CINCINNATI -- No surprise here: 2017 state runner-up Moeller (28-1) is the Division I favorite to start the boys basketball season in Cincinnati. The roster is deep and filled with talented players.
“They’re really loaded,” Oak Hills coach Mike Price said.
But there are other contenders and top teams in other divisions.
The area also boasts the state’s No. 1-ranked player in Princeton senior wing Darius Bazley (Syracuse signee).
Let’s take a look at nine area Ohio boys’ basketball teams to watch (no particular order):
The Crusaders were ranked No. 17 nationally this preseason by USA Today and No. 45 nationally by MaxPreps.
Several standouts return, led by 6-foot-11 forward Jaxson Hayes (Texas), who emerged from a backup role to become one of the most heavily recruited players in Ohio this summer and fall.
Senior point guard Isaiah Payton (Indiana Wesleyan) averaged better than three assists last season and was almost at 45 percent from the 3-point line. Watch for senior 6-4 guard/forward Jeremiah Davenport (Wright State), who really excelled in scoring and defense in the state Final Four.
Moeller will likely be without junior guard Miles McBride after he suffered an injury during football season . McBride, who is being recruited by college basketball and football programs, was named to the Associated Press All-State Tournament Team in March.
Junior 6-4 wing Alec Pfriem is a Roger Bacon transfer and will give the Crusaders another option on both ends of the floor. Moeller also has sophomore 6-3 guard Max Land, who transferred from Mason.
The Vikings (15-10) have Bazley , rated the nation’s No. 9 player in the 2018 class by ESPN.com, but they also have so much more. That includes senior guard Darweshi Hunter (17.3 points per game), senior guard Dominic Pierce (8.6 ppg., 4.5 rpg.), sophomore forward and football standout Darion Henry (5.8 ppg., 4.7 rpg.) and senior center Gabe O’Neal.
The Vikings will have the national spotlight follow them throughout the winter. Princeton will play in the nationally recognized Premier Health Flyin’ to the Hoop Invitational Jan. 13 in Kettering. Six days later, the Vikings will play at New Albany (Indiana) on ESPNU .
The Comets (21-3) won their first Division I district title last season -- the program’s first district championship since 1994 when it was Division II.
Mason has the ingredients to compete for a Greater Miami Conference title and a district title. Watch for senior 6-4 guard/forward Noah Pedelty, who was the Comets’ sixth man last season. Senior Tanner Knue also returns as the Comets’ starting point guard from last season.
If Mason can get defensive stops, the transition offense should be a strength the Comets can rely on.
Watch also for junior 5-11 guard Landon Long, who led the junior varsity in scoring last season. The Comets also feature junior 6-7 forward Matt Minick and sophomore 6-6 forward Jack Cooper.
Coach Ricardo Hill loves the versatility and experience of this group. Senior guards Kameron Gibson and Hunter Davidson have been varsity players since their freshmen seasons. Watch also for junior guard Ryan Hill, senior guard James White and sophomore forward Nick Smith.
“Our strengths will be our basketball IQ and our mental toughness,” Ricardo Hill said. “We are currently working very hard in the weight room in order to increase our strength for an incredibly tough schedule.”
Watch for 7-foot-1 Zubi Newankwo and 6-6 forward Yusef Williams, who will give the Eagles excellent size. Garrett Banks and Kamal Goodwin will also make an impact after being on the junior varsity last season.
This may be the toughest schedule Walnut Hills will face since Hill has been the head coach. Games with La Salle, St. Xavier, Elder, Lawrence Central (Indiana) along with a showcase in Columbus and three-game holiday tournament in Orlando will prepare Walnut for the postseason.
Coach Shaun O’Connell starts year three with plenty of optimism for the Tigers.
Withrow lost eight seniors from a team that went 16-9 last season, but this is a talented squad. Watch for senior point guard Timmy Cottingham, who is the lone returner. Junior 6-4 wing Mike Hill Jr. was the best JV player a year ago and has a chance to excel on varsity this season, O’Connell said.
Junior 6-11 post player Abba Lawal was formerly at Walnut Hills.
“We love our kids here and they are working very hard,” O’Connell said. “Once we get some experience we hope to play our best basketball at tournament time.”
The Thunderhawks were 16-8 last season and return four players who played significant minutes, including senior 6-3 guard Jarrett Cox (Fairmont State), who led the GMC in scoring average (18.4 ppg.) last season. Cox has improved in his ability to pass and dribble along with his post game, according to coach Clint Adkins.
Watch also for senior guard Jackson See, junior forward Kyrell Metts and senior guard Jalen Peck.
Adkins likes how hard this squad practices and their ability to be coached. He also likes the versatility.
“We can beat you with the three, in the post, off the bounce, and in transition,” Adkins said. “We have guys who can score in a variety of ways.”
Longtime varsity assistant and junior varsity coach Pat Goedde begins his first season as the varsity head coach after Dan Fleming stepped down in April. Goedde likes the team chemistry of the Lancers, who were the Division I regional runner-up to Moeller last March.
Some familiar names, like standout guard CJ Fleming (Bellarmine), have graduated so the Lancers will need other players to step up.
Senior guard Riley Haubner started 21 games as a junior and averaged 8.1 points and 3.1 rebounds. Guard Quinn Ealy and forward Henry Louden are the other seniors.
“We are a good shooting team,” Goedde said. “Great team defense. The biggest thing we need to improve on is our experience or our ability to compete at a varsity level with the departure of four seniors.”
The Spartans (25-5) were the Division III state runner-up last season after being in their third state Final Four since 2014.
Coach Brian Neal likes the team’s versatility, but a lack of size will be an issue the team has to overcome.
Watch for senior guard Brandon Bibbs, a four-year starter who will likely end up with the record of most games played in program history, according to Neal. Other key players including senior guard Craig Moore, senior forward Alauntae Sherrer, senior forward Dominic Mierke, junior guard Greg Phelia and sophomore guard Josiah McGee.
“If we want to win any games at all, we need to learn how to limit our turnovers and rebound the basketball,” Neal said. “We’ll really need some younger guys step up and contribute.
The Senators (21-5) want to win the regional title this season -- plain and simple.
The core group of players includes junior Cris'seon Stringer, junior Demarco Bradley and senior Dashawn Lawrence.
“These players have been playing together for years and look to lead the Senators to Columbus this March,” Taft coach Demarco Bradley said.
Junior Donta'e Mosley, a Princeton transfer, will serve as a key addition to the program this year.
“Our experience and toughness will serve as our biggest asset,” Bradley said. “The effectiveness of our defense will be the key to our success and will determine whether or not we reach Columbus.”