We went 3-1 in our regional final picks. Our one blemish was St. Petersburg winning on the road by a single point, 48-47, at top-seed Naples Barron Collier. That wasn’t the only one-point win on Friday night. Daytona Beach Mainland held off Lake City Columbia by a single point, 35-34. In the other two regions, Orlando Jones and Miami Belen Jesuit both won by double-digits. This leads us to ponder how the Final Four was “re-seeded” in this classification. Jones, at #3 in the classification when the playoffs started, somehow dropped below #4 Mainland and #10 St. Petersburg to end up with the four seed. Jones’ strength of schedule number is nearly twice that of both Mainland and St. Pete. We might give Mainland’s two-seed the benefit of the doubt as their three regional matchups averaged out to be the most difficult but St. Pete leapfrogging Jones in the seedings is bewildering.
Best Matchup: We expect the Belen Jesuit/Jones matchup to be a contrast of styles and highly entertaining. Belen can carve up opponents with its ball and player movement on offense. Jones wants to pressure and push the pace. Belen has no player on the roster taller than 6’5 and while Jones isn’t much bigger, they do have more guys with size. That being said, Belen’s win over a significantly bigger Miami Norland team suggests that doesn’t matter. In the other bracket, Mainland’s largest scoring output in the regional round has been 44 points. Granted, it was enough to win but it suggests that their game against St. Pete may not keep the crowd’s attention
Best Chance for an Upset: If there is an upset to be had in 5A, it will be if the Belen/Jones winner falls in the title game. It just seems like that semi-final winner will have the upper-hand in terms of talent and playing style.
Miami Belen Jesuit over Orlando Jones
St. Petersburg HS over Daytona Beach Mainland
Miami Belen Jesuit over St. Petersburg HS for the Class 5A state title
It was a 4-0 sweep for our guesses on the outcome of the regional finals. We had to hold on tight as Wekiva survived more than defeated a very good Lakeland team. In the other three brackets, the home teams won by comfortable margins.
Best Matchup: As in 5A, the matchup between Wekiva and Ponte Vedra should be an entertaining contrast of styles. Wekiva will want to play up-tempo and use its defense to create offense and easy baskets. Ponte Vedra will “run its stuff”, look to take good shots and make the most of their opportunities. On the other side of the bracket, Dwyer has been dominant all season long and Wharton just doesn’t match up well with the Panthers.
Best Chance for an Upset: It would most likely come in the finals if Ponte Vedra gets past Wekiva and then somehow forces Dwyer to play a style of game it is unfamiliar or uncomfortable with. Truthfully, just not seeing it.
Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer over Tampa Wharton
Wekiva over Ponte Vedra
Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer over Wekiva for the Class 6A state title
Another 4-0 sweep with our predictions but that just shows how powerful the homecourt advantage is more than our “keen insight”. MaxPreps rates Florida’s Class 7A as the fourth toughest state title to win in the country. That’s pretty impressive but not surprising. All but Colonial have played a national schedule to a certain extent. If the FHSAA had paid attention when doing their bi-annual reclassification exercise, they would have moved two of three Orlando teams (Oak Ridge, Olympia, Windermere) into Region One so that Region Two would not have been so top heavy. Look at it this way: Orlando Colonial, the top seed in Region One, would have been no higher than the seventh-seed in Region Two.
Best Matchup: This one is easier than those Capital One Bank “decision” commercials with Charles Barkley. Both Winter Haven and Orlando Oak Ridge have loads of talent on their respective rosters, have played challenging schedules, and really have no “bad” losses. Winter Haven has a 3-0 record against common opponents while Oak Ridge is just 1-3 in that category. Oak Ridge’s best in-state win is over Lake Worth on the road. Meanwhile, Winter Haven has wins over both Providence and Orlando Christian Prep, both teams ranked ahead of Lake Worth. All of that is fun information but when the ball goes up it will be meaningless. It will be interesting to see how much of a crowd will turnout for Winter Haven for this game.
Best Chance for an Upset: The only upset possible is Colonial winning over Columbus in the first semi-final. The Boozer brothers could be stricken with the flu or kidnapped by aliens and the edge would still go to Columbus. Both Oak Ridge and Winter Haven have played enough national level opponents that neither will be awed by the Explorers in the final.
Miami Christopher Columbus over Orlando Colonial
Orlando Oak Ridge over Winter Haven
Miami Christopher Columbus over Orlando Oak Ridge for the Class 7A Championship