Call it what you want - the Black and Blue Division or Competition Conference.

You still may not come close to describing the high level of play in the Public League C Division.

"We got Communications Tech and Prep Charter in our division," Imhotep Charter coach Andre Noble said of the Pub's 15-team Class AA division. "They are the last two Public League champions. It's not like you can discount anybody."

Sure can't.

In addition to winning the Public title in 2007, Prep Charter won back-to-back PIAA Class AA state championships in 2006 and 2007. Two other division squads – Strawberry Mansion and Freire Charter - reached state championship games in their respective classifications last season.

The Knights finished second in Class AA, while the Dragons were the Class A runner-up. Freire Charter moved up a class this season. Former Class AAA Communications Tech and Ben Franklin both dropped to that classification.

Only three of the league's teams will qualify for the state playoffs.

"Franklin is a tough team that is not going to be easy to beat," said Noble, whose squad is coming off back-to-back Class AA state semifinal losses. "And Del-Val Charter is going to be a sleeper. You also have Hope. You will have eight solid games.

"AA is crazy. It should be a real good season."

Prep Charter coach Dan Brinkley doesn't have a problem with the league's competitiveness.

"I think that's a good thing," he said, "because whoever comes out of that division will be battle-tested. And you also know that you will have to play your best in every quarter of every division game."

Even in the most competitive leagues, there's often one team that separates itself from the pack. Imhotep Charter has that distinction.

The guard-heavy Panthers are favored to win this season's Class AA state title. The team is also ranked sixth in The Inquirer's Southeastern Pennsylvania preseason rankings.

"To say that this team does not have high expectations and should not have high expectations is false. We do," Noble said. "We are not running away from it. We are going to try to make sure we get it done."

In the process, Imhotep should be fun to watch.

The Panthers will start four guards and a post-player for its up-tempo style. Six-foot-8 sophomore Eric Copes will start down low.

Nobles wouldn't name his four starting guards, saying that he considers seniors Parrish Grant, Will Adams, Sam Prescott, Kenny Battles and Ivory Wells all to be starters.

Grant, a 6-2 point guard, transferred from Prep Charter. He is attracting Division I interest.

Adams, a 6-4 wing, has orally committed to play at Towson University. Prescott, a 6-3 wing, is headed to Marist. Guards Wells (6-4) and Battles (6-2) are receiving Division II interest.

The Panthers will display a five-guard lineup during key stretches. Even though he's confident, Noble says he won't look past any division opponent.

"To me," he said, "it is by far the best division in our league. This year, you better be ready every time you step in the gym."

Contact staff writer Keith Pompey at 610-313-8029 or kpompey@phillynews.com.