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Boys basketball: Scouting Northwest

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MID-SUBURBAN EAST

Buffalo Grove

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Last year: 10-17, 3-7 (lost to Hersey in regional semifinal)

Coach: Ryan O'Connor (13th season)

Key losses: Sam Wacker (12.8 ppg, 2-time All-Area), Rich Zirngibl, Alex Fritz, Ryan Inlow

Top returners: Seniors Luke Potnick (6-1, G, 14 ppg), Kevin Newman (6-4, F), Todd Ahlers (6-11, C), Steve Soifer (6-0, G), Jonah Malin (6-3, F); juniors Andrew Apel (6-1, G), Colin Inlow (6-1, G)

Newcomers: Senior Kevin Kolbus (6-1, G); juniors Scott Smithern (6-0, G), Kyle Calcagno (6-0, G)

Outlook: The Bison will look to return to prominence and challenge in the East this season. And to do that, they will need plenty of Potnick's contributions, who is the fourth-leading returning scorer in the area at 14 ppg. Injuries have plagued Potnick's career as he missed most of his sophomore year and 10 games last season. But according to O'Connor, he's fully healthy now. And BG will need him to be. "In terms of his play, he's always had the skill to be one of the top players in the league, but he's had a lot of different health issues," O'Connor said. "Hopefully it's a big season for him. If it is, that's certainly going to help us quite a bit." A big key will be replacing Wacker in the middle, but O'Connor feels good about his duo of Ahlers and Newman.

Standing at 6-foot-9 as a junior, Ahlers grew 2 more inches this year and still may not be done growing. The two players will split time and should have a big impact on defense in terms of altering shots at the rim. "They aren't quite the inside scorer that Sam was but hopefully defensively and rebounding they'll be able to fill his shoes," O'Connor said. Apel played a lot of minutes as a sophomore and will start in the backcourt with Potnick after quarterbacking the football team in the fall. Soifer is a journey-man of the program and will get time along with Colin Inlow, who was promoted to the varsity as a sophomore with the intention of him playing a lot of minutes this season. Smithern will be a fixture in the rotation after he recovers from an ankle injury. As always with the Bison, defense and rebounding will be critical. And staying out of the training room. "Hopefully we'll be healthy," O'Connor said. "I really like the way our first rotation complements each other. I think we have a good combination of slashers, shooters and post players."

Elk Grove

Last year: 13-16, lost to York in regional semifinal

Coach: Anthony Furman

Key losses: Zach Solorio (11.3 ppg), Jeff Miceli, Devin Neill, Peter Kinsella

Top returnees: Seniors Austin Amann (6-1, G, All-Area, 16 ppg), Kishan Patel (5-10, G, 9.5 ppg), Brian Kelly (6-5, C), Jake Gatziolis (6-5, C)

Newcomers: Juniors Joell Melendez (6-1, G), Bryan Alcazar (5-10, G), Scott Furlong (6-2, F); sophomores Dan Hadler (6-2, G), Matt Wary (5-10, G)

Outlook: Inconsistency plagued the Grenadiers last season with high points like beating division favorite Prospect but losing twice to last-place Wheeling. With two of their top players returning in Amann and Patel, expectations are to reach many more high points this season. Both Amann, who is the leading returning scorer in the area, and Patel are entering their third seasons on the varsity squad. "Hopefully, the chance we took bringing them up as sophomores will pay off this year as seniors," Furman said.

Last season, Amann led the team in scoring, rebound and assists and the Grenadiers will look for him to do the same this season. Kelly and Gatziolis are tested big men that played major minutes last season and will assume even more important roles this season. "There's four seniors that got significant time last season that are all back," Furman said. "We're putting some pressure on them to lead the team by example and hopefully their experience pays off." Melendez had a solid summer and will provide depth in the backcourt, along with some scoring. Alcazar can rebound and is a nice complement to the other three. Elk Grove will also need contributions out of Furlong, who along with Melendez and Alcazar, have stood out in the first couple weeks of practice. Hadler and Wary are up as sophomores and are looking to follow in the footsteps of Amann and Patel by learning but also contributing in spots. There's no question that the strength of this Grenadier team is in the backcourt, and that's led to some competitive battles in practice. Furman expects that mentality to translate over to game action. And if all else fails, get the ball in the hands of their seniors and let them go to work. "We still believe in good shot selection but we can go in transition and if we don't get anything there, we have personnel to break people down in the half court," Furman said.

Hersey

Last year: 13-15, 7-3 (lost to Warren in regional final)

Coach: Steve Messer (6th season season)

Key losses: Sean Reszotko (All-Area, 13.6 ppg), Kevin Kozil (9.2 ppg), Vuk Vukovic (8 ppg), Justin Jobski, Stefan Vucicevic, Trevor Haas

Top returners: Seniors Quinn Orlandi (6-4, F), Nick Heeren (6-0, G), Connor Watters (5-11, G), Alex Sutrinaitis (6-0, G), Michael Sauer (6-0, G); junior Mike Fuerst (6-5, C)

Newcomers: Juniors Grant Burke (6-0, G), Tyndale Dahnweigh (6-0, G), Michael Messer (6-2, F), Alex Mueller (6-0, G), Ajibola Oke-Diran (6-2, F); sophomores Max Heeren (5-8, G), Payton Haas (5-9, G), Brandon Hatten (6-2, F), Grant von der Lippe (6-2, G)

Outlook: A balanced roster featuring five seniors, six juniors and four sophomores may struggle a bit at first, but Messer is hopeful that as the season gets going, players will start settling into roles. And that will mean a scoring by committee approach. Most importantly, whoever is on the floor will have to work together to create offense. "It's really hard to tell who's going to be able to step in and score," Messer said. "I don't think we have any pure scorers at all. We're going to have to play a really good team game." The Huskies are lacking in experience and will need their only two returning players who received meaningful minutes, Orlandi and Fuerst, to replace all of the scoring that graduated with the senior class.

Orlandi had a good season quarterbacking the football team in the fall and his leadership will be important in helping this team mature early on. Fuerst was a key part of the rotation as a sophomore and at 6-foot-5, should be one of the best big men in the area as a junior. Nick Heeren could start with sophomore brother Max, with Watters rounding out the first five. Sauer and Sutrinaitis will be counted on off the bench. Having sophomores Max Heeren, Haas, Haten and von der Lippe up will give fans a glimpse into the future, but Messer is more focused on the present. "It's really important for these young kids to expect success right away," Messer said. "Everyone will say that they're young and they'll get there, it'll take some time. But if they allow that, the season can slip away." Like most of the league, how well the Huskies can play together will determine their success, and that means all five guys hitting the boards and playing help defense. "It's going to take some time, but their attitudes are great and they're working hard," Messer said. "I think it could be a bit of a slow start. But there's a lot of potential."

Prospect

Last year: 17-9, 7-3 (lost to Stevenson in regional semifinal)

Coach: John Camardella (6th season)

Key Losses: Mike LaTulip (Three-time All-Area pick, 22ppg), Brad Reibel (All-Area, 10.4 ppg), Jack Landwehr (8.1 ppg), Sammy Frasco, Alex Thierjung, Derice Black, Kevin Somogyi, Andrew Novak

Top returners: Seniors Devin O'Hara (6-5, F), Mike Houghton (6-4, F), Colin Olson (6-5, F), Jake Young (6-4, F), Danny Mack (6-0, G); juniors Bobby Frasco (6-4, G), Tommy Flahaven (6-1, G)

Newcomers: Juniors Kevin Kapka (6-0, G), Danny Thomas (6-4, G)

Outlook: For the first time in his five years, Camardella doesn't have an experienced guard returning. It's also the first time he doesn't have a LaTulip to rely on as Mike has moved onto the University of Illinois after leading the area in scoring last season at 22 per game. "You'll actually see if I can coach now," Camardella joked. The eight players that graduated last year made up over 90 percent of the team's scoring, so this year's cast will certainly have a different feel. So who's going to take the lead this year? "We're looking for it to be a collective effort early, and if a couple of guys take it and run with it, great," Camardella said. One place to start is the backcourt with juniors Frasco and Flahaven, who were on varsity as sophomores in reserve roles.

Flahaven will run the point with the 6-foot-4 Frasco, who has already picked up an offer from Boston University, on the wing. "I promised them was an opportunity to come learn our system as sophomores, get used to how I coach and be ready to take over the reins as juniors," Camardella said. "And they both have done a great job." Three members of the Knights' East co-champion football team make up a big front line. O'Hara, who starred at quarterback, started eight games last season and is the team's leading returning scorer at 5.8 ppg. He'll be on the wing after playing last season down low. Houghton and Olson were two of the top defensive lineman in the area and will give Prospect a big height advantage against most teams. Kapka provides depth at guard while Young and Thomas will both be counted on to contribute off the bench, as well. Even with a new cast, the thinking remains the same. "Even with the loss of LaTulip and Reibel, we will not be looking to slow it down at all this year," Camardella said. "We have players who are able to get early, high-percentage shots, and we will look to score early and often."

Rolling Meadows

Last year: 17-11, 8-2 (lost to St. Viator in regional final)

Coach: Kevin Katovich (11th season)

Key Losses: Brian Nelms (two-time All-Area pick, 14 ppg), Tyler Gaedele (All-Area, 16 ppg), Michael Rose (All-Area, 10 ppg), Eric Lowe

Top returners: Seniors Mike Dolan (6-1, G), Austin Reed (6-0, G), Jack Milas (6-1, G), Brian Sabal (6-3, F), Adam Pavlakis (6-3, F), Tim Smith (5-9, G), Andy Pletch (6-4, F)

Newcomers: Seniors Sean O'Neill (6-0, G), Nick Passaros (5-5, G); juniors Matt Dolan (6-3, F), Calvin Gunn (5-9, G), Jonny Ungurean (6-2, F); sophomore A.J. Aluguin (5-4, G)

Outlook: Meadows already knew that replacing three All-Area picks in Nelms, Gaedele and Rose from the East division champs would be a major challenge. But unfortunately for the Mustangs, that challenge has reached an entirely different level as a series of injuries have stripped the program of its' depth. Mike Dolan was the team's leading returning scorer and the only player who played major minutes last season, but a torn labrum suffered during summer baseball required surgery, which he had in the beginning of September. Katovich is hopeful to get him back for the last month of the season, but there are no guarantees. "He had such a nice year last year and this was going to be his team," Katovich said.

Ungurean was also expected to start but also has a torn labrum that is expected to sideline him most of the season. Reed was supposed to be responsible for handling the ball this season but a broken leg suffered in the football playoffs has him on the bench for the foreseeable future. Reed's backup, Gunn, broke his foot during football season and will also begin the season among the Mustangs' walking wounded. That leaves Aluquin, a smart and heady guard who had planned on playing on the sophomore team, as Meadows' starting point guard. Milas is coming off a spectacular football season and will be asked to assume a similar leadership role. Mike's younger brother, Matt, showed athleticism at safety and receiver and should make an impact, while Sabal will handle things down low. Sean O'Neill will also start with Pavlakis, Smith and Psarros all being part of the rotation. "The kids are buying in and we're running along like we're the defending champs," Katovich said. "Maybe we can convince them to be a little bit better than they are, and we'll see." Meadows will still be doing the same things without the firepower, but it will be at a different pace. "One of the strengths of our team is that the kids are pretty smart," Katovich said. "They know where we're at. They're not foolish to think we can run with teams like we did last year. They've done a nice job of taking the coaching we've given them and trying to get better every day."

Wheeling

Last year: 2-25, 2-8 (lost to Grant in regional quarterfinal)

Coach: Tony Como (1st season)

Key Losses: Charlie Kirk (10 ppg), Lamont McPherson

Top returners: Seniors Nick Ricciardi (5-10, G), Nate Majkowski (6-2, G), Jere Levin (6-4, F), Will Anderson (6-1, G); juniors Jeremy Stephani (6-0, G, 13.7 ppg), Chris Pierro (5-10, G)

Newcomers: Seniors Kameron Hill, Scottie Bertrand; juniors Nate Laude, Josh Kim, Julien Willoughby; sophomores Jake Jordan, Bobby Webber

Outlook: Being a first-year varsity coach can be overwhelming. But for Wheeling coach Tony Como, that transition has been aided by his two most experienced players, two-year starters Stephani and Pierro, who initiated open gyms and fall leagues for the rest of the guys. "There's no doubt it's nice to step into a program where you have two junior guards with experience and who are your hardest workers," Como said. Stephani is the fifth-leading returning scorer in the area at just under 14 ppg. He's used to being the main option and can really stretch defenses with his shooting ability. The ball will be in Pierro's hands and it will be his responsibility to find a balance between scoring and involving the athletic Ricciardi and Majkowski, who have also taken on leadership roles.

"It's really been nice to know you have quality kids who work hard and are leaders for the other guys," Como said. "I've been very happy with their effort so far." Levin figures to join those four in the starting lineup to form a unit that will be guard-heavy but look to scrap their way to victories. Anderson, Hill, Laude, Jordan and Webber will be part of a bench that will rotate in guys quickly and look to play fast with their lack of size. Controlling the tempo and playing team defense will help Wheeling get into the win column more often than last season, but the Wildcats don't want to get too far ahead of themselves. "We need to learn how to win first," Como said. "Coming off a 2-win season, it takes some time to learn how to win those games."

MID-SUBURBAN WEST

Barrington

Last year: 18-10, 7-3

Coach: Bryan Tucker

Key losses: John Schneider (F) Edward Stack (F), Mark Bennett (F), Ryan Carroll (F), Lee Conforti , (C), Taylor Ganzer (G), Jackson Wegner (G)

Top returners: Scott Nelson (6-1 G), Brad Zaumseil (6-1 G)

Newcomers: Eric Slingo (5-10 G), Ray Tolentino (5-10 G), Vinnie Tuziln (6-2 F), Robby Vollman (6-3 F)

Outlook: Tucker will be looking to replace the size when he lost both Schneider, who is 6-6 and is at Western Illinois and the 6-3 Stack, who is at Lake Forest College. Vollman and Tuzlin may not have the size as the predecessors under the glass, but the duo head to the boards well. But Barrington will go as far as Zaumseil can take them. Zaumseil., who averaged 14.1 points per game along with his 4.5 rebounds and 4.4 assists, while nailing 40 3-pointers, was a unanimous all-conference selection as both a sophomore and as a junior. He was also an all-area selection both seasons as well. Zaumseil has a Division I scholarship offer from UC-Davis and has drawn strong interest from other Division I schools. "We are young and inexperienced," Tucker said. Brad's leadership and his play will be very valuable to us this year."

Conant

Last year: 14-14, 6-4

Coach: Tom McCormack

Key losses: Sean Bourke (F), Josh Copher (G)

Top returners: Robert Hudson (6-5, F), Tim Manczko (6-2, F), Joey Ranello (5-10, G), D'Angelo McBride (6-3 F), Kevin Schimel (6-4, C), Mark Monti (6-0, G)

Newcomers: Danny Sotos (6-3, F)

Outlook: The Cougars have size and experience returning this season to McCormack's lineup. Even with the loss of Bourke, the Cougars still have six players returning that saw significant time last year. Conant will be led by Manczko, who was all-area last year and who is as tough and as athletic as they come. McCormack is also very high on Hudson, who averaged 8 points per game last year. "He has become more of a complete player," McCormack said. "He has expanded his game well by hitting the weights in the offseason and taking the ball more to the hole during the summer." Ranello will be the point, a spot that he split time with Copher last year while McBride should be versatile in McCormack's offense. Schimel will be key in the middle while sophomore Danny Sotos should see significant time. "If experience means anything, then we have that," McCormack said. "We have a nice blend of juniors and seniors."

Fremd

Last year: 17-12, 5-5

Coach: Bob Widlowski

Key losses: Adam Gorecki (F), Garrett Peters (G), Nate Serviss (F)

Top returners: Riley Glassman (6-3 G), Sean Benka (6-3 G), Ben Carlson (6-5, F)

Newcomers: Kevin Kubis (6-0 G), Mike Krupa (6-1, G), Erich Barber (6-2, F), Arjun Thakkar (6-4, F), Matt Ochoa (6-5, F), John Magnani (6-4, F), Tom Cordell 6-4, F), Matt Konopka (6-2, F), Jalon Roundy (5-11, G), Garrett Groot (5-10, G), Connor Peters (6-0, G), Joe Weber (6-1 G), Josh Yamamoto (5-10, G), Xavier Williams (6-1, G)

Outlook: Even with the loss of Gorecki and Serviss up front and Peters in the back court, the Vikings should be able to go inside and out this year. Zone buster Riley Glassman, along with a front line of Benka and Carlson and juniors Ochoa, Magnani and Cordell, which average at least 6-4 across the front, teams will need to take care in defending Fremd this year. Glassman had a strong sophomore season for the Vikes and the junior has already drawn some D-1 interest along the way. Barber and Kubis each came off the bench last year to help with the Vikings' depth for this season. "We have a nice mix of returning players along with newcomers who are pushing each other for playing time," Widlowski said. "We are striving to be solid defensively and offensively. I expect as always, the MSL to be very competitive this year. You are going to have to bring your best game every night."

Hoffman Estates

Last year: 9-16, 2-8

Coach: Luke Yanule

Key losses: Austin Terry (G)

Top returners: Connor Schwarz (6-1, G), Joe Biko (6-6, F), Takuro Azumaya (5-10 G), Eddie Duray (6-1 G), Neil Kolweier (6-2 F).

Newcomers: Trevor Pye (5-11 G), Olu Adelaja (6-3 F).

Outlook: Yanule is in his second year at Hoffman and has the Hawks on the rise after winning their state playoff opener last year, only to lose to eventual state runner up Proviso East in the second round. "Our seniors this year tasted a bit of success at the end of last year," Yanule said. And they want more of it." Yanule will need to replace two-time all-area guard Terry and the 49 treys he converted along with his 16.1 points per game from last season. The Hawks will feature a 3-guard set with Scwarz, Azumaya and Pye in the backcourt. The 6-6 Biko should give Hoffman some needed firepower inside while Adelaja is a threat on the wing. Keep an eye out for sophomore guard Kammorarris Coleman. "Experience is the best teacher," Yanule said. "The kids know our program and our standards. It is more streamlined now and our seniors have picked up the baton."

Palatine

Last year: 3-24, 1-9

Coach: Eric Millstone

Key losses: John Millin (F)

Top returners: Josh Baldus (6-5, C), Roosevelt Smart (6-2, G), Greg Grana (6-2, F, Jordan Jarrett (5-10, G), Andy Macahon (Guard, 5-10, G), Kevin Riggs (6-0, G), Nick Refka (6-0, F) Jason Jablonski (6-4, F)

Newcomers: Chris Macahon (6-1, G), Nolan Gavin (6-2, F), Dondre Watson (6-0, F), Scott Fife (5-10, G), Kyle Leber (5-7, G), Matt Szablowski (6-3 F)

Outlook: A victory in their final regular-season game gave the Pirates some impetus heading into this year's campaign, but the start may be a bit slower than expected because Baldus and Riggs will be a bit behind due to the Pirates' run in football. But the Pirates have Smart at the guard spot to help carry the load early. Only a sophomore, Smart, who is averaged nearly 10 points last year, is garnering Division I attention. With Chris Macahon in the backcourt to take some of the pressure off of Smart, the Pirates should be much more adept at handling the ball and the pressure opponents will throw at them. When Baldus gets back, his tackle-like size will give Palatine the body it needs to band around inside. "It will be great when we get our football people back on the basketball court," Millstone said. "They had a great run and it was terrific for our school. We hope to replicate their success this year."

Schaumburg

Last year: 24-6, 9-1

Coach: Matt Walsh

Key losses: Christian Spandiary,

Top returners: Kyle Bolger (6-1 PG), Jimmy Lundquist (6-6 F), Cole Reyes (6-2 G), Bobby Green (6-3 F), Kevin Curnow (6-3 F), Carlos Sarasti (6-2 G/F), Ryan Kase (6-3, F), Ebisa Godona (6-0, G)

Newcomers: Josh Rahm (6-4, F), Matt Rushing (6-1, F), (Brendan Parker (6-2, G)

Outlook: The Saxons are coming off the Mid Suburban title where they beat Rolling Meadows. They are also coming off their third consecutive regional title, before losing in the sectionals to state runner up Proviso East. Schaumburg will have a huge hole to fill with the loss to graduation of all-area captain Spandiary and his 16 points and 5 rebounds per game. Schaumburg does return two from the all-area list in Lundquist, who will give the Saxons some strength under the boards and Bolger, whose play-making abilities at the point will keep defenses on their toes. The Saxons also return six other seniors in Reyes, Green, Curnow, Sarasti, Kase and Godona that Walsh can count on as well. Reyes, who will be making the transition from football to basketball, should also be a key on the boards while Green was the first off the bench for the Saxons last year. "It will help us being a senior-dominated team," Walsh said. "It is a good starting place for us."

EAST SUBURBAN CATHOLIC

St. Viator

Last year: 25-4, 8-0

Coach: Mike Howland

Key losses: G Kevin Walsh, G D.J. Morris, C Chris Myjak

Top returners: Junior Ore Arogundade (6-3, F), Sophomore Mark Falotico (5-11, G)

Newcomers: Sal Cannella (6-3, F)

Outlook: Usually when a team loses three all-area players from its starting lineup, it's left with a variety of holes to fill. That's not the case for St. Viator. Last season's East Suburban Catholic champions return two elite talents in Arogundade and Falotico. The duo got valuable experience as underclassmen playing alongside all-area selections Walsh, Morris and Myjak en route to posting a school-record 25 wins. Arogundade, who was also an all-area selection, was a player Howland called "Mr. Versatility" after averaging 14.4 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2 steals per game. Arogundade will have to be able to handle the ball down the stretch like Morris did last season. For a smaller St. Viator squad, he'll have to provide a presence in the post like Myjak did. He'll also have to able to stretch defenses with his outside shooting like Walsh did. Arogundade is sure to get some help spreading the floor from Falotico.

The sophomore, who Howland believes is one of Illinois' best in the 2015 class, is capable of making major strides and becoming one of the area's top shooters. The attention Arogundade will likely draw is sure to free up Falotico for his share of open looks. Senior point guard Mayo Arogundade takes over Morris' job of facilitating the high-powered St. Viator offense. His ability to limit turnovers and create scoring opportunities for his younger brother and Falatico will be crucial if the Lions hope to repeat as conference champs. The biggest question will be who can fill the void on the interior left by the three-year starter Myjak. Senior Hugh Masterson (6-4, C) will need to create space on the block while senior Patrick Martin (6-2, F) and the sophomore Cannella will also have to help out on the glass. The Lions may not have the balance they had in 2011-12, but Howland believes this squad is every bit as capable of putting up the same results. "In my opinion, we're equally talented to last year but we're more youthful and inexperienced," Howland said. "When we figure out our own identity, we're going to be fantastic. It's just a matter of when that happens, not if. I'm hoping it's tomorrow. We've got work to do, I know that."

WEST SUBURBAN GOLD

Leyden

Last year: 16-11, 6-6

Coach: Bill Heisler

Key losses: G Alex Herrera, C Brian MacNamera

Top returners: Seniors Jonny Woolf (6-2, G), Omar Lazoya (6-2, G)

Newcomers: Junior Nick Best

Outlook: It's hard to overlook the fact that Leyden lost 80 percent of its scoring and rebounding from a year ago. Two-time all-area selection Alex Herrera (16.5 points, 4 assists) was the steady force that paced Leyden to its highest win total in nearly 15 years. Replacing Herrera's go-to role is Woolf, who Heisler said has improved dramatically this off-season. Woolf will have to take on more of a scoring role in addition to guarding multiple positions. His versatility could prove vital for a Leyden squad in need of experience. Another guard Heisler is counting on to lead the Golden Eagles is Lazoya. Similar to Woolf, Lazoya will have to provide an offensive lift as more than just a 3-point shooter. Without Herrera running the point, senior Jay Jackson (5-9, F) will take the reins. Jackson's varsity experience is limited with Herrera logging most of the floor time last season. Heisler said his ability to facilitate and take care of the ball down the stretch will be crucial. Senior Anthony Gonzalez (6-4, C) has shown flashes of being a solid low-post scorer but has struggled with a knee injury that sidelined him last season.

Replacing an honorable mention all-area selection like MacNamera is something Gonzalez is capable of doing if he can stay healthy. Rounding out the projected starting five is Best, who has emerged this off-season after spending last year on the sophomore team. Heisler said that while Best isn't likely to fill the stat sheet, his greatest asset is doing a little bit of everything. Best is one of many Leyden players who lack varsity experience, which could be the biggest deterrent in a West Suburban Gold Conference that boasts state powerhouses Proviso East (32-1) and Downers Grove South (15-6). "I'll be honest, our goal is to compete in this league and be above .500 in conference," Heisler said. "I don't know if our conference really gets enough credit. It's a battle every night in our league so that's our goal is to be above .500 in the league."

CENTRAL SUBURBAN NORTH

Maine West

Last year: 12-15, 6-4

Coach: Erik McNeill

Key losses: G Conor Hart, G Kevin Garcia

Top returners: Seniors Tom Kukec (6-1, G), Allante Bates (6-0, G)

Newcomers: Junior Anthony Dones (5-7, G)

Outlook: To say that Conor Hart was the heart of Maine West last season would not only be a pun, it'd be an accurate statement. The two-time all-area guard averaged 19.4 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.2 assists for the Warriors before missing the final five games with a season-ending knee injury. The six-game losing streak to end the season might have been a blessing in disguise for this year's squad, allowing younger players to gain valuable experience in Hart's absence. If the Warriors hope to successfully replace the backcourt duo of Hart and Garcia, they'll need Kukec to become a consistent shooter, especially down the stretch. Maine West lost a late of close games late without Hart because they lacked another go-to scorer. McNeill is hoping Kukec can be that guy when they need it. Filling out the backcourt for the Warriors will be Bates and Dones. Bates is someone McNeill believes can be a lockdown defender, capable of guarding three positions. For a team that often struggled defensively last year, his emergence will be crucial. Another guard who will need to step up in his increased role is Dones.

The junior point guard will be responsible for making good decisions in transition while creating opportunities for Kukec in the half-court game. Baskets still weren't easy to come by, even with Hart in the lineup last year. The Warriors eclipsed the 60-point mark only four times last season. However, McNeill said this group will play a faster tempo and get the bench more involved. Instead of working to get Hart shots in the half-court game, this faster yet less experienced group will look to get easier buckets in transition. The Warriors' Central Suburban North fate could be determined by their ability to wear teams out with a more youthful, faster tempo offense. "Because we're going to be having players without much varsity experience, the biggest thing is just not turning the ball over when you tend to pick up tempo," McNeill said. "Our biggest key is that we're getting a good shot and not turning the ball over."

NORTHEASTERN ATHLETIC

Christian Liberty

Last year: 18-11, 6-2

Coach: Jed Bennett

Key losses: G Luke Comerouski, G Kyle Moriarty

Top returners: Seniors David Colbert (6-1, G), Aaron Cunningham (6-2, F)

Newcomers: Sophomore Ben Daniels

Outlook: Coming off an 18-win 2011-12 campaign, the Chargers received a major facelift with the graduation of 1,200-point scorer Luke Comerouski and honorable mention all-area selection Kyle Moriarty. The Christian Liberty squad that boasted the high-scoring backcourt duo returns a lone starter. Colbert, who is one of the Chargers' three seniors, will be relied on to provide a lot of the scoring and leadership for the inexperienced squad. While Comerouski and Moriarty were consistent scorers in the backcourt, the one thing they lacked was size. Bennett said this team has bigger guards like the 6-foot-1 Colbert and the 6-foot Marcus Silva, which will change their defensive style.

Last year's squad played a lot of full-court, man-to-man defense because they had the quickness and the depth to do so. This year's squad will rely on wreaking havoc and forcing bad shots in the half-court game with their bigger guards. Another piece to that defensive puzzle is junior center Aaron Cunningham, who started games as a sophomore due to injuries on the front line. Cunningham will need to provide some physicality without getting in foul trouble for a unit that lacks front-court depth. If the Chargers are going to compete in the Northeastern Athletic Conference, they'll need younger players like Cunningham and Daniels to mature quickly. Christian Liberty does not have the luxury of depth like it did last year. The silver lining could be a core group that gets familiar with their roles together sooner rather than later. Or it could result in a worn-out starting five that runs out of gas at the end of the year. "I'm very happy with the five, six guys I can put on the floor," Bennett said. "It's not like we don't have talent. I'm really excited about the guys that I have. But last year, we had 12 guys that were all capable of playing varsity basketball and we just don't have that this year."

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