The real season is here. Consider this the playoffs for most North Suncoast teams because only those that reach the district finals will move on to the region tournament for a shot at the coveted state final four. Sure, this season was relatively predictable on most levels, but don't count out teams such as Wesley Chapel, Zephyrhills and Mitchell as potential spoilers this week. Even Gulf has shown an ability to put fear into teams. As district tournaments fire up today, use our breakdown to get caught up on the season to this point.
Ridgewood's 18-game winning streak is impressive — especially when you consider that the Rams lost key players, including their top three scorers. Stepping up this season? Charles Jones and Jacob Rauh, who have led a perimeter-oriented offense through Pasco County. There were early season concerns about chemistry, but it's clear that is no longer a problem. Ridgewood is guided by longtime coach Gary Anders, who has led seven teams to the playoffs in the past 10 years, including four in a row. By grabbing the No. 1 seed in Class 4A, District 7, Ridgewood avoids a potential upset bid by Mitchell. The teams have met three times, and Ridgewood took all three. But the Mustangs had their best effort in the last meeting, a 63-61 loss.
Best potential semifinal
Many of the potential semifinal matchups are intriguing, and perhaps none more so than Wiregrass Ranch-Nature Coast. A three-way tie for first place with Lecanto was broken by drawing straws. Sharks coach Dave Pisarcik pulled Lecanto as the top seed. If the Sharks and Bulls survive, they will match up in an elimination semifinal, meaning one of the top North Suncoast teams will not make the playoffs. Both teams have changed significantly since their only meeting Jan. 12 — a 37-32 victory by the Bulls. Both teams enter the Class 4A, District 8 tournament with 11-game winning streaks. Both feature arguably the two best big men in the North Suncoast in Tyler Bergantino and Eric Williams.
Few would argue that the hottest player on the North Suncoast is Gulf senior David Ramirez. The standout has 21 games of 20 points or more, eight with 30 or more (which included four straight 30-point games) and a season-high 45 on Jan. 26 in an 81-70 loss to Hudson. Gulf's biggest win of the season was arguably Jan. 29, a 56-50 triumph against Mitchell. Ramirez was held to a season-low 11 points. He rebounded for 24 and 33 against Wiregrass and Zephyrhills, respectively, but both were losses.
• Anclote: Sure, Hudson hammered the Sharks in both meetings, but Anclote is tough.
• Hudson: Yes, just 10-14 overall, but 7-5 in the district, and Chris Russo (20.4 ppg), Richard Williams (18.4 ppg) and Kenny Flores (10.1 ppg) have all played strong down the stretch.
• Mitchell: The Mustangs are 8-5 since the end of December coming off back-to-back losses. Chad Jeckel (18.6 ppg), Jake Driscoll (11.4 ppg) and Mike Francis (10.6 ppg) have to step up.
• Wesley Chapel: The Wildcats' last impressive win came seven games ago, a 73-69 victory against Mitchell. The Wildcats are coming off a 10-point loss at Wiregrass Ranch. Maybe they're saving something for district.
Izzy Gould can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 421-3886.
5A-7 at Springstead
Tuesday: No. 4 Central vs. No. 1 Ocala Forest, 6; No. 2 Ocala West Port vs. No. 3 Springstead, 7:30; Friday: Final, 7. (If both Ocala schools advance, the final will be played at Ocala Vanguard.)
4A-8 at Zephyrhills
Today: No. 8 Citrus vs. No. 9 Sunlake, 7; Tuesday: No. 1 Lecanto vs. Citrus-Sunlake winner, 6; No. 4 Zephyrhills vs. No. 5 Hernando, 7:30; Wednesday: No. 3 Nature Coast vs. No. 6 Land O'Lakes, 6; No. 2 Wiregrass vs. No. 7 River Ridge, 7:30; Friday: Wiregrass-River Ridge vs. Nature Coast-Land O'Lakes, 6; Zephyrhills-Hernando vs. Lecanto-Citrus-Sunlake, 7:30; Saturday: Final, 7
4A-7 at Ridgewood
Wednesday: No. 4 Wesley Chapel vs. No. 5 Gulf, 4:30; No. 3 Hudson vs. No. 6 Anclote, 6:15; No. 2 Mitchell vs. No. 7 Pasco, 8; Friday: Hudson-Anclote vs. Mitchell-Pasco, 6; No. 1 Ridgewood vs. Wesley Chapel-Gulf, 7:45; Saturday: Final, 7
2A-10 at Calvary Christian
Friday: No. 2 Indian Rocks Christian vs. No. 3 Calvary Christian, 6; No. 1 Tampa Prep vs. No. 4 Bishop McLaughlin, 7:30; Saturday: Final, 7
A-9 at Cambridge
Today: No. 1 Cambridge vs. No. 8 Berean Academy, 3:30; No. 4 Carrollwood Day vs. No. 5 Academy at the Lakes, 5; No. 2 Keswick Chr. vs. No. 7 Lakeside Chr., 6:30; No. 3 Canterbury vs. No. 6 Tampa Bay Chr., 8; Tuesday: Cambridge-Berean winner vs. Carrollwood-Academy winner, 5:30; Keswick-Lakeside winner vs. Canterbury-Tampa Bay Chr. winner, 7; Friday: Final, 7
A-8 at Seffner Christian
Tuesday: No. 4 Citrus Park vs. No. 5 Hernando Christian, 6; Friday: No. 2 Bayshore Christian vs. No. 3 Seffner Christian, 5; CP-HCA winner vs. No. 1 Bradenton Christian, 7; Saturday: Final, 7