We took in the Friday night contest between Orlando Wekiva and Orlando Edgewater and then Saturday we took in the Showdown in O’Town event. Instead of recapping the games, we thought it might be a bit more interesting to look at each team as far as our pre-season thoughts, where they stand now in the playoff picture, and what might be expected going forward into the final month of the regular season.
Punta Gorda Charlotte
We tagged the Tarpons with a #5 ranking in the pre-season poll, giving them a legitimate chance to make it to Lakeland. While the team’s record of 5-11 after its loss to Windermere Prep (61-55) Saturday gives us reason to be concerned, the bigger picture must be taken in. The Tarpons have played one of the more difficult schedules in the state, including participation in the City of Palms and the Kingdom of the Sun events. Region Three in Class 6A does not look daunting. Charlotte has some quality players, especially when 6’6 senior John Gamble locks into his inner-cheat code and does things few players can do at this level. Despite their current record, the Tarpons are ranked #6 in the region but #1 in their district, and have the second highest strength of schedule in the classification. We still think Charlotte’s use of a uber-challenging regular season to prepare for a playoff run will work out in their favor.
We admittedly didn’t give enough respect in the pre-season to this flock of Eagles. They are quite young as their top four players are a junior and three sophomores. They were flying high until two recent losses, one to top ten in 7A Windermere and then Friday night’s blowout loss at Wekiva (75-58),knocked them down a peg, leaving their record at 8-6 It is possible that Edgewater and Wekiva could meet three more times this season, the most important being the last one in the regional playoffs. Even if we concede the district title to Wekiva, Edgewater should grab one of the four wildcard spots in the regional playoffs. From there it gets kind of dicey, as a road game at the likes of Oviedo, Bartow, or Martin County would be daunting to say the least. Edgewater currently is ranked #2 in its district and region. Making the regional playoffs this year will set up Edgewater for a solid run the next couple of seasons.
We selected the Tigers as the #2 team in Class 5A in the pre-season as well as a team to reach Lakeland. Much like Charlotte, Jones is tackling a very challenging schedule this season and while a 7-8 record after Saturday’s loss to Orlando Christian Prep, may not get people excited, there are some things to keep in mind. The Tigers clawed back from a twenty-two point deficit against a top ten team regardless of class and came back to within three points before falling 53-47. They are focused in on the defensive end and realize that will keep them competitive. They will certainly have challenges come playoff time, as Auburndale in their district has been playing well and both Leesburg and Tampa Jesuit are always formidable. Still, we like the mindset and the talent Jones can bring to the floor. The Tigers are currently ranked #2 in their district and region behind Auburndale. Jones’ strength of schedule is the highest in the classification, which is understandable. We still believe their bandwagon will arrive intact in Lakeland.
Orlando Christian Prep
The Warriors have only lost one game all season, a triple OT affair against Orlando Olympia. This is the first OCP team in quite a while that doesn’t have a real viable presence on the interior, much less a dominating figure. That seems to be okay with head coach Treig Burke. He not only gets guys in, he gets guys to BUY in. This group defends very well and has enough capable scorers to get points on any given night. Granted, nearly dropping a 20+ lead like they did Saturday night is a bit concerning but that’s the joy of working with teenagers. We had them as the pre-season favorite to win Class 2A and despite the success that Sagemont is having down south, we aren’t ready to abandon the OCP bandwagon. Currently ranked #1 in both its district and region, it is close to impossible envisioning a scenario where the Warriors would have to cancel their hotel reservations in Lakeland for early March.
Another team that embraces the mantra that a tough regular season schedule will yield playoff success, the Crusaders seemingly take on anybody and everybody. Their .500 record of 7-7 after Saturday’s loss to Windermere (83-74) is a bit misleading. We tagged them with the #2 pre-season ranking in Class 3A and the pick to get to Lakeland out of region three. However, that region now looks far more challenging that previously expected. Berkeley Prep and Brooks-DeBartolo will not be pushovers in their district and potential region playoff opponents such Clearwater Calvary Christian, St. Pete Northside Christian, Bradenton Christian, Fort Myers Gateway Charter and Naples First Baptist have all been impressive at one point or another. Still, when you have one of the best players in the country (6’5 junior Karter Knox), a prolific shooter and scorer from the perimeter (6’3 senior Eddrin Bronson) and a solid point guard (6’0 sophomore Isaiah Campbell-Finch), the pieces are there to be competitive game in and game out. Currently ranked #3 in their district (behind Berkely Prep and Tampa Prep) and #6 in the region, The Crusaders should have a legit shot to the final four but there are some kinks to work out before the playoffs arrive in a month.
The Mustangs appeared in our pre-season rankings at #9 in Class 6A but they have far exceeded those expectations to date. With a 15-2 record after Friday’s win over Edgewater, playing without leading scorer K.J. Robinson, Wekiva proved they are no fluke. With 26 points from sophomore Darius Livingston as well as the reliable toughness and production of senior Malachi Hampton, the Mustangs dominated from start to finish. Wekiva has a stable of athletes that go all in when it comes to rebounding and defense. With no player taller than 6’5, the Mustangs will likely have challenges against teams with size. The challenges Wekiva will face in the regional playoffs are the same as Edgewater’s mentioned earlier. Currently ranked #3 overall in 6A and #1 In its district and region, their playoff future may hinge on when and where they go on the road.
Some things in life just are not fair. For example, three of the top six teams in MaxPrep’s most recent Florida 7A rankings reside in District Five as Olympia, Oak Ridge, and Windermere have to deal with each other before facing a gauntlet in the regional round. However, as tough as Region Two is in this classification, you have to like what Windermere brings to the table after watching their 83-74 win over Tampa Catholic. Ta’Veon Jones, a 5’9 junior, is a destructive force on both ends of the floor. Guards Chandler Torres, Jalen DeBose, and Isaiah Dorceus, can put up points in a hurry, and big man Cole White is solid in protecting the paint and grabbing boards. We had Windermere at #8 in the pre-season Class 7A poll. Currently, the Wolverines are ranked #3 In the district and #4 in the region. No doubt they will get a shot in the regionals, be it a district champ or a wild card. If that ranking holds up and the playoffs hold to form, Windermere would get a six seed and a trip to Port St. Lucie Centennial. From there, it may be a matter of matchups as well as being at home or on the road.
We took some good-natured flak from Windermere Prep about a month ago at their Hoop Fest event the second weekend of December for not ranking them in the pre-season. In watching their win over Charlotte out of Punta Gorda, we could tell there was something different about the Lakers. That difference turned out to be 6’0 senior Aiden Fletcher. His speed and quickness at both ends allows other players freedom to use their natural gifts on the basketball court. Freshmen Si Huan anchors the defense inside while another freshman, Brandon Bass, can put up points in a hurry. The Lakers have gone from passing consideration to real threat come playoff time. Currently ranked #1 in their district and region, it won’t be a cakewalk to the final four. District rivals The First Academy and Foundation Academy will challenge while Holy Trinity out of Melbourne is looking at t repeat and Riverview Bell Creek, Santa Fe Catholic out of Lakeland and South Florida schools Benjamin, John Carroll and King’s Academy all have solid resumes. However, it looks like Windermere Rep could be peeking at the right time.