The Heath High School boys basketball team is in an unusual position.

The Heath High School boys basketball team is in an unusual position.

That's because several opposing coaches are saying the Bulldogs and Bexley are the teams to beat in the MSL-Ohio Division. That sort of notoriety does come with a price, however.

"For the first time in a long time Heath basketball players are going to have to play with expectations," second-year coach Devin Fulk said. "I've been telling everyone that how well we do will be heavily determined by how well we handle those expectations."

The Bulldogs are coming off their third consecutive non-losing season by finishing 11-11 overall following a 40-36 setback against third-seeded Bloom-Carroll in a Division III second-round tournament game. They placed fifth (5-9) in the MSL-Ohio behind co-champions Newark Catholic and Bexley (13-1 each).

Heath posted its first winning season of the past decade by finishing 11-9 in 2007-08 and followed that with a 13-8 campaign the following year.

Now, expectations are higher with the return of 6-foot-4 seniors Roger Gleckler and Zack Wolfe, both of whom can play forward or center. Gleckler led the team in scoring (12.9 points per game) and rebounding (9.2) while earning honorable-mention all-district honors. Wolfe also was a presence inside, but Fulk would like to see both extend their range and play a little more on the wing.

Senior Jordan Crabill is back at point guard. Classmate Mike Rice, another guard, returns after missing last season with a knee injury. Junior guards Jalen Daniels and Janden Grady return, and the 6-3 Daniels should pose matchup problems on the perimeter. Adam Jenkins, a 6-4 junior, will be a key defender on the baseline. Others to look for include junior Rodney Porter (center) and sophomores Ethan Langley (guard/forward) and Donyelle Simpson (guard).

"Bexley's going to be a real challenge and you have to respect Newark Catholic as a defending champion, too," Fulk said. "I see the league being a little more wide open, really. I don't think you'll see anybody run away from the pack like those two did last year."

•Newark Catholic has plenty to replace, however. Four starters, including Division IV district Player of the Year Matt Dawson, graduated after the team finished 25-2 overall following a 59-52 setback against Dayton Jefferson Township in the state final.

Mitch Cox, a 6-1 sophomore wing, is the top returnee for the Green Wave, which won a combined 46 games the past two seasons and also won a district championship in 2008-09.

• Granville has a new coach in Jamie Pearson, who replaced Scott Carpenter after Carpenter led the Blue Aces to a 77-55 record in six seasons.

They finished 10-12 overall a year ago following a 66-59 loss to fourth-seeded Canal Winchester in a Division II second-round tournament game. Granville was third (9-5) in the MSL-Ohio as Licking Valley (6-8) followed. Columbus Academy (4-10) was sixth and was followed by Lakewood (3-11) and Whitehall (3-11).

Granville's success might hinge on the health of senior point guard Jim Bennett, who has struggled with injuries the past two seasons. Sophomore David Fraley, who became the football team's starting quarterback, is another ball handler. Senior Scott Owen, a guard/forward, made honorable-mention all-district while senior guard Ryan Green also returns.

Inside, 6-5 senior Ken Laney and 6-3 junior Michael Steensen are among the go-to players. Also look for 6-3 senior Nick Weakley and 6-5 senior Nick Kerns. Others who will contribute include juniors Brandon Dickerson (wing), Trent Walker (center), Jack Lamb (guard) and Joey Comisford (guard).

Pearson has been an assistant at Dublin Coffman for the past six years. The Marion Harding and Ohio University graduate has assisted at several other schools as well, including North Union and Galion Northmor. He will stress team play, man-to-man defense and scoring in transition.

"It was very difficult leaving Dublin and all the relationships I had there," said Pearson, who continues to teach in the Dublin district. "But this is a school with a lot of resources, too, and we're hoping to take advantage of that."

•Granville Christian has a young lineup as it begins play in the OHSAA as a Division IV school. The Lions remain in the Central Ohio Buckeye Conference, but move to the MOCAL next season.

"We're replacing two four-year kids (point guard Aaron Pound and guard Kyle Geiss) and we don't have any seniors," said coach Ed Weisgerber, whose team finished 17-7 overall a year ago, won the COBC and advanced to the Association of Christian Schools International state tournament. "We're pretty young with seven juniors and four sophomores, and that sophomore group will have to develop if we're going to be successful."

The juniors include forward Matt Williams, a third-year varsity player, and Grant Peters, a 6-5, 270-pound center. Sophomore Cameron Maierle, who is 6-4 and 230 pounds, brings additional muscle to the baseline. Junior guard Kyle Streicher is expected to replace Pound at the point.

Others to look for include juniors Alec Adderberry (6-3 center), Robert Rose (guard) and Tanner Orban (guard) and sophomores Dan Coplin (forward), David McCoy (guard) and Ty Burson (guard), who is the son of former Granville Christian athletics director and Ohio State men's basketball standout Jay Burson.

• Newark also will feature a younger lineup despite having five seniors. They include twin 6-2 post players Brad Woolard and Bret Woolard, both of whom can step out and shoot from the perimeter. Bret Woolard is the team's top returning scorer (7.0 points) and rebounder (6.0).

The other seniors are Reid Cartnal (guard), Zack Bennett (post player) and James Triplett (6-5 post player). Junior point guard Christian Keller also returns for the Wildcats, who finished 8-13 overall a year ago following a 51-49 setback against Mount Vernon in a Division I first-round tournament game.

Newark went 7-7 to share fifth place with Grove City in the OCC-Ohio behind state-semifinalist Gahanna (14-0), Pickerington North (10-4), Pickerington Central (8-6) and Reynoldsburg (8-6). Lancaster (2-12) and Groveport (0-14) finished seventh and eighth. The Wildcats and Grove City split the league title two years ago.

Others to look for include juniors Daniel Logan (guard), Charles Thomas (guard) and Ben Barnhart (post player) and sophomore Jalin Dartis (guard). Logan is one of the top perimeter defenders. He and Dartis might have key scoring roles following the graduation of Ryan Dierks, a first-team all-league pick who averaged 14.7 points and hit 44 percent of his 3-pointers. Also departing were forward James Kurzawa and guard Ryan Sole, the last remaining holdovers from the 2007-08 state championship team.

"In our league we're going to have to show we can adapt and be able to put different lineups out there depending on the situation," said coach Jeff Quackenbush, who has 159-92 record entering his 12th season at Newark. "The biggest thing for us is going to be playing defense, though. We have to get stops, box out and keep teams out of the paint and not give up the easy baskets."