TAAC boys basketball preview: Cardinal Stritch looks for 3rd straight league title

By Steve Junga / The Blade
Tue, 03 Dec 2019 06:23:47 GMT

In 2018-19, the Toledo Area Athletic Conference saw its best collective boys basketball season ever, with repeat conference champion Cardinal Stritch (24-4 overall, 9-1 TAAC) advancing to the Division III state semifinals, third-place Maumee Valley (19-8, 6-4) reaching the Division IV regional finals, and third-place Toledo Christian (18-7, 6-4) getting to the D-VI district final before losing to Maumee Valley.

With TAAC runner-up Ottawa Hills ending 15-6, 7-3, the top four of the conference’s six teams posted a combined record of 76-25.

But, much has changed since last year because of graduation and transfer, and the TAAC will not likely approach such lofty success in 2019-20.

Stritch graduated varsity veterans Jordan Burton, Little Anderson, Ashton Caryer and Nolan Finch.

Maumee Valley All-Ohioan and D-IV state player of the year Zeb Jackson, a University of Michigan signee who averaged 24.5 points as a junior for the Hawks, has transferred out of state to play at powerhouse Montverde Academy in Florida for his senior year, and former teammate Stephen Coleman, a 6-4 junior guard who averaged 14.3 points and 9.3 rebounds, has transferred to Rogers in the City League.

Toledo Christian’s Tony Delvaux, a senior (12.5 points, 7.2 rebounds) has transferred back to Whitmer, where he had played with the Panthers in 2017-18.

And, Ottawa Hills’ top player, Eliot Cummings (17.8 points, 7.5 rebounds) has graduated.

These combined departures alter the TAAC landscape significantly, but two-time defending champion Stritch remains the favorite for a title three-peat behind the leadership four-year starter and first team All-TAAC player Joey Holifield (14.3 points, 6.7 rebounds), who will play at Oakland University.

The Cardinals received five of the six first-place votes, and 35 of a possible 36 voting points in a preseason poll of TAAC coaches to earn the label of projected champion.

Toledo Christian, which returns three starters and four other letter winners, got the remaining first-place vote and was second in the poll at 30 points, and Maumee Valley was tabbed for third at 22 points.

“Last year was an unbelievable run,” said sixth-year Cardinals coach Jamie Kachmarik (100-29 record). “It’s not shocking that Little, Jordan, Nolan Finch and Ashton are all playing college basketball now.

“It was a great run, something that will be remembered in school history for long time. It was a special group of guys. They were really close to each other, and it was a family atmosphere. The Cardinal family really got behind us.”

Burton, Stritch’s No. 2 career scorer with 1,394 points, is starting at point guard at Notre Dame College in northeast Ohio. Anderson is starting for new head coach Dennis Hopson at Lourdes University. Finch is playing at Bluffton University, and Caryer is at Tiffin University, where he will red-shirt this season.

They were part of a Cardinals’ D-III tourney run that included a thrilling 54-44, double overtime win over unbeaten, fourth-ranked Genoa in the district final, and regional wins over Grandview Heights, 63-58, and Coldwater, 68-58, before falling to Cleveland Heights Lutheran East, 58-53, in the state semifinals at Value City Arena in Columbus.

It was the first state appearance for Stritch, the only area team to advance to a final four last season.

“We’ve got a lot of new faces,” Kachmarik said. “Guys that are talented but new, and some who haven’t played for me yet.

“It’s kind of a learning experience for us. I think we have a lot of talent in this gym, but it’s going to take a little while for us to get cohesive and turn this thing into what we think it can be.

Holifield, a third team All-Ohio selection last year, enters the season ranked No. 4 on the Cardinals’ career scoring list with 1,157 points, 542 behind record-holder Austin Adams (1,699), who graduated in 2015.

Holifield led Stritch with 22 points and nine rebounds before fouling out with 24 seconds left in the state semifinal loss to Lutheran East.

Here's a look at the TAAC in predicted order of finish based on a preseason coaches' poll:

CARDINAL STRITCH

Coach: Jamie Kachmarik, sixth season

Last season: 24-4 overall, 9-1 TAAC

Top players: Seniors Joey Holifield, 6-3, G; Justin Wiggins, 6-3, F; Devyn Jones, 6-6, F; Ben Dunsmore, 6-2, F; Brandon Burks, 6-1, G. Junior Jhaiden Wilson, 5-7, G.

Strengths: Size, creating pressure, perimeter defense, handling pressure

Weaknesses: Inexperience, depth, post offense, post defense

Outlook: The Cardinals lost a ton to graduation, including four-year starting guard Jordan Burton (15.0 points) and three-year starting forward Little Anderson (13.3 points, 7.2 rebounds), who along with Holifield were named first team All-TAAC. But, conference coaches had enough belief in what Stritch has back — beginning with Holifield and Wilson (9.6 points) – to pick the Cards as the favorite to win their third straight conference crown. Stritch was 23-2 (14-0 TAAC) in 2017-18. Wiggins (3.5 points, 2.2 rebounds) and Dunsmore (2 points, 3 rebounds) were role players who will need to fill increased court roles this season, and Jones and Burks sat out last season after transferring to Stritch from St. John’s Jesuit and Central Catholic, respectively. “We have the length and the speed to really create problems defensively,” Kachmarik said. “Joey Holifield and Jhaiden Wilson will be our leaders on the court. We have many new faces on this team, and it will be interesting to see how long it takes for our team to mesh. “We have some talented individual in our program. The key is for those individuals to come together and make us a very talented team. Only time will tell.”

TOLEDO CHRISTIAN

Coach: Dave McWhinnie, 19th season

Last season: 18-7, 6-4

Top players: Seniors Jared Lindke, 5-10, G; Matt Wiczynski, 6-4, F. Juniors Cole McWhinnie, 6-1, G; Trevor Wensink, 6-2, G; Max Donawa, 6-2, F; Henry Tipping, 6-3, F.

Strengths: Ballhandling, handling pressure, perimeter shooting, post defense

Weaknesses: Post offense, creating pressure, depth, size

Outlook: The Eagles, with three returning starters and four other letter winners back, have the ingredients to challenge Stritch for the TAAC title. Last season, TC handed the Cardinals their only TAAC defeat the past two seasons, 42-41, on the Eagles’ home court. TC will be led by McWhinnie (14.2 points, 4.8 assists) and Wensink (14.0 points, 5.8 rebounds), with help from Lindke (6.3 points, 2.7 rebounds) and Wiczynski (5.6 points, 2.1 rebounds). One key loss was the transfer of senior Tony Delvaux (12.5 points, 7.2 rebounds) back to Whitmer, where he was in the Panthers’ program his first two high school years. “Our top six returning players all played significant roles last year,” coach McWhinnie said. “We handle the ball extremely well as a group. If we take great shots, and defend well, we believe we can compete very well this season.” TC opened the season with a 74-57 home win over last season’s Division IV state runner-up, Berlin Hiland, last Friday.

MAUMEE VALLEY

Coach: Ramone McBrayer, first season

Last season: 19-8, 6-4

Top players: Seniors Dezmond Jett, 5-10, G; Lucas Fankhauser, 6-1, G. Junior James Lumsden, 6-4, F.

Strengths: Creating pressure, perimeter defense, perimeter shooting

Weaknesses: Size, inexperience, depth

Outlook: The Hawks reached the Division IV regional semifinals in 2018, and the D-IV regional finals last season before falling to eventual state champion Convoy Crestview, 66-49, at Bowling Green’s Stroh Center. But, those teams had D-IV state player of the year Zeb Jackson (24.5 points, 7.8 rebounds), a University of Michigan commit who has transferred to highly-regarded Montverde Academy in Florida for his senior high school season. The Hawks also lost Stephen Coleman (14.3 points, 9.3 rebounds, a junior has has transferred to Rogers in the City League, and Parker Chatman (12.8 points), who has graduated. Hoping to pick up the pieces and fill that major void will be returning starters Lumsden (10.6 points, 7.6 rebounds) and Jett (7 points, 3 assists), with help from Fankhauser (5 points), who was a sub last season. “We will be inexperienced due to a couple transfers,” said McBrayer, who succeeds Rob Conover as head coach. “If we can create pressure and rebound, we can be a good team.”

OTTAWA HILLS

Coach: John Lindsay, 25th season

Last season: 15-6, 7-3

Top players: Seniors John Kight, 6-2, G; Drew Hoffman, 6-0, G. Junior Eli VanSlooten, 6-4, C. Sophomores Walker Kight, 6-1, G-F; Brayden Miller, 6-1, G-F; Cayden Coy, 5-10, G.

Strengths: Scoring balance, handling pressure, creating pressure

Weaknesses: Inexperience, post offense, overall size

Outlook: Lindsay, the dean of TAAC coaches, begins his 25th season with a 372-172 career record coming off an impressive conference runner-up finish a year ago in a highly competitive TAAC. He will have to fill the graduation void left by first team All-TAAC player Eliot Cummings (17.8 points, 7.5 rebounds) and James Silk (12.0 points). The Green Bears will build around returning starters John Kight (10.7 points) and Drew Hoffman, with VanSlooten and Walker Kight also bringing some experience to the court. “Despite being very young and inexperienced, our guys are very coachable and hard-working,” said Lindsay, who is optimistic his Bears will contend in the top half of the TAAC.

EMMANUEL CHRISTIAN

Coach: Lionel Armstead, first season

Last season: 10-11, 2-8

Top players: Seniors Caden Williams, 5-8, G; Mason Friesner, 6-1, F; Bryce Whitlow, 6-0, G; Dannie Young, IV, 5-8, G.

Strengths: Scoring balance, creating pressure, experience

Weaknesses: Size, post defense, post offense

Outlook: Armstead, who was a Division IV first team All-Ohio player that averaged 32.7 points per game as a senior in 1997-98 for the Warriors when the school was known as Emmanuel Baptist, becomes only the third head coach in program history following the retirement of 28-year coach Dave Regnier. He went on to play at West Virginia. In his inaugural season guiding his alma mater, Armstead will be relying on the experience of 11 seniors on the roster, including returning starters Williams (14.6 points, 4 assists), Friesner (7.9 points, 5 rebounds), Whitlow and Young. Top scorer Jailon Walker (15.3 points) has graduated. This overall team maturity should help in the coaching transition, but any significant climb in the TAAC standings will be difficult for the Warriors because of the competitive logjam expected in the top half of the standings. “We have 11 seniors returning, including four starters, so experience is definitely on our side,” Armstead said. “We also have a nice group of guys that can handle the ball, and also pressure the ball on defense, which goes directly with our style of play.”

NORTHWOOD

Coach: Brandon Dawson, first season

Last season: 5-18, 0-10

Top players: Seniors Logan McDermott, 6-11, C; Kaleb Berry, 6-5, F. Juniors Demond Marks, 5-9, G; Jay Moten, 6-3, G.

Strengths: Creating pressure, ballhandling, post defense

Weaknesses: Depth, post offense, perimeter shooting

Outlook: Dawson, one of three first-year head coaches among the TAAC’s six teams, inherits a program that has struggled as mightily in boys basketball as its football team has dominated in the conference. Since their last winning season (11-10 overall, 6-6 TAAC) in 2005-06, the Rangers have gone 46-241 overall and 20-151 in conference play in the 13 seasons that followed. In the past six seasons, the record is 10-128 overall and 2-82 TAAC games. Thus, any improvement will be welcomed, and Northwood may have the talent to increase its win total led by football standouts Moten (12.5 points, 4 assists) and Marks on the perimeter, with McDermott (8 points, 8.2 rebounds) and Berry providing an inside presence. “Our team has a lot of speed and, if we can turn teams over and turn defense into offense, we can be very successful this year,” Dawson said. “Applying ball pressure, and limiting teams to one shot, will keep us in a lot of games.”

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