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Henricksen: Preseason conference favorites (Part I)

Is it too early to crystal ball it?

High school basketball teams across the state will begin practice next week. There is still a lot to learn about the upcoming season, but there are favorites, nonetheless –– some slight, some overwhelming.

Here is a rundown of the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s league favorites for many of the Chicago area conferences: Part I.

Catholic League North

Team to beat: This is one tough league but with the starting backcourt and overall experience returning for coach Rick Malnati, Fenwick is the favorite. Senior point guard Mike Smith, senior Mike Ballard and juniors Jacob Keller and Jamal Nixon all return for a Friars team that won 22 games last season.

Catholic League South

Team to beat: It’s wide open at the top and lacking star power. While St. Rita won’t be nearly as dominant –– the Mustangs have won four straight titles –– it’s still good enough to win another one. Look for senior Chris Williams and junior Temon Green to emerge.

Central Suburban League North

Team to beat: Deerfield ran away with the league race last season, winning the CSL North by two games. It may not come as easy this time around, but the return of point guard Jordan Baum gives the Warriors the edge.

Central Suburban League South

Team to beat: With an outstanding nucleus returning, both in talent and depth, Evanston figures to repeat as conference champs –– and make a deep run in March. It’s going to take a lot for anyone to knock off Nojel Eastern & Company.

DuPage Valley Conference

Team to beat: The new-look DVC adds three teams in Neuqua Valley, Metea Valley and Waubonsie Valley, but it’s DVC mainstay Naperville North that gets the slight edge in the preseason over perennial power Neuqua. There is experience and depth returning from a 16-11 Naperville North team.

East Suburban Catholic Conference

Team to beat: This figures to be a two-team race between Marian Catholic and Niles Notre Dame. Take your pick between the 2015 champs (Notre Dame) and 2014 champs (Marian Catholic). But the Hoops Report sides with the depth, size and talent Marian Catholic brings to the table.

Fox Valley Conference (Fox)

Team to beat: Defending champ Jacobs returns just one starter. But 6-8 junior Cameron Krutwig, one of the top dozen prospects in the state in the Class of 2017, good enough reason to pick the Eagles to repeat

Mid-Suburban League East

Team to beat: With an all-league backcourt in junior Joey Coffaro and senior Zack Cooper, Hersey is the choice to repeat.

Mid-Suburban League West

Team to beat: Conant has a lot going for it in its chase for MSL West supremacy. There is a nice mix of returning experience (seniors Kyle Bradley, Brandon Vinson and Chima Oducha), young talent (junior Jimmy Sotos and sophomores Ben Schols and Ryan Davis), size (6-6 Oducha, 6-7 Davis) and an added addition in St. Joseph transfer Michael Downing, a 6-7 athletic presence inside.

North Suburban Lake

Team to beat: It’s going to be more of the same in this league with Stevenson and Lake Forest battling for the top spot once again. The Jalen Brunson-led dominant Stevenson teams are in the rearview mirror, but 6-6 junior Justin Smith is set to thrive and the arrival of the Herenton brothers, Willie and Rodney, give Stevenson the slight edge.

Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport