1. Wharton (2-0)
Up next: Tuesday vs. Freedom; Wednesday at Wiregrass; Friday at Sickles
Why we ranked them: In a season which several area teams are going through a transitional period after graduating a number of quality starters, the Wildcats are perhaps in the best position to make a deep playoff run thanks to a veteran lineup. It starts with Darin Green Jr., a UCF signee who is arguably the top returner in the area. But it does not end there. Wharton also brings back Carr Thiam and Gio Reyes, among others. The Wildcats got off to an impressive start, beating Newsome 64-39 and Plant 75-64. Green had 24 points and Reyes hit seven 3-pointers against the Panthers. This week is a busy one for Wharton with three games against Class 8A, District 8 foes. If the Wildcats are able to win all three, they will already be a game ahead of everyone else for the top seed in the district.
2. St. Petersburg (3-0)
Up next: Tuesday vs. Countryside; Thursday vs. Boca Ciega
Why we ranked them: The exodus of top-tier talent continued with the graduation of Serrel Smith (Maryland) and Tai Strickland (Wisconsin), who each helped the Green Devils reach the state semifinals last season. St. Petersburg will not have the star power its had in the past, but there is talent. Terell Strickland and Harlow Babb, who were named captains, are holdovers that can produce. Deondre Early is poised for a breakout season. Alfonso Franklin, a transfer from Northeast, provides an additional boost. In the preseason, the Green Devils beat city rivals Lakewood and Gibbs. Last week, St. Petersburg started the season strong with wins against Dixie Hollins (65-36), Pinellas Park (82-49) and Northeast (70-23). The Green Devils face Class 7A, District 10 rival Countryside on Tuesday and play rival Boca Ciega two days later.
3. Hillsborough (2-1)
Up next: Wednesday at Jefferson; Friday at King
Why we ranked them: Coming off their first state semifinal appearance in 22 years, the Terriers are well-positioned to make a return trip. Key figures, such as guard Christian Deleon and forward Warren Mclymont, return. Hillsborough also picked up two transfers — James Pursley and Jaylen Harris. Pursley, a 6-foot-10 center who played at Keystone Prep, was the biggest addition. Last week, the Terriers beat Robinson 59-34 and Strawberry Crest 64-46 before losing to Downey Christian 74-65 at the Breast Cancer Awareness Classic in Orlando. Deleon had 21 points in the season-opening win over the Knights.
4. Tampa Catholic (1-2)
b Tuesday at Clearwater Central Catholic
Why we ranked them: The Crusaders return nearly everyone from last year's team that reached the state semifinals for the third straight season. Three players — Kobe Knox (16 points per game), Johni Broome (14.3) and Alijah Harrison (12.3) — are averaging double figures in scoring through the first three games. Tampa Catholic has started off with a losing record but the losses against Leesburg (66-65) and Central Pointe Christian Academy (58-56) were by a combined three points against quality teams.
5. Tampa Bay Tech (2-0)
Up next: Tuesday at Strawberry Crest; Wednesday vs. Bloomingdale; Saturday vs. Hawthorne (@Williston's Might Ike Shootout).
Why we ranked them: Tyrick Brascom, a dynamic playmaker, graduated. The Titans have been able to fill that scoring void by committee. Three seniors — Gavin Antoine, David Cexil and Jamarcus Robertson — have done the bulk of the work. Antoine has been impressive. He had 13 points, eight rebounds and six blocked shots in a 56-55 win over Plant in the season opener. Antoine followed that up by scoring 26 points, grabbing 13 rebounds and blocking four shots in a 78-43 win over King. On Saturday, Tampa Bay Tech will get a good test against Hawthorne in Williston's Might Ike Shootout.
On the cusp
6. Berkeley Prep (3-0)
Up next: Idle
Why we ranked them: The Buccaneers have the pieces in place to compete with rival Tampa Catholic for the Class 5A, District 9 title. In the preseason, Berkeley Prep beat Gibbs and Lakewood. Last week, the Buccaneers were dominant to start the regular season with wins against Cypress Creek (68-21), Carrollwood Day (84-65) and IMG Academy Blue (73-64). Chase Barrs, a Western Michigan signee, had 16 points and 12 rebounds in the season-opening win over Cypress Creek. Against Carrollwood Day in the following game, Ronnie Williams had 21 points while Kegan Karnes and Varun Ajjarapu each added 20.
7. East Lake (2-0)
Up next: Tuesday vs. Palm Harbor University; Friday at Countryside
Why we ranked them: After missing the playoffs the past two seasons, the Eagles are not only in position to make the postseason but also knock off rival St. Petersburg for the Class 7A, District 10 title. East Lake returns the bulk of its lineup, including electrifying guard Dionte Blanch, who decided against transferring to Superior Collegiate this offseason. The Eagles started the season with wins against Seminole (67-46) and Tarpon Springs (65-12). Jordan Hillmon is averaging a team-leading 21.5 points per game and Blanch is averaging 16 through the first two games.
8. Lakewood (4-0)
Up next: Wednesday vs. Lakewood Ranch; Friday vs. Pinellas Park
Why we ranked them: On paper, the Spartans might be the most talented team in the area with a roster full of Division I-A prospects, including Oteman Delancey, Jermaine Phillips, Jamille Reynolds, TJ Tampa and Jalen White. After losing to St. Petersburg and Berkeley Prep by a combined five points in the preseason, Lakewood rebounded when it counted in the regular season. The Spartans have started off with wins against Tarpon Springs (80-21), Dunedin (80-44), Potter's House Christian (63-57) and Bradenton Bayshore (76-49). The victories against Potter's House and Bayshore the past two games were big for Lakewood to gain confidence going forward.
9. Clearwater (2-0)
Up next: Wednesday vs. Tarpon Springs; Thursday at Seminole; Friday vs. Dixie Hollins
Why we ranked them: The Tornadoes have a good shot to make the playoffs for the first time since 2011. They return four starters — Max Jones, Dawson Maxwell, Gilbert Mendez and Nirobi Peeler — who all averaged 12 or more points last season. Clearwater started the regular season by beating Dunedin 92-56 and Palm Harbor University 78-48 last week. Jones had a monster game in the opener against Dunedin, scoring 31 points, grabbing seven rebounds and recording four steals.
10. Plant (1-2)
Up next: Tuesday vs. Leto; Wednesday at Freedom
Why we ranked them: The Panthers' top two scorers from last season graduated — Ronald Boyd and Dylan Wilson. But there are players to fill that void. Logan Morrissey, who averaged 11.6 points per game last season,, is Plant's top returner. The Panthers started the season by dropping two of their first three games. The losses were to Wharton and Tampa Bay Tech, two of the top teams in the area.
11. Gibbs (1-0)
Up next: Wednesday at Dixie Hollins; Friday at Dunedin
Why we ranked them: The ranking should improve once the Gladiators get healthy. Their top scorer, Tre Gilliam, has stress fractures in his shins and will be evaluated by his doctor on Dec. 14. Gilliam should be back for tournaments during the Winter break. Bryce Brown has a broken toe and goes back to the doctor on Dec. 19. Despite missing two starters, Gibbs still managed to start the season with a 61-15 rout over Tarpon Springs last week. Deonnte Brooks had 18 points and Marcus Lloyd added 13 to lead the Gladiators.
12. Nature Coast (1-0)
Up next: Idle
Why we ranked them: The Sharks followed up an impressive preseason showing with wins against Lakeland George Jenkins and Lake Gibson by routing Mitchell in the regular season opener 101-63. Nature Coast forward Orien Adams set school records for points (40) and rebounds (28) in a game against the Mustangs. Adams will team with Robert Gomez to give Nature Coast a solid 1-2 scoring punch. The Sharks have nearly a two-week break before their next game against Citrus on Dec. 11.
13. Alonso (3-0)
Up next: Tuesday vs. Chamberlain; Friday at Riverview
Why we ranked them: This might be the most underrated team in the area. The Ravens have size with 6-foot-4 Sager Cavalier and 6-5 Kamalii Findlay. The seniors compliment each other well and provide a steady inside presence. Alonso started the season with wins against Leto (56-39), Jefferson (68-27) and King (96-73). Friday's game against Riverview is the Class 9A, District 6 opener for the Ravens.
14. Jesuit (2-1)
Up next: Wednesday at Jesuit; Friday at Robinson
Why we ranked them: The Tigers have a veteran team and should get a boost with return of a few football players this week. Two players — Jack Cooper (12 points per game) and Ryan Weir (10.7) — are averaging double figures in scoring. Jesuit went 2-1 in the opening week, beating Mitchell 95-42 and Bartow 53-45 and losing to Img Academy Blue 74-53. Wednesday's game against Admiral Farragut will be a good early season test for the Tigers,
15. Tampa Prep (1-0)
Up next: Tuesday at Bishop McLaughlin; Friday vs. Northside Christian
Why we ranked them: With Admiral Farragut becoming an independent and Carrollwood Day transitioning to a new coach, the Terrapins are in good position to return to the playoffs after a two-year absence. The bulk of the scoring will be provided by Jaren Phillips and Gabriel Sharp. In a 66-61 season-opening win over Sunlake last week, Phillips scored a team-high 20 and Sharp added 19.