Despite losing 6-foot-11-inch center Carson Desrosiers, who hit the game-winning shot with five seconds left in the Raiders' 56-55 victory over St. John’s (S) in last year’s finale, coach Rick Nault has three returning starters.
“This is the most talented, athletic group we’ve ever had,’’ he said.
Nault said he expects 6-7 senior forward Jimmy Zenevitch, who averaged 16 points per game last season, to lead the offense. Behind Zenevitch, senior guard Jacob Morales and junior guard Louis Puello will anchor the backcourt.
‘[Morales and Puello] are two of the best defenders in the league,’’ he said. “They show great athleticism in the backcourt, and what we do defensively will depend on how they match up [against opponents].”
St. John’s Prep, which lost to the Raiders, 74-62, in the Division 1 North finals last year, will make a strong push to dethrone the champions.
All five starters from last season are returning, including Catholic Conference co-MVP Pat Connaughton, who averaged 24 points and 17 rebounds per game.
However, the Eagles will be without center Mackenzie Burt, who will miss the season due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament , and point guard Connor Macomber will miss the first three weeks after suffering a torn MCL.
Lynn English will also be strong this year, with seniors Travonne Berry-Rogers, Keandre Stanton and captain Paradise Hogan returning. East Boston transfer student Corey McMillan, who was ineligible to play for the Bulldogs last season, will play this season.
New Mission, Andover, Cambridge and Acton-Boxboro are also expected to be strong North teams.
In the South, Madison Park will be rebuilding after losing nine seniors from its championship team, including Spencer Braithwaite and David Campbell, who both averaged 20 points per game.
With a down year expected from the Cardinals, Brockton and Newton North emerge as top contenders in the South, along with BC High.
Brockton, which lost to the Cardinals, 77-72, in overtime in the semifinals, have three starters returning from last season. Coach Robert Coen is said he is looking forward to the production of senior captains Shane Sims and Treace Macklin, as well as junior forward Jamal Reuben.
Coen said that although his team looks promising, it is imperative that they do not get ahead of themselves.
“You never know what other teams have, I don’t look past anybody,’’ he said. “But you can expect us to be a challenge.”
Sophomore point guard Jaylen Blakely will command the Boxers offense this season, and Coen said he is eager to see how he will perform.
“I never thought we’d turn the job to a sophomore,” Coen said. “[Brantley] is a tremendous passer and dribbler. This definitely makes it exciting”
Newton North senior co-captain Tevin Falzon is returning from a wrist injury and will help lead the Tigers back to the semifinals. With the help of senior captain Avi Adler-Cohen and junior guard Michael Thorpe, coach Paul Connolly’s team will be strong.
“Our guys are doing what we need them to do,’’ Connolly said. “We have a unique set of guys and once we gel together it’ll take off.’’