The bay area bracketology is nearly complete; we're down to our final four. Starting today, a quartet of local boys basketball teams — Clearwater, King, Springstead and Tampa Prep — begin play in the state tournament at the Lakeland Center. Two (Clearwater, Tampa Prep) have been to this point 20 total times before. The other two are newbies. So far, each has been distinct — and dominant — in its own way. Here's a closer look at every member of the foursome.
The undefeated | Springstead
Springstead (30-0), making its first state tournament appearance, is trying to become the first bay area boys team to finish a season undefeated since … well … a heck of a long time. While scrambling to find the records of all 26 local teams to win the FHSAA state championship (dating to 1924), we've so far learned no one around here has gone unbeaten from wire to wire in at least 30 years.
Semifinal: Thursday vs. Pensacola (27-5), 2:30 p.m.
How the Eagles advanced: defeated Kissimmee Poinciana 71-57 in Class 4A region quarterfinals; defeated Hudson 72-49 in region semifinals; defeated Ocala West Port 76-47 in region final
Who's hot: G Dante Valentine, Sr. (21.3 ppg, 4.3 steals in postseason); F Isaiah Mason, Sr. (22 points, 12 rebounds in region final)
Odds of winning state: 8-1. The Eagles possess the talent, quickness, complementary players and coaching to win it all. What they won't have is homecourt advantage or a favorable draw. If the Eagles defeat top-ranked Pensacola and face Bartow — a 15-minute drive from Lakeland — in Saturday's 4A final, they'll have roughly 3,000 Yellow Jackets fans screaming against them.
Did you know: Springstead is the state's only public-school team still undefeated.
The unchallenged | Clearwater
Hitched up with an inviting stretch of overmatched opponents, Clearwater (27-3) has waltzed through the postseason, winning every game by double digits since its district tournament started three weeks ago. The Tornadoes have trailed once, 11-10 early in the first quarter against Blake in the region quarterfinals. Their closest game came against Venice in last week's region final, when they led 36-33 going into the fourth before pulling away for a 12-point triumph.
Semifinal: Today vs. Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer (22-7), 4 p.m.
How the Tornadoes advanced: defeated Blake 68-45 in Class 5A region quarterfinals; defeated Hillsborough 72-59 in region semis; defeated Venice 47-35 in region final
Who's hot: F Okaro White (20.6 ppg, 8.1 rebounds); G Regan O'Rourke (14.4 ppg, 5.2 assists)
Odds of winning state: 3-1. The Tornadoes are equipped for a state title run. There is a formidable frontcourt in White and Julien Sargent, playmaking guards in O'Rourke and Cory Carden, and a bench that has provided scoring when needed. Clearwater has won 13 straight and is playing its best when it counts.
Did you know: Clearwater's only state title was during the 1980-81 season.
The unlucky | Tampa Prep
Tampa Prep (26-4), in the state tournament for the fifth time, seeks its first title. In four previous trips, the Terrapins lost to Panhandle nemesis Port St. Joe, including in overtime in the 2007 semifinals. Alas, the Terrapins' luck might be changing; Port St. Joe isn't in the tournament.
Semifinal: Thursday vs. West Palm Beach Summit Christian (27-4), 10 a.m.
How the Terrapins advanced: defeated Lakeland Santa Fe Catholic 72-28 in Class 2A region quarterfinals; defeated Indian Rocks Christian 71-47 in region semis; defeated Naples Community School 58-42 in region final
Who's hot: F Jay Bowie (13.5 ppg, 8.5 rebounds the past four games), F Devontae Morgan (10.5 ppg, 6.2 rpg in the postseason)
Odds of winning state: 6-1. No Port St. Joe is good news for Tampa Prep. But instead, the Terps might have to face Arlington Country Day, which has won four straight 2A titles and has knocked off two undefeated teams this postseason. But over the past month, the Terps have bought into defense. They've held opponents to 36.2 points per contest in the postseason (including districts), proving during that stretch they can win pretty and ugly.
Did you know: Coach Joe Fenlon has 534 career wins, all at Tampa Prep over 26 years.
The unsung | King
In the Times' Hillsborough County boys basketball season preview, King was a team "on the brink" of a big year, but omitted from the county's preseason top five. To the surprise of many, including us, the Lions are in their first state tournament. Ignored by the state polls all year, King officially is 23-6 but 27-2 on the court (it forfeited its first four victories for using an ineligible player) and has won 21 in a row.
Semifinal: Today vs. Gainesville (24-3), 7 p.m.
How the Lions advanced: defeated Land O'Lakes 51-44 in Class 5A region quarterfinals; defeated Ridgewood 45-37 in region semis; defeated Daytona Beach Seabreeze 87-46 in region final
Who's hot: F Toarlyn Fitzpatrick (18 points, 18 rebounds, 10 assists in region final), F Reshard Brown (16 points, 8-for-9 from the free-throw line in region final), G Adrian Federick (11.3 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.3 steals in the region tournament)
Odds of winning state: 4-1. This team has beaten the odds all season. The Lions have the quickness and talent to win it all, despite a tough path to the title. Fitzpatrick makes everyone around him better and King's tenacious defense causes teams fits. Just see the 41-point win over Seabreeze in the region final.
Did you know: Before this season, King had been to the region playoffs only three times and hadn't won a game.