MARION - Many Mid Ohio Athletic Conference basketball coaches see heavy favorites for division titles this winter, but a few aren't sold on those forecasts.
During a recent poll of conference coaches conducted by the Marion Star, four of the five defending division champions received the majority of votes to win crowns this season. A fifth, which tied another for a title, is seen as a strong contender.
A year ago, North Union walked away with the Red Division crown and Ridgedale and Pleasant shared the Blue Division title in girls play.
North Union and Ridgedale were selected as the teams to beat again in their respective divisions, and neither has disappointed so far in early league action.
Both squads are 2-0 in MOAC games, and each returns a boatload of talent.
In fact, both are undefeated overall heading into Friday's round of league games which includes North Union hosting Buckeye Valley and Ridgedale playing at Cardington.
One team which received only one first-place nod in the poll and no second-place votes was River Valley's Lady Vikings. Nonetheless, they pace the Red Division right now with a 3-0 ledger and Friday they play at Elgin against a Lady Comets team which earned a pair of second-place votes.
Pleasant was named by two coaches to win the Blue Division and by four others to finish second, but the Lady Spartans have struggled offensively and are 0-4 overall and 0-3 in MOAC play. Pleasant is at Mount Gilead on Friday.
In the boys league, Mount Gilead (Blue) and Buckeye Valley (Red) were chosen as the teams to beat in their respective divisions. In fact, no other team in the Red received a first-place vote.
Mount Gilead coach Tom Cooper, who guided his team to a 12-1 conference record last season and a mark of 18-3 overall, isn't so sure things will be that cut and dry in the 2012-13 conference campaign which kicks off tonight.
"I see Pleasant and Northmor as being the front runners to challenge us for the Blue Division title," Cooper said. "However, both Cardington and Ridgedale will be much improved. All teams really do have a shot at the Blue title."
Cooper, whose team is 2-0 in non-league play so far, is also very non-comnmital when talking about the Red Division race.
One thing he is sure of is the strength of teams in the big-school division.
"The Red Division will be very strong this year," he said. "Buckeye Valley and North Union both return a lot of talented players, and all of the teams have a legitimate shot at the title.
"River Valley will be very good with returning experience at the guard position. Elgin has some really nice athletes, and Highland, which may be the most improved team in the conference, returns a lot of good shooters."
We will begin to know a little bit more about the boys races starting tonight when Elgin hosts River Valley, Pleasant plays at Mount Gilead, Cardington hosts Ridgedale, and North Union entertains Buckeye Valley.
Boys league play continues on Saturday with Northmor at River Valley, Elgin at Ridgedale, Buckeye Valley at Pleasant, and Highland at Cardington.