For years, the district tournaments had taken on the look of bulked-up bullies kicking sand in the faces of the weaklings. Front-runner status was reserved for the top-seeded teams, the traditional powers. The top seeds still belong to some of the old guard. Clearwater is No. 1 in Class 5A, District 11. Boca Ciega is on top in 5A-12. But no team has been able to cruise toward a top seed against district opponents that put up little fight. No county team had a top seed wrapped so far in advance that it could rest its most critical players. The Pirates didn't clinch the top seed until two weeks ago. The Tornadoes had to wait until the final few games of the regular season before they secured a No. 1 seed. Upstarts have crashed the party. Tarpon Springs beat Clearwater for the first time since anyone can remember. Northeast upset Gibbs. Osceola shocked St. Petersburg. The unpredictably of games is a testament to how parity has transformed boys basketball this season. There is little difference between the No. 4 seed and No. 1 seed in many districts.
Can the topsy-turvy season result in any upsets?
The Times answers that question and others in the district tournament preview.
1. What is the toughest district?
Class 5A-12 has the most depth with five teams capable of beating one another on any given night. Boca Ciega, which won the conference title, is undefeated against county competition and has the No. 1 seed. But the Pirates have had to come through in some tough games, including in overtime against Northeast and Gibbs and a two-point win in regulation against the Gladiators in a rematch. And don't forget about Largo or Pinellas Park. The Packers were the district runnerup last season and played some close games.
2. What are some enticing potential matchups?
In 5A-11, Tarpon Springs and Clearwater are the top two seeds in the tournament and split their regular-season series in two close games. The big matchup in 5A-12 could be Gibbs-Boca Ciega, but the semifinals could be just as exciting. Two semifinal games to keep an eye on among the private schools are Shorecrest-Northside Christian in 2A-11 and Calvary Christian-Indian Rocks Christian in 2A-12.
3. Which teams need to pull an upset to make it?
St. Petersburg is the No. 4 seed in 6A-7. But remember, the Green Devils had the same seed last season and won the tournament. Hard to believe, but Lakewood is the No. 3 seed and will have to win two games to make the playoffs and three to win the title in coach Dan Wright's farewell season.
Admission: $5 per session
At stake: Finalists advance to next week's region quarterfinals
Class 6A, District 7 (various sites)
Tuesday: Countryside (5) at St. Petersburg (4), 7; Palm Harbor University (6) at Sarasota (3), 7. Wednesday: Countryside-St. Petersburg winner at Sarasota Riverview (1), 7; PHU-Sarasota winner at North Port (2), 7. Friday: Championship, 7 (higher seed hosts unless Pinellas team faces Sarasota team, in which case Pinellas team hosts).
Class 5A, District 12 at Largo
Tuesday: Pinellas Park (5) at Northeast (4), 7. Wednesday: Largo (3) vs. Gibbs (2), 6:30; Pinellas Park-Northeast winner vs. Boca Ciega (1), 7 Friday: Championship, 7.
Class 5A, District 11 at East Lake
Tuesday: Dunedin (5) vs. East Lake (4), 7. Wednesday: Tarpon Springs (2) vs. Seminole (3), 6:30; Dunedin-East Lake winner vs. Clearwater (1), 8. Friday: Championship, 7.
Class 4A, District 10 at various sites
Tuesday: Palmetto (5) at Bradenton Bayshore (4), 7; Dixie Hollins (6) at Lakewood (3), 7; Osceola (7) at Bradenton Lakewood Ranch (2), 7. Wednesday: Dixie Hollins-Lakewood winner vs. Osceola-Lakewood Ranch winner, 7 (higher seed hosts); Palmetto-Bayshore winner at Bradenton Braden River (1), 7. Friday: Championship, 7 (higher seed hosts).
Class 3A, District 10 at Tampa Catholic
Wednesday: Berkeley Prep (1) vs. Clearwater Central Catholic (4), 6; Tampa Catholic (2) vs. St. Petersburg Catholic (3), 7:30. Friday: Championship, 7:30.
Class 2A, District 11 at Admiral Farragut
Friday: Northside Christian (2) vs. Shorecrest (3), 6; Admiral Farragut (1) vs. Sarasota Out-of-Door (4), 7:30. Saturday: Championship, 7.
Class 2A, District 10 at Indian Rocks Chr.
Tuesday: Bishop McLaughlin (4) vs. Brooks-DeBartolo (5), 7; Friday: Calvary Christian (2) vs. Indian Rocks Christian (3), 6; Tampa Prep (1) vs. Bishop McLaughlin-Brooks DeBartolo winner, 7:30. Saturday: Championship, 7.
Class A, District 9 at Keswick Chr.
Tuesday: Canterbury (4) vs. Tampa Bay Christian (5), 4:30; Academy at the Lakes (6) vs. Keswick Christian (3), 6; Cambridge (2) vs. Lakeside Christian (7), 7:30; Canterbury (3) vs. Tampa Bay Christian (6), 9. Friday: Cambridge-Lakeside winner vs. Keswick-Academy winner, 6; Carrollwood Day (1) vs. Canterbury-Tampa Bay winner, 7:30. Saturday: Championship, 7.