For the third time in the playoffs, Tampa Catholic went on the road and won in hostile territory to advance. That is a pretty impressive feat for any team, let alone one whose main contributors are underclassmen. We had identified that game going in as the matchup of the day and its final three point margin may have proved us correct. However, we were surprised that U-School won by only three against Westminster Christian on Friday, even with Vernon Carey sitting out the second half with an injury. Ranked teams Andrew Jackson and The Villages both won big on the road against opponents ranked outside of the top twenty-five in the class. We ended up finishing 3-1 with our picks in this round.
Best Final Four Matchup: Many will consider the U-School vs. The Villages the “real title game”. We get that. It should be a game of contrasts with The Villages dynamic backcourt vs. the dominating frontcourt of U-School. Mann is great but backcourt buddies Terry Ivery and Ezekiel Williamsonbey have being playing quite well as of late.
Best Chance for an Upset: The Villages over U-School. The Villages frontcourt players have the ability to score away from the basket, leaving the paint unprotected against the drives of Mann and his friends.
Tampa Catholic over Andrew Jackson
U-School over The Villages
U-School over Tampa Catholic for the Class 5A state title
Another 3-1 record in our picks from Friday. Nature Coast surprised and beat Palatka on the road, spoiling our chance at a perfect record. Our Best Matchup, Paxon vs. Rickards, was the closest game of the night with Paxon winning by three. Lakewood was just too much for an undersized Lake Wales team on a neutral court while Stranahan had no problem with Eustis at home.
Best Final Four Matchup: Paxon and Lakewood should be an interesting ball game. Paxon will have its hands full battling Jalen White and Jamille Reynolds inside. Paxon has to hope that its stronger schedule has prepared them to play Wednesday night.
Best Chance for an Upset: Despite a large gap in the rankings between the two teams, Stranahan (#3) and Nature Coast (#22) actually matchup evenly on the court in terms of size and athleticism. Stranahan has faced more rigorous competition over the course of the season but needs to be operating at a high level to dispatch Nature Coast.
Lakewood over Paxon School
Stranahan over Nature Coast
Stranahan over Lakewood for the Class 6A state title
Our 2-2 record from Friday night is surprising only in the way the games played out. Lehigh went into a once-beaten Charlotte team and won by a single point. Down south, Doral Academy’s bid for an undefeated season and second state title was trounced by Dillard on Doral’s home court. That was our game of the night but we are still stunned by the twelve point margin. Crestview won by eighteen in our Best Chance for an Upset Game.
Best Final Four Matchup: Dillard vs. Hillsborough is unusual in that both teams bring a lot of size to the court and know how to use it. With that being the case, it will come down to which set of guards take and make the best shots while taking care of the basketball.
Best Chance for an Upset: Truthfully, no matter who wins the semi-final games, it won’t surprise. The teams are very evenly matched.
Crestview over Lehigh
Dillard over Hillsborough
Dillard over Crestview for the Class 7A state title
We went 4-0 in our picks for last Friday. Windermere and Ely each had close games at home but were able to advance. Lakewood Ranch won by ten on their homecourt while Fleming Island went on the road to defeat Lincoln by nine. That was our Best Chance for an Upset game and our intuition proved right this time.
Best Final Four Matchup: Let’s be honest; Ely will forever be the favorite in Lakeland as long as Melvin Randall is coaching. He and his teams just know how to win at this time of the year. That being said, the game against Windermere should be very entertaining. Windermere doesn’t have the experience that Ely has in this situation but they have won some very tough games and should be well prepared.
Best Chance for an Upset: Either game could go either way. The only upset will be if Ely loses in their “home away from home”.
Lakewood Ranch over Fleming Island
Ely over Windermere
Ely over Lakewood Ranch for the Class 8A state title.
Another 2-2 record as both Evans and Kissimmee Osceola held serve at home. Evans nearly let a double digit lead over Sanford Seminole slip away before taking control late. Wellington advanced with a three pointer at the buzzer to dispatch Cypress Bay. Osceola’s eight point win over Oakridge is a big turn-around from their 20 point loss to the Pioneers back at the beginning of December.
Best Final Four Matchup: Osceola and South Miami both have excellent guard play and like to play at a fast past. Brandon Sanders, a 6’10 junior for South Miami that is rim protector, is something that Osceola doesn’t have but D’Juan Black of Osceola is something the Cobras don’t have, a man in the paint that can wreck shop against taller players.
Best Chance for an Upset: Evans hasn’t been to Lakeland recently while Wellington is making the trip to the RP Funding Center into an annual event. Wellington may not matchup size-wise with Evans but their experience may tip the scales in their favor.
Wellington over Evans
Osceola over South Miami
Osceola over Wellington for the Class 9A state title