It has been a wild ride during the regular season, especially for top-ranked teams. St. Petersburg occupied the No. 1 for weeks only to fall at the end. Hillsborough took over top billing last week but needed to survive two close games to stay there. In fact, three of the teams ranked in the top eight last week lost, creating quite a bit of shuffling.
1. Hillsborough (23-2)
Up next: 7A-7 tournament at Hillsborough: Wednesday vs. Brandon-Armwood winner, 7
Last spot: No. 1
Why they stayed put: The Terriers, who have won 16 straight, closed out the regular season by pulling out three tightly-contested games. They held off a furious rally to beat Tampa Bay Tech 56-54 two weeks ago. That was followed by a 61-55 overtime win over Plant City and a 55-47 win over Lake Wales at Bartow’s Mosaic Stinger Shootout. Christian DeLeon had a team-high 20 points against the Raiders and Warren Mclymont had 11 points and 11 rebounds against Lake Wales. On Wednesday, Hillsborough begins defense of its district title with a semifinal game against either Brandon or Armwood.
2. Lakewood (21-3)
Up next: 6A-11 tournament: Wednesday vs. Dunedin-Bradenton Southeast winner, 7
Last spot: No. 4
Why they moved up: The Spartans, winners of seven straight, have been one of the area’s best teams the second half of the season. Since January, Lakewood has won 12 of 13, the lone loss coming against St. Petersburg. That is the only time the Spartans were defeated by an area opponent. Last week, Lakewood was on cruise control, beating Dixie Hollins 97-55 and Northeast 75-65 to close out the regular season. The Spartans own the top seed in the Class 6A, District 11 tournament and play the winner of Dunedin-Bradenton Southeast in Wednesday’s semifinals.
3. Tampa Catholic (20-5)
Up next: 5A-9 tournament at Tampa Catholic: Wednesday vs. Sarasota Cardinal Mooney-Cypress Creek winner, 7:30
Last spot: No. 5
Why they moved up: The Crusaders took their lumps early playing a brutally tough schedule. But after starting 4-3, Tampa Catholic has become formidable, winning 16 of its past 18 games. The late-season resume is impressive with the Crusaders holding wins against ranked foes Berkeley Prep, Jesuit and Tampa Prep, as well as state contender the Villages and independent Oldsmar Christian. The Crusaders closed out the regular season by beating the Terrapins in overtime and sweeping their heated rivalry with the Tigers. Johni Broome had 32 points and 12 rebounds against Tampa Prep. Tampa Catholic, which is hosting the Class 5A, District 9 tournament, has the top seed and will play the Sarasota Cardinal Mooney-Cypress Creek winner in Wednesday’s semifinals.
4. Alonso (21-4)
Up next: 9A-6 tournament at Alonso: Wednesday vs. Riverview, 7
Last spot: No. 2
Why they moved down: The Ravens had their 11-game win streak snapped with a 62-59 overtime loss to Plant. All four of Alonso’s losses this season have been decided by six points or fewer, and the two losses against area opponents (the other was to Hillsborough) were in overtime. After falling to Plant, the Ravens responded by pounding Sickles 64-27 to close out the regular season and regain some momentum heading into the Class 9A, District 6 tournament. Alonso, which has the top seed, hosts Riverview in Wednesday’s semifinals.
5. St. Petersburg (22-3)
Up next: 8A-10 tournament at Countryside: Wednesday vs. Countryside-Palm Harbor U winner, 6:30
Last spot: No. 3
Why they moved down: Since starting 21-0, the Green Devils have been in a tailspin, losing three of their past four. The latest loss came in the Pinellas County Athletic Conference championship game against East Lake. It is the first time St. Petersburg has lost to the Eagles in more than a decade. That doesn’t bode well for the Green Devils, who could face East Lake again in the Class 8A-10 final.
On the cusp
6. Freedom (23-2)
Up next: 8A-8 tournament at Plant: Wednesday vs. Plant-Gaither winner, 5
Last spot: No. 6
Why they stayed put: The Patriots, the No. 2 seed in the Class 8A, District 8 tournament, advanced to the semifinals with a 60-46 win over Steinbrenner. Winners of 11 straight, Freedom has a chance to avenge its two losses of the season with a potential matchup against Plant in the semifinals and against Wharton in the final, provided the Patriots get that far. It has been hard for Freedom to gain any traction in the rankings because of its schedule. The Patriots have played just one team with a winning record in their past six games.
7. East Lake (20-4)
Up next: 8A-10 tournament at Countryside: Wednesday vs. Pinellas Park-Seminole winner, 8
Last spot: No. 7
Why they stayed put: Intent of knocking off St. Petersburg this season, the Eagles finally accomplished their goal, ending years of frustration with a 61-39 win over their biggest nemesis in the PCAC championship game. Dionte Blanch played a key role, finishing with 23 points, 12 rebounds and six assists. That was not the only big win last week. East Lake also beat Clearwater 60-55 to secure a spot in the conference title game. The Eagles, the No. 2 seed in the Class 8A, District 10 tournament, have won seven straight. They play the Pinellas Park-Seminole winner in Wednesday’s semifinals.
8. Wharton (22-4)
Up next: 8A-8 tournament at Plant: Wednesday vs. Wiregrass Ranch-Sickles winner, 7
Last spot: No. 9
Why they moved up: The defending Class 8A, District 8 champions advanced to the semifinals by beating Leto in Monday’s quarterfinals. The Wildcats have the top seed and will play either Wiregrass Ranch and Sickles. Wharton swept the regular-season series against both teams with ease. That should set up a district final against Plant or Freedom. The Wildcats would love to avenge their only district loss against the Patriots.
9. Land O’Lakes (21-2)
Up next: 7A-8 tournament at Sunlake: Wednesday vs. Mitchell, 6
Last spot: No. 11
Why they moved up: The Gators have won 13 straight, currently the second-longest streak in the bay area behind Hillsborough. They closed out the regular season by beating Hudson 100-55 and Zephyrhills 60-43. Chase Farmer had 23 points and Mekhi Perry 11 assists in the win over the Cobras. Land O’Lakes, the top seed in the four-team Class 7A, District 8 tournament, plays Mitchell in Wednesday’s semifinals. The Gators won both meetings in the regular season by more than 25 points.
10. Jesuit (20-5)
Up next: 6A-9 tournament at Spoto: Tuesday vs. Jefferson
Last spot: No. 8
Why they moved down: The Tigers’ 10-game win streak ended with a loss to Tampa Catholic in the regular-season finale. Andrew Dansoh had a solid performance against the Crusaders, finishing with 14 points and 18 rebounds. Though Jesuit was swept by its bitter rival, the two losses were both by single digits. Now the focus turns to the Class 6A, District 9 tournament, held at Spoto. The Tigers, who were undefeated in district play, own the top seed and play Jefferson in Tuesday’s semifinals.
11. Plant (16-9)
Up next: 8A-8 tournament at Plant: Tuesday vs. Gaither
Last spot: No. 15
Why they moved up: Two months ago, the Panthers seemed like a longshot to make the playoffs. They were 4-7 at the time and finished the Nature Coast Christmas Invitational on a three-game losing streak. Since then, Plant went through a remarkable transformation. The Panthers have won 12 of their past 14, including victories against Alonso, East Lake and Freedom. A win Tuesday by the Panthers will set up another meeting with the Patriots in Wednesday’s semifinals.
12. Anclote (17-5)
Up next: 6A-8 tournament at Anclote: Tuesday vs. River Ridge, 8:30
Last spot: No. 10
Why they moved down: In their regular-season finale, the Sharks lost 71-64 in overtime to Lakeland to end their five-game win streak. Jakob Hester finished with 23 points and 12 rebounds in the loss. This week, Anclote will try to clinch its second playoff berth in school history. The Sharks, who have the top seed in the Class 6A, District 8 tournament, are favored to do just that.
13. Nature Coast (21-5)
Up next: 6A-7 tournament at Lecanto: Wednesday vs. Lecanto-Central winner
Last spot: No. 13
Why they stayed put: The Sharks beat Fivay 83-48 and Hudson 86-66 to finish the regular season on a four-game win streak. Nature Coast is 10-1 against Class 6A, District 7 competition was good enough to clinch the top seed in the tournament, hosted by Lecanto. On Wednesday, the Sharks will play the Lecanto-Central in the semifinals at 7:30.
14. Seffner Christian (19-6)
Up next: 4A-4 tournament at St. Petersburg Catholic: Tuesday vs. IRC-Northside winner, 6
Last spot: Unranked
Why they moved in: The Crusaders finished the season strong, winning six of their seven games. The biggest wins this season came against Berkeley Prep and Tampa Prep, the last clinching the top seed in the Class 4A, District 4 tournament. Seffner Christian will face either Indian Rocks Christian or Northside Christian in Tuesday’s quarterfinals at St. Petersburg Catholic.
15. Berkeley Prep (15-8)
Up next: 5A-9 tournament at Tampa Catholic: Tuesday vs. Sarasota Military Academy
Last spot: No. 14
Why they moved down: The Buccaneers snapped a three-game losing streak by beating Tampa Prep 62-47 in the regular-season finale. To get back to the playoffs, the Buccaneers will have to win two games in as many nights starting with a matchup against Sarasota Military Academy in Tuesday’s Class 5A, District 9 quarterfinals.
On the bubble: Tampa Prep (19-6), Clearwater (17-7), Tampa Bay Tech (16-7), Plant City (14-9), Gibbs (15-10), Seminole (14-9), Calvary Christian (16-9), Wiregrass Ranch (14-11), Wesley Chapel (17-8), Zephyrhills (14-8)