As you might have noticed, the college basketball season recently commenced, including a game on an aircraft carrier. Around here, we'd settle for a heliport. With football playoffs in full swing and no classes for public schools this week, the boys hoops season is tipping off with only modest buzz. Things should heat up in a week or so (see Chamberlain at Wharton on Nov. 29) and really get going next month (see City of Tampa Championships). Us? We're set for takeoff now. Here's our county preview, bracketology style. (Teams are listed with last season's records.)
Final four contenders
Berkeley Prep (20-8): Any team facing the Bucs early should be grateful. They'll be far more dangerous by February. An extended football season could keep some of coach Bobby Reinhart's key components (Nelson Agholor, Reggie Barnes) off the court until mid December. But when the Bucs hit their full stride in early 2012, they'll be able to compete with anyone around.
Jesuit (24-5): Even coach Neal Goldman, never known for his hyperbole, acknowledges this could be the best team of his quarter-century tenure. The Tigers, undefeated in the local summer league, possess no obvious deficiencies. They'll be strongest on the perimeter, where 6-foot-5 junior sharpshooter Jack Fleming (67 treys last season) will be flanked by 6-1 junior Joey Galvis and sleek 6-3 point guard Devin Harris. The frontcourt is huge and will get even bigger when 6-4 junior Travis Johnson arrives from football.
Tampa Prep (25-4): The Terrapins return four starters and three prominent reserves from last season's Class 2A final four squad and welcome at least two impact newcomers. The Terps' strength is the perimeter, where Butler signee Devontae Morgan and point guard Josh Heath worked tirelessly on their jump shot during the offseason. Now they're essentially interchangeable at the two guard spots.
Wharton (23-6): The departure of Division I signees Xavier Owens and A.J. Astroth, while a significant blow, wasn't a mortal one. Quick and athletic, the Wildcats' strength is a backcourt featuring no fewer than six quality guards. Among them is point man C.J. McGill, a starter as a freshman who missed all of last season with a torn ACL. The frontcourt, pretty solid right now, will be even more daunting when 6-foot-6 sophomore Chase Litton arrives from football.
In the Sweet 16
Could win a playoff game:
Chamberlain (24-3): The Chiefs are talented. But two things are working against them: Times 2011 county player of the year Eric Storts has graduated, and they're going to sneak up on no one this time around.
Seffner Christian (13-14): The Crusaders return their top two scorers, including senior Garrett Saunders.
Sickles (23-7): The Gryphons return significant talent from last season's playoff team, including 6-7 low-post force Eric Floyd.
Tampa Catholic (21-9): The last time coach Don Dziagwa had a sophomore group this talented, he won a state title. Guard Isiah Thomas and forward Chivarsky Corbett have Division I potential.
Durant (21-5): Don't sleep on this squad. The emergence of junior guard Kyle White and arrival of Milwaukee move-in Trent Robertson will help offset the graduation of James Madison signee Andre Nation.
Strawberry Crest (9-17): The transfer of Jacksonville University signee Brandon Channer from Blake instantly makes the Chargers a tough out.
Brandon (10-14): The Eagles return four starters, and 6-7 sophomore Roderick Davis is a blossoming star.
Robinson (16-9): The Knights quietly posted a respectable season in 2011, and a lot of size in the frontcourt returns.
East Bay (18-10): We see the Indians building on their breakthrough season of '11.
G Reggie Hart, Jr., Chamberlain: The Chiefs' new go-to guy now that Eric Storts has graduated.
G Devontae Morgan, Sr., Tampa Prep: Butler signee nearly averaged a double double last season.
G Jack Fleming, Jr., Jesuit: Could break James Bunn's school season record of 78 treys.
G Brandon Channer, Sr., Strawberry Crest: Blake transfer had a double double in state tourney.
G Nelson Agholor, Sr., Berkeley Prep: Nearly as dazzling on the court as he is in the backfield.
G Devin Harris, Jr., Jesuit: Coach Neal Goldman never has had a point guard with this size (6-3).
G Josh Heath, Jr., Tampa Prep: Son of USF coach averaged more than five assists as a sophomore.
G Troy Holston, Jr., Wharton: Freedom's top scorer in '11 now at school for which he's zoned.
G Isiah Thomas, So., Tampa Catholic: Exceptional shooter should emerge as a floor general.
G Kyle White, Jr., Durant: Tallied a double double in a preseason victory last week.
8A-7: Alonso, Bloomingdale, Durant, Newsome, Plant, Wharton
7A-8: Brandon, East Bay, Hillsborough, Plant City, Riverview, Tampa Bay Tech
7A-9: Chamberlain, Freedom, Gaither, Steinbrenner, Wiregrass Ranch
6A-11: Armwood, Jefferson, King, Leto, Sickles, Strawberry Crest
5A-11: Blake, Jesuit, Lennard, Middleton, Robinson, Spoto
4A-9: Berkeley Prep, Sarasota Booker, Tampa Catholic
3A-8: Bishop McLaughlin, Brooks-DeBartolo, Carrollwood Day, Seffner Christian, Tampa Prep
2A-8: Academy at the Lakes, Bayshore Christian, Cambridge Christian, Citrus Park Christian, Tampa Bay Christian