Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference boys basketball coaches are anticipating a slight changing of the guard atop the Eastern Maine Class A standings this winter.
Edward Little of Auburn, most recently the regional champion in 2010, was the choice to finish first in the division, according to the conference’s annual preseason coaches’ poll released Thursday morning.
All Eastern Maine Class A basketball programs are members of the KVAC.
Coach Mike Adams’ Red Eddies were followed in the poll by three-time defending Eastern Maine Class A champion Hampden Academy, Oxford Hills of South Paris, Messalonskee of Oakland and Lawrence of Fairfield as the top five teams.
Coaches released their projected top eight teams from the 13-school division as well as players to watch during the 2014-15 season.
Preseason practices for teams in all classes across the state are scheduled to begin Monday, with the first countable games set for Friday, Dec. 5.
Edward Little finished fifth in the final Heal point ratings last season with a 13-5 record, then advanced to the regional semifinals before being eliminated by Hampden. The Red Eddies graduated just three players off that team, and leading returners include senior forwards Ian Mileikis and Lew Jensen.
Hampden, which won its first 21 games last winter before bowing to Portland in the Class A state final, graduated the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year and Bangor Daily News first-team All-Maine selection Zach Gilpin among seven seniors.
Coach Russ Bartlett’s Broncos will be led this winter by a talented junior class that includes guard Nick Gilpin and forward Brendan McIntyre.
Oxford Hills advanced from the No. 6 seed to the Eastern Maine title game last winter before being ousted by Hampden to finish with a 13-8 record. Coach Scott Graffam’s Vikings return one of the state’s top frontcourt players in 6-foot-4 junior forward Andrew Fleming along with classmate and frontcourt cohort Tyus Ripley.
Messalonskee, an Eastern Maine Class A quarterfinalist last winter after ranking fourth with a 13-5 record, will be one of the most-watched teams this winter thanks to the returning presence of 6-foot-7 senior forward Nick Mayo. The versatile Mayo received nine Division I scholarship offers earlier this year before signing Wednesday evening to attend Eastern Kentucky beginning in the fall of 2015.
Taylor Turner, a junior guard, is another top returning player for coach Pete McLaughlin’s Eagles.
Lawrence finished 8-11 last year after earning the No. 9 seed to earn a preliminary-round tournament berth. But the Bulldogs graduated just three seniors, and its returning corps includes senior guards Cole Robinson and Dustin Simpson-Bragg.
Ranked sixth through eighth in the coaches’ poll were Mount Ararat of Topsham, Cony of Augusta and Brunswick.
Mount Ararat, which reached the regional quarterfinals last winter, boasts one of the state’s top guards in junior Shyheim Ulrickson, while Cony hopes for a return to postseason play behind a nucleus featuring veterans William Stokes, Ben Leet and Tyler Tardiff.
Brunswick, 16-6 overall and an Eastern Maine Class A semifinalist as the No. 2 seed in 2013-14, suffered some significant graduation losses but will be bolstered by the return of seniors Pearson Cost, Alex Bandouveres and Taran Payne.
Among the teams not ranked in the top eight by coaches is Bangor, which went 13-5 during the 2013-14 regular season to finish third in Eastern A before being edged by Oxford Hills 44-41 in the quarterfinals.
Coach Ed Kohtala’s Rams graduated eight players from that team, including first-team All-KVAC guard Xavier Lewis, second-team All-KVAC guard Alex Campbell and center Connor Adams, now playing at Husson University in Bangor.
Bangor senior guard Liam Harrigan was recognized among the players to watch this season by conference coaches.
Other players to watch this winter, according to the coaches, are Matt Pushard, Logan Rogerson and Jared St. Thomas, all of Brewer; Isaiah Harris, Trever Irish and Quintarian Brown, all of Lewiston; Mason Griffin of Mount Ararat; Brad Durrell and Zach Middelstadt of Mt. Blue of Farmington; and Isaac Witham and DeQuan Frost of Skowhegan.