Teams will run through Olympic, who is very good again after winning the league title last year. Charlotte Catholic, who finished second in the conference last year and won the 2015-16 NCHSAA 4A title, has moved to 3A and out of the league. That opens the door for Ardrey Kell, who will make a big jump this year with David Kassnganay, Harper Hendrick and Providence Day transfer Luke Stankavage. South Meck tied the Knights for third in the league last year, but they are sort of a question mark this year. Berry will make a significant jump after winning five conference games last season, and West Meck should be better this year after tying Berry for fifth in the league last year. Harding finished seventh last year and will likely wind up there again this season. Providence is very young, but will be improved this year.
Coach: Michael Craft, 12th season (187-120)
2016-17 Record: 15-12, 9-5 in So. Meck 7
Returning Starters: 3
The Knights will be among the favorites in what looks like a really good conference that also features Berry and Olympic at the top of the league standings.
Ardrey Kell has an athletic team that can shoot the ball from deep, and that begins with Navy commit David Kasanganay shooting a school record 45 percent behind the arc. He comes back after averaging 14.5 points, four rebounds and shooting nearly 90 percent from the free throw line.
Senior guard Harper Hendricks is another good-shooting wing who made 41 percent of his 3-pointers last season and averaged seven points, a team-best 4.2 assists and three rebounds per game.
Six-foot-five junior wing Christian Pickens is the team’s top returning rebounder at 4.6 per game and showed some scoring touch (4.4 points and two assists) as a sophomore.
Wings Kam Flynn and Royce Jarrett were rotation players last year who should help.
The Knights will also be much improved with the addition of two talented transfers.
Stephen Sherrill, the son of former Johnson C. Smith great Mark Sherrill, comes from Hopewell, where he averaged about three points per game.
Providence Day transfer Luke Stankavage is a sophomore combo guard who started for the Chargers as a freshman. Stankavage can get to the basket. He is a good ball handler and another dead-eye shooter.
The Knights will need to overcome their overall lack of size or a true post presence, but have the shooting and leadership to be very good this year.
Coach: Larry Epperly, second season (0-24)
2016-17 Record: 0-24, 0-14 in So. Meck 7
Returning Starters: 3
The Panthers haven’t had a winning season since the 2008-09 year and last year really struggled under first-year coach Larry Epperly. They played in just two games that were decided by under 10 points and this year will be another uphill battle. They have just one senior on the roster and have five sophomores and a freshman who will be among their top players. They may take some time to get going but the thought is they can grow together.
Providence doesn’t have much size and will struggle rebounding the ball, but they have some experience in the backcourt that they will use to their advantage.
Tate Mulkey is the team’s leading returning scorer at 6.3 points per game and the junior will again man one of those guard spots.
Ben Schloeder is a 5-9 point guard who averaged about five points per game. Pat Sullivan is a 6-2 guard who scored nearly four points per game.
Newcomer Christian Peterson will play center, but at 6-5 is a little undersized. He will be joined by Jake Brockman, a 6-4 senior forward, to form the interior of the Panthers defense and hopefully provide some interior scoring.
Will Cotton is another newcomer who can play either guard spot and will see some immediate court time.
Overall, the Panthers should be much improved, but may not be ready to challenge for one of the league’s top spots quite yet.
Coach: John Fitch, ninth season (96-105)
2016-17 Record: 15-12, 9-5 in So. Meck 8
Returning Starters: 1
The Sabres are in rebuild mode this season as four of their top five scorers have either graduated or transferred and only one player – starting guard Trey Jackson – averaged more than two points per game last season.
Coach John Fitch has had success in these type situations before and knows that it may take a few games to get the correct rotations and lineups situated, but is confident he can have the Sabres where they need to be to again compete in the So. Meck 7.
Jackson will be a big key after starting last year and averaging four points, three rebounds and two assists per game. He’ll provide plenty of experience and leadership to a team that needs as much of that as they can get.
Will Schott will give the Sabres size inside with his 6-8 frame as he looks to improve upon modest numbers he put up in a reserve role.
Kevin Tate, a 6-2 junior guard, averaged two points and two rebounds per game. He’ll have many more chances to show off his skills this year and is expected to play a key role.
Aside from those players, the Sabres will be made mostly of newcomers, including a host of transfers who are expected to come in and contribute immediately.
Senior guard Chris White will see plenty of time and gives the Sabres another excellent ball-handler. JV call-up Donte Wiggins, a 6-3 junior wing, has plenty of athleticism and will give the Sabres more scoring from the wing.
Overall, this could take some time, but don’t count the Sabres out of anything just yet.