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SWOC BASKETBALL: Northwest favored to make it five consecutive titles

Northwest High School has started the boys basketball season in a familiar place — on top of the Southwest Ohio Conference.

The Knights have won the last four SWOC championships and are favored to make it five in a row in 2018-19, garnering six of the seven first-place votes in the preseason coaches poll.

“I’m sure Colerain deals with it in football. I don’t think they shy away from it in terms of talking about it and trying to maintain the streak,” fifth-year Northwest coach Nick Argentati said. “I tell our guys we’re going to get everybody’s best effort, and we know we can’t just show up and win. We’re not that good.

BOYS BASKETBALL LEAGUE PREVIEWS

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“I feel we have the best talent in our league, so if we play the way we’re capable, we should win our league. That’s nothing about my coaching. That’s about the guys in the locker room.”

Ross picked up one No. 1 vote and finished second in the poll, followed (in order) by Mount Healthy, Edgewood, Little Miami and Harrison (tied), and Talawanda.

Northwest returns four starters. Included in that group is senior forward Keyshawn Bourrage, the SWOC’s leader in scoring (21.0) and rebounding (11.7) through the first week this year.

The Knights have never failed to record double-digit wins in the SWOC. They’ve been 11-1 the last four years after posting a 10-4 mark and placing third in 2012-13 and 2013-14.

Ross had a breakout 15-8 campaign under first-year coach David Lane last season, and the Rams are off to a 4-1 start in 2018-19.

Hamilton’s D’Marco Howard puts up a shot as he is defended by Northwest’s Steven Grau (0) and Tyre McKinney (3) during their game Nov. 30 at Northwest. Hamilton won 58-52. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

It’s more of a balanced squad this year now that SWOC Player of the Year Landen Angel has graduated. Ross also has nine seniors on its roster.

“Northwest is the team to beat until someone beats them,” Lane said. “We were an unknown last year with a new coach and a new system. No way do we sneak up on teams this year.”

Mount Healthy has three returning starters and will use its quickness to pressure opponents all over the floor. Edgewood has no returning starters, but stands 2-1 and has limited its three opponents to 33.3 points per contest.

Senior guard Gabe Allen is the lone EHS returnee with significant varsity experience. Junior guard Johnathan Shepherd is a transfer from Carlisle and a perimeter threat, but he’s only eligible for the first 11 games this season.

“They’re great kids, but we still have to jell together offensively and defensively,” Thomas said.

Senior guard Cole Spencer leads the returning players for Little Miami, and he was one of the SWOC’s top scorers last year with a 12.4 average. Harrison senior guard Spencer Kinnett is off to a fast start this season and is among the leaders in scoring and rebounding.

Edgewood coach John Thomas makes a point during a 59-36 loss at Fenwick on Dec. 5, 2017. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

At Talawanda, Bobby Jones has taken over as head coach after 10 seasons at Hagerstown (Ind.), where he had a 131-96 record.

Jones said the Brave have worked hard in the offseason and can surprise some people if they can establish their identity on the defensive end of the floor. The talented sophomore class is led by guard Craig James, guard/forward Braden Wright and forward Jonathan Richter.

“We have the pieces of the puzzle to be successful this season, and the kids have bought into the philosophy of hard-nosed team defense and scoring off of our defense,” Jones said.

THE PRESEASON POLL

Here’s how the coaches voted in the preseason Southwest Ohio Conference boys basketball poll, with point totals and first-place votes (in parentheses):

1. Northwest (6) 48

2. Ross (1) 37

3. Mount Healthy 34

4. Edgewood 31

5. Little Miami 17

5. Harrison 17

7. Talawanda 12

A LOOK AT THE TEAMS

Here’s a team-by-team preseason look at the SWOC teams, with information provided by the coaches:

1. NORTHWEST KNIGHTS

Coach: Nick Argentati (fifth season)

2017-18 Record: 14-10 overall, 11-1 SWOC (first place)

Returning Starters: Keyshawn Bourrage (6-4 senior forward), Steven Grau (6-0 junior guard), Isaiah Loveless (5-10 senior guard), Tyre McKinney (6-1 senior guard)

Top Newcomers: Desani Hill (5-11 sophomore guard), Elijah Horton (5-10 sophomore guard), Evan Mahaffey (6-3 freshman guard), Diego Neri (6-3 sophomore forward)

Team Strengths: Experience, length

Area Of Concern: Scoring

2. ROSS RAMS

Coach: David Lane (second season)

2017-18 Record: 15-8 overall, 9-3 SWOC (second place)

Returning Starters: Cody Geers (6-4 senior forward), Ben Yeager (5-9 senior guard), Dylan Zimmerman (6-0 senior guard)

Top Newcomers: Cole Gronas (6-0 junior guard), Max Stepaniak (6-5 sophomore forward)

Team Strengths: Senior-led team, quickness, shooting

Areas Of Concern: Lack of size, communication

3. MOUNT HEALTHY OWLS

Coach: Adair Carmichael (fourth season)

2017-18 Record: 9-14 overall, 7-5 SWOC (third place)

Returning Starters: Taeveonne Elliott (6-3 junior forward), Brandon Lanier (6-3 junior forward), Chris Simmons (6-2 senior guard)

Top Newcomer: Kollin Tolbert (6-0 freshman guard)

Team Strengths: Quickness, defensive pressure

Areas Of Concern: Lack of size, depth

4. EDGEWOOD COUGARS

Coach: John Thomas (11th season)

2017-18 Record: 11-11 overall, 6-6 SWOC (fourth place)

Returning Starters: None

Top Newcomer: Johnathan Shepherd (6-2 junior guard)

Team Strength: Work ethic

Area Of Concern: Inexperience

5. LITTLE MIAMI PANTHERS

Coach: Mike Craig (eighth season)

2017-18 Record: 9-14 overall, 5-7 SWOC (fifth place)

Returning Starters: Ryan Kerman (6-0 senior forward), Cole Spencer (6-0 senior guard)

Top Newcomer: Jackson Gast (6-1 junior guard)

Team Strengths: Competitiveness, 3-point shooting

Area Of Concern: Lack of size

5. HARRISON WILDCATS

Coach: Andy Marx (fifth season)

2017-18 Record: 4-19 overall, 2-10 SWOC (sixth place, tied)

Returning Starters: Cole Combs (5-11 junior guard), Connor Kinnett (6-4 junior forward), Spencer Kinnett (6-2 senior guard)

Top Newcomers: Sam Heimkreiter (6-0 junior guard), Sean Lawhorn (5-11 junior guard)

Team Strengths: Experienve, depth at guard position, skilled perimeter scorers

Area Of Concern: Lack of size

7. TALAWANDA BRAVE

Coach: Bobby Jones (first season)

2017-18 Record: 5-18 overall, 2-10 SWOC (sixth place, tied)

Returning Starters: David Kraushar (5-9 senior guard), Tommy Winkler (6-1 senior guard)

Top Newcomers: Jonathan Richter (6-4 sophomore forward), Josh Verst (6-0 junior guard), Braden Wright (6-2 sophomore guard/forward)

Team Strength: Quickness, transition game

Areas Of Concern: Inexperience, seeking floor general

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