Shelby has won three straight boys basketball championships in the Mid Ohio Athletic Conference.
If they're going to hang a fourth straight banner, the Whippets are going to have to earn it.
Shelby was hit with graduation and might not be the same as it's been since joining the MOAC.
"The MOAC will be tough from top to bottom," Shelby coach Greg Gallaway told the Mansfield News Journal's Jake Furr. "River Valley returns a group with a lot of experience from the success they had last season, which includes the reigning player of the year. Marion Harding will have an athletic group that will challenge teams with their style of play. Ontario will be improved from last season. Marion Pleasant will have some of the better guard-play in our league. One of our goals at Shelby is to win a league championship."
The Whippets return the most heavily recruited player in the MOAC with 6-foot-7 junior Alex Bruskotter. An All-Ohioan as a sophomore, he is getting looks from several NCAA Division I men's basketball teams after averaging, 19.4 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists.
Fellow juniors Issaiah Ramsey and Bryson Baker will both see elevated roles in the Whippet lineup. Seniors' Max Hess and Carson Brubaker will be counted on for big minutes for Shelby, too.
"All of our returning letter winners from last season will play key roles," Gallaway said. "These five will all have to adjust to new roles going into this season and continue to keep guys accountable within our program."
Still, losing Andre Hill, Jeremy Holloway and Marshall Shepherd means there are question marks in how they approach the game this season in terms of pace and rebounding.
If the Whippets are vulnerable, who can take advantage of that vulnerability?
In Marion County, River Valley returns enough to challenge Shelby and others atop the MOAC.
"(I'm) hoping we will be in the mix at the end of the season to fight for the championship," RV coach Rodney Brown said.
Like Shelby, RV brings back an All-Ohio wing in junior Carson Smith, the reigning MOAC Player of the Year. Carson Myers and Brock and Blake Mosher are experienced seniors as is sophomore point guard Chase Ebert from a 15-woin season a year ago.
Pleasant won nine games a year ago and should be ready to make its presence felt in the MOAC as its backcourt continues to season.
"I believe the league will be between River Valley and Shelby," Pleasant coach Ben Snively said. "River Valley will be led by Carson Smith, and Shelby will have Alex Bruskotter. These two players make their teams go and are huge X factors for them. The league will once again be a grind every game."
Marion Harding was hurt by graduation, especially losing Wes Stokes, Riley Keeran and C.J. Temple from the starting lineup, but the Presidents have an interesting group of younger players who could easily play spoiler in the MOAC.
"Shelby and River Valley are the favorites. Both return top players in the player of the year voting," Marion Harding coach Jamie Pearson said. "They finished 1 and 2 last year. Our team hopes to finish in the middle of the pack or better in the MOAC."
Like River Valley, Elgin will be fighting against a dynasty and other challengers in the Northwest Central Conference.
"(Upper Scioto Valley) brings the most talent back from a very successful season last year," Elgin coach Bill Clem said. "Lima Perry has won the league the last four seasons. Waynesfield-Goshen may be the sleeper in the league as they had a great football season and bring a lot of athletes to the court."
Elgin will be in the mix with a group of uber-experienced seniors in Harrison Sager, Isaac Dillon, Carson Rife and junior Stephen Castillo. If the Comets can make up the lost 10 points and 10 rebounds from the graduation of Nate Grim, they should be in business in the NWCC after winning 17 games a year ago.
Ridgedale's Mike Mathey listed the Comets as one of the team's to beat atop the league this season.
"With a very difficult non-league schedule, we are going to need to show up to compete every night," Clem said.
In the Knox Morrow Athletic Conference, the balance of power will continue to tilt toward Knox County with Centerburg and Fredericktown expected to compete atop the league, but Mount Gilead and Northmor could join the fray if their development continues.
As for North Union in the Central Buckeye Conference's Mad River Division, the Wildcats will be in the mix. North Union won their first two league titles in the league and finished as a runner-up last year behind Urbana. The Hilltoppers will continue to be the favorite along with Indian Lake, but North Union will try to keep pace.
"We expect to compete for the CBC Mad River Division title and continue to establish our program as a contender for a district championship each year," first-year NU coach Ryan Grose said. "Urbana and Indian Lake will be our biggest challengers in the Mad River Division. We split with both teams last year, and they both return key players."
Rob McCurdy is the sports writer at the Marion Star and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-610-0998, Twitter @McMotorsport and Instagram @rob_mccurdy_star.
This article originally appeared on Marion Star: McCurdy: Can River Valley topple Shelby atop MOAC?