three. The post game will be key.
“I think our skill level is pretty good,” Price said. “Just the things our kids can do that they maybe couldn’t have done a few years ago at this point of the season. Being able to finish a reverse layup or make an off-balance shot when you get hit -- those are a lot better.”
Senior leadership will be key for the Comets. The first six players should be very solid.
Watch for senior guard/forward Matt King (Ohio Dominican signee), who averaged 8.8 points, five rebounds, two assists and 1.4 steals. He’s a versatile player that can play all five positions and is an excellent defender.
Senior guard Eddie Puisis is one of the best shooters in the city. He averaged 13.7 points, 3.8 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.5 steals last season. He has offers from Air Force and Bethel College (Mishawaka, Indiana) and is receiving interest from many other schools.
Senior guard Ben Schutte had a good offseason and will be a solid contributor on both ends of the floor, especially rebounding. Watch for senior Carlos Lewis who will be the Comets’ defensive stopper against other the opponent’s top offensive player. Junior point guard Tanner Knue is very fast off the dribble and can create opportunities.
Walnut Hills (16-7)
The Eagles have plenty of players to watch, including junior 6-3 point guard/combo guard Kameron Gibson (4.8 ppg., 2.1 rpg.), senior 6-7 forward Rob Brown and senior guard Kenny Thompson. Junior forward DiShon Daniels, one of the most athletic players in the city, and senior forward Hunter Davidson (4.1 ppg.) will be solid contributors.
Forward Omari Peek transferred to Strongsville after he was a captain as a sophomore. Senior Michael Davenport will be a solid contributor along with seniors Jordan Henderson and Malcolm Moffett.
“I am excited about our team,” Walnut Hills coach Ricardo Hill said.
Roger Bacon (21-8)
The Spartans were a Division III state semifinalist last season and return plenty of experience from that team.
Top returnees are senior guard Justin Johnson (12.1 ppg., 3.7 rpg.) and senior forward James Johnson (10.4 ppg., 5.3 rpg.). Senior guard Craig McGee (6.6 rpg., 3.3 rpg.) and senior forward Tony Luken will also contribute.
Sophomore guard Alec Pfriem is one of the most talented players in the city’s 2019 class and could have a breakout year.
The Spartans open the season Saturday night by hosting Northridge.
“I think the Division III regional championship will come down to a select handful of teams,” Roger Bacon coach Brian Neal said. “If we stay healthy, I’m confident that we can be one of them.”
The Senators were a Division II regional runner-up last season and lost just two contributors from that team.
“We have unfinished business,” Taft coach Demarco Bradley said. “This is the best team that we have had in the past few years with multiple players with Division I offers.”
Senior 6-foot-6 forward Malek Green averaged 15 points and 12 rebounds last season. Senior Justin Newman, a transfer, will also have a significant impact on the team. Other keys will be 6-foot-6 forward Virgil Lackey, senior sharpshooter Ezyontae Brazzle, senior forward Ramon Davis and senior Trammel Jones.
Junior guard Dashawn Lawrence, sophomores Demarco Bradley and Chris’Seon Stringer will have Taft’s fast-paced style on pressure take center stage.
“Our success will be contingent on how this group of young men come together and play for one another,” coach Bradley said.
The Vikings have a new coach in Leon Ellison and a new standout in junior 6-8 wing Darius Bazley, who is verbally committed to Ohio State.
Bazley, one of the top players in the 2018 class, transferred from Finneytown this summer. He averaged 15.8 points, 12.4 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 2.4 blocks and 1.5 steals last season.
The Vikings open the season against visiting Summit Country Day at 7:30 p.m. Friday. The spotlight will follow this team.
Lakota East (18-8)
The Thunderhawks were a Division I regional semifinalist last season.
Senior 6-7 forward Evan Kuhlman, an Evansville signee, has become more of a complete player in the offseason.
“His leadership, skill level and athleticism have all improved,” Lakota East coach Clint Adkins said.
Keep an eye on junior 6-3 guard Jarrett Cox, junior guard Jackson See, junior guard Jalen Peck and sophomore 6-4 forward Kyrell Metts.
“I like the way this team competes on a daily basis and I love the way that they respond to aggressive coaching,” Adkins said.