The trend officially started four years ago.
A Marriotts Ridge squad that had finished 10th in the county with a 4-14 league record during the 2006-2007 season came back the following year to finish alone in third with a county mark of 15-3. It was the first time since 1999 that a county squad had gone from bottom three to sole possession of a spot in the top three in one year.
Since then, though, two other squads have accomplished the feat.
Hammond went from 10th to second in 2008-2009 and Glenelg went from 10th to second last winter.
This year, with some significant talent turnover among the top county squads, the opportunity for another team to make the jump appears to be there for the taking.
That means keep a particularly close eye on Long Reach (2-17 county record last year), Howard (4-15) and Atholton (5-14) this fall.
Still, don't count out some of the familiar faces.
Centennial, which brings back nine players from last year's 3A state finalist team, has the look of an early favorite. Mt. Hebron brings back six of its top eight after going 12-7 in county play last season, while Glenelg has the only returning first-team all-county player in Troy Spurrier (14.1 points a game and 8.2 rebounds).
Also don't sleep on Hammond, Marriotts Ridge, Reservoir and Wilde Lake as middle tier teams from a year ago with enough talent to contend.
The bottom line, though, is that no one expects an undefeated run through the league like Oakland Mills put together last year.
"I don't see anybody running away with it, that's for sure," Centennial coach Chad Hollwedel said. "Everybody knows each other pretty well and the talent is fairly evenly spread out."
New coaches are taking over at Marriotts Ridge (Mike Coughlan) and Wilde Lake (Deonne Wingfield). The county's two private schools are undergoing some changes as well, with Glenelg Country making the jump to the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference and Chapelgate moving up to the MIAA B.
With the season starting for the public schools on Dec. 5, here's a look at what to expect:
2010-11 record: 5-14 county, 8-17 overall
Top players: Seniors Darren Fitzpatrick (F), Brian McMahon (F), Gavin Stephenson (G).
What you need to know: After a down campaign last winter, the Raiders will be taking the court with an entirely different look. McMahon, who averaged eight points and 5.5 rebounds, is the only consistent starter back and is really the only true post player on the roster.
But what Atholton lacks in size, they'll more than make up for in quickness and athleticism. Stephenson is a transfer from Mount St. Joseph and will be charged with running the show from the get go. The 6-foot-3 point guard is a match-up nightmare and is getting looks from Division I colleges. Fitzpatrick came on strong at the end of last season and will be taking on an even bigger role from his wing position.
The team's other three seniors, Dan Bezold, Brett Haas and Josh Martin, all have varsity experience and should be part of the regular rotation. Also keep an eye on sophomore guard Brady Acker as a breakout candidate.
2010-11 record: 13-6, 20-7
Top players: Seniors Ben Goldsmith and Keonte Potts (G); juniors Joe Eads (C), Omari Ringgold (F) and Timi Tinuoye (F).
What you need to know: After a slow start, the Eagles were as hot as anyone down the stretch last season on the way to the 3A state finals. Nine players from that team are back, including a second-team all-county player in Potts.
After averaging 12.8 points a game as a junior, Potts will see time at both guard spots and has the ability to hit the outside shot and get to the rim. Goldsmith and senior Ethan Adams will also see time at point guard. Ringgold, a transfer from Mt. Hebron, brings tremendous athleticism to the small forward position. Tinuoye (4.6 ppg last year) also gives the Eagles some versatility.
Post play, though, could very well be what pushes the team over the top. With Eads, Chris Peterson and Steven Klima all standing 6-foot-5 or taller, coach Chad Hollwedel has a trio of talented back-to-the-basket players at his disposal. The key now becomes getting all the different pieces to blend together during a challenging early-season schedule.
2010-11 record: 15-4, 16-8
Top players: Seniors Alexis Chahine (C), Troy Spurrier (F) and Joe Tolbert (F).
What you need to know: Nine seniors graduated from last year's squad that improved by nine wins on the previous season. The good news is that Spurrier, one of the county's top forwards, is back. With his ability to hit the boards, face-up and attack the rim, the Gladiators have a legitimate go-to guy.
Tolbert came on strong at the end of last year, scoring 14 points in a playoff loss to Gwynn Park. He's another inside-outside guy, who also starred for the football team this fall. Chahine is a first-year varsity player and will use his 6-foot-7 frame to help out on the glass. The supporting cast is young and doesn't have much playing experience, but coach Jansen McMillan likes the potential.
Two freshmen, Nick Oates and Matt Hammert, will start in the backcourt and learn on the fly.
2010-11 record: 10-9, 13-10
Top players: Seniors Duane Echols (G) and James Turner (G); junior Brian Green (G).
What you need to know: Similar to the last few seasons, the Golden Bears have a line-up full of athleticism that will pressure you defensively and then try to attack the basket on offense. Coach Karl Friedheim says he's been particularly impressed in the early going by "the work ethic, toughness and intensity" of this group.
Turner didn't play last season, but averaged nearly 10 points a game as a sophomore. He's an explosive player that can shoot it from the outside and can wreak havoc on defense. Echols averaged over four points a game last year and can knock down the three as well. Green, senior Rasheed Lashley and sophomore Lamarre Whitlock are all guards that weren't with the team last year. The trio, along with returners Malcolm Poston and Gavin Hendrick, are expected to be contributors in the backcourt. Friedheim also says the team is bigger than in the past, leaning on forwards Stacy Woodland and Alex Blackwell.
2010-11 record: 4-15, 6-18
Top players: Seniors Michael Alexander (G), James Bartnik (F), Colin Dyer (G), Kendall Hawkins (F) and Brock Wendt (F).
What you need to know: There are plenty of returning seniors for the Lions, but, as coach Matt Jens points out, "many of them have yet to experience a winning season or significant court time on the varsity level." Bringing back only one player, Bartnik (8.9 ppg), that averaged more than four points a night last winter, Howard is going to be leaning on a number of guys to handle the scoring load.
As a senior swingman, Bartnik is a good place to start. He had a good offseason and can shoot in addition to slash to the basket. Dyer will provide leadership at the point after missing last season with an injury. Alexander is a strong defender, Wendt has experience down low and the brother combination of Kendall and Jordan Hawkins gives the team some great versatility on the wings.
Also look for strong minutes from Stephan Marsh and Duke Bartnik, who are part of what Jens calls a "very deep and even bench."
2010-11 record: 2-17, 3-21
Top players: Seniors DeVaughn Nowlin (G) and Darryl Taylor (G); juniors Avery Allmond (F), Jalen Brown (G) and Daquan Hargrove (F).
What you need to know: The Lightning certainly had their share of struggles last winter, but with all but one player from that squad returning coach Al Moraz's group is hungry and full of experience. Nowlin is one of the county's top two returning scorers after averaging 14.6 points a game as a junior. Allmond, who is stronger and playing more aggressive, was the team's second-leading scorer last year at 7.3 ppg.
Allmond is also part of Long Reach's trio of returning forwards that each averaged at least six rebounds a game a season ago. Hargrove (9.3), Ryan Ross (6.3) and Allmond (6.1) are all 6-foot-4 and athletic. Larry Nwankwo gives the team another strong post presence as well.
In the backcourt, Brown and Taylor will split the ball-handling duties and have the ability to excel in up-tempo situations.
2010-11 record: 6-13, 8-16
Top players: Seniors B.J. Durham (G) and Arjun Patel (G); junior Ryan Miller (G); sophomore Robert Davis (G).
What you need to know: New coach Mike Coughlan inherits a team that made significant strides forward last season and brings back six of its top eight scorers. Guard play will undoubtedly be the team's strength, with Patel leading the way. He finished with five 20-point games as a junior and finished with a 14.6 scoring average. He also led the county in threes made (46).
Durham, Miller and Davis, each of whom has significant varsity experience, will provide support in the backcourt. Three of the team's forwards, Sean Harrison, Connor Delaney and Sam Willsey, were members of Marriotts Ridge's soccer team that won its third straight state title this fall and Coughlan is hoping that the winning mentality carries over. Also keep an eye on 6-foot-5 senior center D.J. Tucker, who averaged eight points a game last year.
2010-11 record: 12-7, 14-9
Top players: Seniors Jeff Mohilchock (G) and Deonte Moses (G); juniors Malik Gilmore (G), Brian Shade (F) and Diarra Woodward (F).
What you need to know: The Vikings bring back their top four scorers from a team that finished tied for fourth in the county last winter. Moses was the leader of that pack, averaging 13.6 points a night. He is equally dangerous at getting to the rim and as a shooter. Gilmore was right behind him at 11 points a night from his wing position.
Mohilchock will split time at the point and has showcased the ability to be a sharpshooter from beyond the arc. Throw in Woodward down low along with Shade, a 6-foot-5 forward that averaged six points a game last winter, and you start to see the balance that has coaches looking at Mt. Hebron as a potential title contender. The Vikings can run-and-gun if needed, but for the most part expect them to try and force a slower, half-court oriented game. The team was 8-0 in games last winter where the opposition scored less than 50 points.
2010-11 record: 19-0, 25-1
Top players: Seniors Davon Allen (G), Matt Huewe (C), Antonio Manns (F) and Nick Zayatz (G); junior Dajuan Dent (F); sophomore Nikhi Bradley (G).
What you need to know: The defending county champs have undergone a complete overhaul. Gone is Player of the Year Greg Whittington, along with 92 percent of the team's scoring from a year ago. Only Zayatz (3.2 ppg) saw regular minutes last season and he will be asked to be a leader along with Allen.
Bradley arrives after playing JV for Howard as a freshman and provides great quickness and on-ball defense. Dent is also a first-year varsity player who has the potential to play above the rim. He should be one of the county's top shot blockers right away.
But the biggest addition is Manns, who was a starter on Digital Harbor's state championship squad last winter with averages of 16 points and 10 rebounds a game. The 6-foot-5 senior is an inside-outside threat.
2010-11 record: 9-10, 10-13
Top players: Seniors Terrance Epps (G) and Joey Usher (F); junior Matt Christian (F).
What you need to know: The Gators will be beginning life without star point guard Taz Larry, a first-team all-county guy, and with that comes a new identity. Epps is vastly improved and will take over the ball handling duties and some of the scoring load. Cody Toler, a junior, will also be someone to look out for in the backcourt after averaging 4.8 points a game last winter.
In the early going, the addition of the lanky and athletic Keyon Booth will give the team some flexibility. He's part of a bench that should go 10 or 11 deep. The team's top two returning scorers, Usher (6.0 ppg) and Christian (5.8), are forwards. The duo also was the team's top rebounders a year ago at six boards a game each.
Second-year coach Ryan Carson is still fiddling with line-up combinations, but no matter who is on the floor he says defense is going to be the team's calling card.
2010-11 record: 12-7, 13-10
Top players: Seniors Corey Ruben (G), Eric Qiu (F) and Evan Richardson (G); junior Walt Moody (F); freshmen Charley Thomas (F) and Gary Sandler (G).
What you need to know: With an exceptionally young and inexperienced team, the Hawks are undoubtedly going to take some lumps this winter. With time, however, this group is going to be dangerous.
Moody, a 6-foot-3 forward, is the only player back that saw significant time last year and he's missed the preseason while playing on the football team. When he arrives, expect him to improve on his 4.5 points and 3.0 rebounds he averaged as a sophomore. He'll get help down low from Qiu, who is much improved, and Thomas, who is one of two freshmen starters. Standing 6-foot-6, Thomas possesses tremendous hands and will be a rebounding force as he starts out.
Sandler will be thrown into the fire at one of the guard spots and Ruben, who played sparingly as a junior, will be the primary ball handler. Richardson came on strong at the end of last season.
2010-11 record: 7-12, 11-14
Top players: Seniors Dante Garner (F) and Devaughn Garner (F); junior Eric Handy (G).
What you need to know: The Wildecats were extremely athletic last year and are similar in that respect this winter. Twin brothers Dante and Devaughn Garner are combo players that can beat teams in a number of different ways. Devaughn didn't play last year, but Dante averaged 12.5 points a game to go with 4.8 rebounds.
However, as first-year coach Deonne Wingfield points out, opposing teams won't be able to focus soley on the Garner brothers. Handy is one to watch in particular after finishing as the team's best 3-point shooter as a sophomore and averaging eight points a game. Overall, Wingfield says he can see going up to 12 players deep early on and using that to his advantage. "We're going to use our speed, athleticism and depth to go up tempo as much as possible," he said.
Glenelg Country School
2010-11 record: 19-1 MIAA B, 27-4
Top players: Seniors Lawrence Davis (F) and Cesar Jove-Vives (G); juniors Kevin Boyd (G) and Warren Powers (F); sophomore Chancellor Barnard (G).
What you need to know: The Dragons are making the move to the MIAA A Conference after winning the B championship last winter. Four of the team's top five scorers are back to try and help smooth the transition, although the outlook would have been even brighter had Isaiah Miles (18.5 ppg) not transferred to Milford Mill for his senior year.
Still, this is a talented and experienced bunch. Powers can do a little of everything and averaged 16.2 points a game as a sophomore. Point guard Jove-Vives (11.9 ppg) and Boyd (9.7) weren't far behind in the scoring department.
The team also has some big bodies in the paint in Davis and 6-foot-8 senior Cedric Moune, balanced on the wings by athletic guys like Barnard and Amon Jones. Don't expect the team to average the 66.5 points it did last season, but with a tough defense it might not need to.
2010-11 record: 12-0 MIAA C, 25-7
Top players: Seniors Jordan Bryant (F) and Jordan Lawrence (G); juniors Gordie Frierson (G) and Chika Obi (C); sophomores Chris Grandy (F) and Isaiah Harris-Winn (F).
What you need to know: The Yellowjackets are making a move of their own, shifting up into the MIAA B Conference. They will be attempting the transition without last year's top four scorers, although this is a group that appears ready to reload instead of rebuild.
Part of the optimism stems from the program's success on the JV level and having a strong core of guys that are used to playing together. Frierson, Harris-Winn and Grandy are among those that are first-year varsity guys stepping into prominent roles. Lawrence is a captain and will run the point after averaging 3.3 points a game last winter. Obi, a 6-foot-7 center, is the team's lone returning starter and through the first seven games this season is nearly averaging a double-double.
The team already owns a few impressive wins in 2011-12, including a two-point B Conference victory over Friends.