The first year of Maine high school basketball’s fifth class did not hold many surprises. SMAA, or more specifically, Portland area teams dominated, forming three of the final four, with Portland topping South Portland for the gold ball.

Although Portland is the favorite to repeat, some teams to the north hope they have closed the gap. Among them is Oxford Hills, which graduated the best player in the class if not the state in Andrew Fleming, who is now starting at the University of Maine as a freshman.

The Vikings have just about everyone else back from their regional semifinal team, and may be more balanced offensively than they have been in some time.

Coach Scott Graffam believes this is his best shooting team in over a decade. He will be able to spread the floor with Cole Verrier, Chris St. Pierre and Matt Fleming, Andrew’s younger brother. If they can find an inside scorer capable of drawing a fraction of the defense’s attention that the elder Fleming attracted in the post, they could give opponents fits.

Where the Vikings will likely miss Fleming’s presence more is on the boards and at the defensive end.

“The question mark is how well we’ll defend, and what happens when a team that’s physical gets in our grill, how we react to that,” Graffam said.

Edward Little has virtually everyone back from last year, too. All-conference selections Jarod Norcross Plourde and Samatar Iman are back along with fellow starters C.J. Jipson and Tyler Morin. 

Wol Maiwen, an athletic 6-4 sophomore, may be the most improved player in the conference and is one reason coach Mike Adams believes the Red Eddies have the most depth they’ve had in a long time.

“Because of our depth, athleticism and quickness we should be able to press more and be a lot more aggressive defensively,” Adams said. “The questions are can we rebound the ball enough and can we play unselfish enough.”

There are few nights off for the KVAC teams in Class AA, but no one will be tested more before Christmas than Lewiston. The Blue Devils start the season with road games against Oxford Hills and Portland and home contest with Bangor, Windham and Deering.

“We have to be up for that challenge, night in and night out,” Lewiston coach Tim Farrar said. “We have to compete every night. We’ve got some guys that have gone through it and know what to expect.”

Farrar is more concerned with improvement than results over those first two weeks and is interested to see how prepared his players are for expanded roles.

He has a solid frontcourt with one of the better all-around big men in the conference in 6-4 senior Luke Madore, energetic senior Desmond Jackson and junior Garrett Poussard.

The back court is a bit less battle tested, with junior Jalen Allison and senior Kym Torres expected to bring quickness, energy and floor leadership to the Devils’ chaotic, fullcourt style.

Led by junior guard Terion Moss, considered by many Fleming’s heir as the top talent in the state, Portland has the inside track for a fourth consecutive state championship game appearance. 

Rival Deering, which lost to the Bulldogs in the AA North final, Cheverus and Bangor will try to keep pace with EL and Oxford Hills. But coaches agree the most improved team in the region may be Windham.

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