* Team to beat: DeMatha.

* What makes them so good: Perhaps the Washington area's best backcourt, with senior point guard Nigel Munson (signed with Virginia Tech) teaming with junior shooting guard Austin Freeman (committed to Georgetown). The Stags also have size up front, where 6-foot-9 junior center Jerai Grant teams with Suitland transfer Chris Braswell, a 6-8 sophomore forward.

Sophomore Kenny Tate, a 6-4 forward who seems poised to be a football star, makes DeMatha particularly dangerous. Junior guard Jeff Peterson is a nice complement.

With a roster seemingly loaded with talent, the Stags look to be in position to successfully defend their Washington Catholic Athletic Conference title, making it feel somewhat like the good old days for the Hyattsville school.

"We know a lot of other people's opinion is that we'll be good and picked pretty high in our league," Coach Mike Jones said. "But everybody in the league is capable of winning. I think there are at least six teams you can make an argument for winning the league."

* The contender: Riverdale Baptist. The Crusaders finished last season ranked No. 2 in the area, but return no starters. All-Met center Mike Beasley and third-team All-Met guard Nolan Smith transferred to Oak Hill Academy for their junior seasons, leaving Riverdale without its marquee players.

Coach Lou Wilson believes that senior guard Chris McFarland (signed with St. Francis, Pa.) is ready to be a leader and he will be joined in the backcourt by freshman guard Chad Wilson, Lou's nephew.

"We're definitely not going to be as good as last year, that's crazy to say we would be," Wilson said. "But we're going to be very good. It's going to be an interesting year to see how our young guys can sustain playing against some top teams in the country."

* Best of the rest: Bishop McNamara's biggest problem seems to be the strength of its league. The Mustangs return three starters, including senior point guard Darryl Greene, from last season's WCAC semifinalists. But the league just keeps getting stronger.

Greene is joined in the backcourt by seniors Jeff Anderson and Jay Gavin and 6-8 Kashim Eludoyin, a transfer from Sanford, N.C. He will start at center. . . .

Pallotti also has an experienced lineup, with four starters returning. Coach Brett Davis believes the three-guard backcourt of Courtland Bluford, Marcus Hamlett and junior Enis Whatley Jr. will all play in college. Forward Sergio Miranda is joined up front by Cardinal Gibbons transfer Branden Washington, a 6-3 junior forward.

"I really like our starting five," Davis said.

-- JOSH BARR

After winning the WCAC title last season, DeMatha is expected to be strong once again. Among the players who are back is point guard Nigel Munson. He has signed with Virginia Tech.