Updated: December 26, 2013 6:17AM
1. Marian Catholic
Last year’s record: 29-4 overall, 6-2 East Suburban Catholic
Coach: Mike Taylor, 11th season
Top returnees: Tyler Ulis (Sr. G), Ki-jana Crawford (Sr. G), Josh Cohn (Sr. G), Terrone Parham (Sr. F), John Oliver (Sr. C), Chris Austin (Sr. G).
Outlook: Ulis, a Kentucky recruit, likely will go down as one of the Southland’s greatest players. There’s a ton of experience back from last year’s record-setting Elite Eight trip, which has one goal: the state finals. If there’s a concern, it’s a lack of height. At 6-7, Parham is the team’s tallest player.
2. St. Rita
Last year’s record: 19-8, 6-1 in Catholic League South
Coach: Gary DeCesare, fifth season
Top returnees: Charles Matthews (Jr. G), Victor Law (Sr. F), Dominique Matthews (Sr. G), Myles Carter (Jr. F), Armani Chaney (Jr. G), Treston Forbes (Sr. G).
Outlook: If talent alone guaranteed success, the Mustangs could make reservations for Peoria. With four-year varsity players in Law and Dominque Matthews, and third-year returnees in Charles Matthews, Chaney and Forbes, the pieces are in place for a remarkable season. A leader must emerge, though.
3. Morgan Park
Last year’s record: 33-3, 9-1 Public League Red-South
Coach: Nick Irvin, fifth season
Top returnees: Josh Cunningham (Sr. F), Lamar Walker (Sr. F), Charlie Moore (Soph, G).
Outlook: The Mustangs waved goodbye to a bunch of talent from their Class 3A state championship squad. However, as in most cases, players such as Cunningham, Walker and Moore are prepared to step into larger roles and talented reserves are ready to pick up additional slack. Back-to-back 3A state titles is a definite possibility.
Last year’s record: 16-14, 11-3 SouthWest Suburban Red
Coach: Troy Jackson, 11th season
Top returnees: Justin Taylor (Sr. F), Demarcus Turner (Sr. G), Justin Montgomery (Sr. G), Keyvonte Anderson (Sr. F), Jamani Pierce (Sr. F).
Outlook: The Wildcats return a talented senior class that appears ready to blossom. Having two exceptional ballhandlers in Turner and Montgomery will cause opponents nightmares. So will having a junior class that produced undefeated seasons as freshmen and sophomores.
Last year’s record: 26-4, 9-1 Southland Conference
Coach: Ron Ashlaw, first season
Top returnees: James Coleman (Sr. F), Zeke Jackson (Sr. G), Jared Johnson (Sr. F).
Outlook: Ashlaw, in his first season after a successful tenure at Waukegan, inherits a skilled, experienced group. Coleman and Johnson will provide a presence inside and Jackson a dangerous shooter who can takes defenders to the rack off the dribble.
Last year’s record: 20-9, 8-6 SouthWest Suburban Red
Coach: John Daniels, 11th season
Top returnees: Max Strus (Sr. G), Kevin White (Sr. G), Jeff Goral (Jr. G).
Outlook: As guard tandems go, Strus and White are as lethal a 1-2 punch as there is in the area. They combined to average 28 points per game a season ago. That number is expected to rise significantly. Goral is another sharpshooter to keep an eye on. A lack of size could prove problematic.
Last year’s record: 13-15, 8-6 SouthWest Suburban Red
Coach: Paul Slavich, fourth season
Top returnees: Donte Thomas (Sr. F), Rashaad Alexander (Sr. G), Kenneth Bates (Jr. F).
Outlook: Thomas, a Bradley recruit, can provide points inside and outside. One major key will be how well Alexander steps up with opponents focusing on stopping Thomas. Bates provides a major presence inside. Transfers Kaliph Fagan (Morgan Park) and Je’Juan Payton (Seton) provide more firepower.
Last year’s record: 24-6, 13-0 South Suburban Blue
Coach: Don Houston, seventh season
Top returnees: Taylor Adway (Jr. F), Allen Jones (Sr. G).
Outlook: For the first time in a while, the Hawks lack a proven scorer. Adway and Jones will provide a nice inside-outside threat, but unproven varsity players will need to step up. DeAngelo Isby, point guard Almari Daniels and guard Bakari Hull are candidates.
Last year’s record: 21-6, 13-2 SouthWest Suburban Blue
Coach: Jim McLaughlin, ninth season
Top returnees: Tai Odiase (Sr. F), DeVante Heard (Sr. G), Davon Smith (Sr. G), Dorian McCraney (Sr. G).
Outlook: Not much experience, but few teams boast a skilled 6-8 big man as the Vikings do in Odiase, a UIC recruit. H-F might be slow out of the blocks, but an abundance of skilled but inexperienced guards should expedite the varsity learning curve.
Last year’s Record: 17-11, 8-5 South Suburban Red
Coach: John Chappetto, 12th season
Top returnees: Josh Meier (Sr. F), Dedrick Shannon (Jr. G), Deon Alexander (Sr. G), Spencer Tears (Jr. G), Evangelo Anagastopolous (Sr. G).
Outlook: The Bulldogs appear to be a complete team. Meier, a Chicago State recruit, is one of the area’s top inside threats. Shannon is a skilled floor leader, while Tears and Alexander can produce fireworks. Jordan Cotrell, a transfer from Thornridge, and freshman Jaylan Catledge provide depth.
Compiled by Pat Disabato