At the high school level, most district basketball tournaments are easier to forecast than the weather pattern of Antarctica. After a full season of play, the premier teams are established and the weaker ones exposed, making the district tournament something of a formality. Hence the reason this week's Class 4A, District 8 girls tournament is such a breath of fresh air. The top three seeds — Wiregrass Ranch, Gulf and Nature Coast, respectively — all have legitimate chances of winning. "It's a coin flip," Bucs coach Mike Quarto said. Wiregrass Ranch has twice defeated Nature Coast, which split with Gulf, which split with Wiregrass. Get the picture? It's a portrait of parity. "It's the most balanced our district has been," Sharks coach Travis Lamle said. "It's the fourth year of it, and it's always been us and Gulf in the finals. This is the first year that's not going to happen." A closer look at the top three seeds:
No. 1 Wiregrass Ranch (20-4)
Why the Bulls could win: Because solid guard play wins championships, and the Bulls boast a talented backcourt by committee. They swept Nature Coast in the regular season and split with Gulf.
Why the Bulls could be the odd team out: Because they've struggled a bit lately, winning only four of their past seven. An 18-point loss to Ridgewood on Wednesday isn't the kind of effort you want as the district tournament nears.
Biggest concern: Post play. Gulf had a 25-11 advantage on boards in the Bucs' 46-41 win Jan. 15.
No. 2 Gulf (21-4)
Why the Bucs could win: They've got the momentum of a five-game win streak and have proved on any given night they can beat anyone around. Gulf fell to Wiregrass Ranch and Nature Coast on the road, but avenged both defeats in the rematches at home.
Why the Bucs could be the odd team out: In their only previous game at Nature Coast, the Sharks suffocated prolific Bucs guard Nicole Adams (13 points, two field goals) en route to a 51-40 triumph. Guess who the Bucs are almost certain to play in the semifinals?
Biggest concern: That likely semifinal against the Sharks. "We got after it on the boards and played our tempo (in the rematch, a 52-41 triumph), and that's what we're going to have to do at their place," Quarto said.
No. 3 Nature Coast (18-6)
Why the Sharks could win: They've already defeated Gulf — their likely semifinal opponent — on their home floor, and had Wiregrass Ranch on the ropes in the same building. In a 47-43 loss to the Bulls on Dec. 19, the Sharks led by 10 at halftime before a controversial foul and momentary loss of composure shifted the momentum. In the rematch at Gulf, an 11-point loss, Nature Coast was missing two key players.
Why the Sharks could be the odd team out: Because, coach Travis Lamle says, Gulf is the hardest matchup for them. Lamle is concerned about the inside-outside tandem of point guard Nicole Adams and center Kianna Mills.
Biggest concern: Rustiness. "We won't have played a game in almost nine or 10 days when we play Hudson (in Wednesday's quarterfinals)," Lamle said, "which I guess could be a pro and a con. But we're ready to go out there and get after it."