1. Portland: Coach Joe Russo tried to downplay his team’s status as a favorite during preseason, but talent is talent and the Bulldogs have it. Let’s start with guard Justin Zukowski, who comes off a strong football season. He can score in a hurry. The same with Jayvon Pitts-Young, a guard-forward who had a few double-digit scoring games as a sophomore. Matt Talbot is a 6-foot-5 junior center with a lot of talent. Nate Smart is a savvy 6-3 forward and Nick Volger provides veteran leadership in the backcourt. The team also has some transfers from Deering.
2. Bonny Eagle: The Scots may have the best player in the state in point guard Dustin Cole, a returning All-State player who averaged 17 points and led the SMAA in assists and free-throw percentage. He’s got an outstanding supporting cast — C.J. Autry, a guard-forward; Ben Malloy, a guard; and John Thomas, a forward. The one drawback: the Scots don’t have much height. Bonny Eagle reached the regional final a year ago and is expecting to return.
3. Deering: The Rams won the Class A state championship, upsetting favored Hampden Academy last March. They graduated All-State guard Jon Amabile but have arguably two of the best big men on one team in 6-foot-6 Labson Abwoch and 6-foot-4 Thiwat Thiwat. The pair will be expected to pick up their games even more to compensate for the loss of Amabile and Pat Green, another guard. Dominic Lauture adds quickness in the backcourt, which will be without Chhorda Chhorn, who tore his knee in football.
4. South Portland: The Red Riots are back. Point guard Tanner Hyland is one of the best in the SMAA as he begins his third season as a starter. South Portland has the talent, size and experience to beat anyone. For the Riots to win the West, 6-foot-6 Jack Tolan and 6-foot-5 Ben Burkey will need to be difference-makers. South Portland will look to build on its strong postseason of a year ago. Connor MacVane can score and play defense.
5. York: The Wildcats are loaded. Coach Randy Small’s team should find itself playing for a Gold Ball. York can put five players on the floor who are 6-foot-4 or taller. Aaron Todd is a 6-7 center and an all-Western Maine Conference selection. Other towers for the Wildcats are 6-6 Adam Bailey and Hayden Webster. Zach Leal is one of the top players in Western Class B. A couple players from the football team add to the competitive edge.
6. Greely: Besides having one of the top big men in the state in 6-foot-7 Michael McDevitt, the Rangers have motivation from the sting of losing a tournament preliminary-round game at home last season. Complementing McDevitt inside will be 6-5 Bailey Train. Jonah Normandeau is a strong point guard. The Rangers have a new coach in Travis Seaver, a former standout and assistant coach who will bring new energy to the program.
7. Oceanside: The Mariners have a huge front line that could help them be the best team in the competitive KVAC Class B. The school is in its second year of a merger between Rockland and Georges Valley. The Mariners can start a front line of 6-foot-7, 6-6 and 6-5. In a league of talented teams, the consensus is Oceanside is the team to beat.
8. Sanford: The Spartans being here could be a stretch, but maybe not. The team got a taste of the tournament, losing in the Western Class A prelims last season, and could be ready to take the next step. They have one of the top players in the SMAA in guard Ryan Camire, the second-leading scorer in the league at 18.2 points per game. He has a good cast, with the rugged Alex Shain inside and point guard Evyn Nolette. Also, there’s a new coach in Paul Nolette, who brings energy and a new perspective.
9. Cheverus: Even though the Stags aren’t as talented as the past few years, it’s still Cheverus. Longtime assistant Dan Costigan takes over for Bob Brown, who retired. The lone returning starter from last season is 6-foot-5 Drew Ferrick. Zordan Holman, another 6-5 player, could be poised for a strong season. Cheverus will need strong seasons from both. The Stags also will need newcomers to step up.
10. Falmouth: The Yachtsmen lost in the Western Class B final and have no starters returning. For most schools, that would be a problem, but not at Falmouth, which is stocked with players awaiting their turn. Charlie Fay and Grant Burfeind saw the most action last season. The other thing that should keep Falmouth near the top is its size. Fay is 6-foot-5, Jack Simonds is 6-5 and Jake Horning is 6-foot-6. This team will battle it out with York and Greely in the Western Maine Conference.