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High school boys basketball rankings for Tampa Bay

With a brutal schedule this season, will Tampa Catholic’s reign at the top last long?
Marcellus Crutchfield of Tampa Catholic runs down the court  during the Class 5A state semifinals last season in Lakeland. [LUIS SANTANA  |  Times]
Marcellus Crutchfield of Tampa Catholic runs down the court during the Class 5A state semifinals last season in Lakeland. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]
Published Dec. 3, 2019

The high school boys basketball season started last week. Once again, there are teams capable of going far in the playoffs. Here is the breakdown in the first rankings of the season.

1. Tampa Catholic (0-0)

Last season: 24-7, Class 5A state semifinalist

This week: Tuesday vs. Sarasota Booker; Thursday vs. Hillsborough; Saturday vs. Orlando’s Windermere Prep (@Orlando Oak Ridge’s Breast Cancer Awareness Shootout)

Outlook: After falling short in four straight state final four appearances, the Crusaders have plenty back to not only get there again but possibly win it all. The five scorers, led by Kobe Knox (19 points per game last year) and Johni Broome (15.8), all return. Tampa Catholic will certainly be tested if it returns to the postseason. Of the known teams on the Crusaders’ schedule, all but one either made the playoffs or are nationally ranked. All three teams on this week’s schedule made the postseason a year ago.

Related: RELATED: Tampa Bay basketball teams stack their schedules under new playoff format

2. Lakewood (1-0)

Last season: 27-4, Class 6A state runnerup

This week: Tuesday vs. Northeast; Friday at Orlando Montverde Academy

Outlook: The Spartans lost two starters from last team: Jermaine Phillips and Jalen White. The good news is that nearly everyone else from the roster in back, including UCF signee Jamille Reynolds and Oteman Delancy. Lakewood has already got off to a strong start by sweeping its two preseason games and beating defending region semifinalist Alonso 77-57 in last week’s Berkeley Prep Shootout. The big matchup this week is on Friday when the Spartans travel to take on national powerhouse Orlando Montverde Academy.

Related: RELATED: High school boys basketball players to watch for Tampa Bay

3. Seffner Christian (0-0)

Seffner Christian Mike Trigg (3) battles Riviera Prep Osmar Garcia Aruajo (32) and Cheikh Ndour (21) for a rebound during last year's state semifinals. [Times]

Last season: 25-7, Class 4A state runnerup

This week: Tuesday at Lakewood Ranch; Friday at Jacksonville Providence School

Outlook: Last season, the Crusaders nearly knocked off three-time state champion Fort Lauderdale Westminster in the Class 4A final. A solid returning nucleus, led by juniors Mike Trigg and Willie Jones, gives Seffner Christian enough talent to make another run at a state title. The bracket will be tougher with Berkeley Prep joining the Crusaders in the same district in a revamped Class 3A. To prepare for the playoffs, Seffner Christian put together a challenging regular-season schedule, starting with the opener at Lakewood Ranch in a matchup of two state finalists from a year ago.

Related: RELATED: Seffner Christian loses heartbreaker in Class 4A final

4. East Lake (0-0)

Last season: 24-5, Class 8A region finalist

This week: Tuesday vs. Seminole; Friday at Sunlake

Outlook: There is plenty to be excited about with the Eagles, who return nine of the 13 players from last season’s roster. The only setback came in the preseason when Jordan Hillmon fractured his finger; he likely will miss some time early in the season. The main attraction is Dionte Blanch, the reigning Pinellas County Player of the Year. Blanch, who recently signed with Murray State, scored 34 points against Sickles and added 29 against Anclote to lead East Lake to a pair of preseason victories.

5. Wharton (0-0)

Last season: 26-5, Class 8A region finalist

This week: Tuesday vs. Alonso; Wednesday at Wiregrass Ranch; Friday vs. Steinbrenner

Outlook: The biggest loss the Wildcats had to deal with in the offseason was the graduation of Darin Green Jr., the Hillsborough County Player of the Year last season who already is the third-leading scorer for UCF seven games into his college career. Still, the backcourt is in great shape with Carr Thiam and Gio Reyes taking on more prominent roles as scorers and leaders.

6. Anclote (0-0)

Last season: 20-6, Class 6A region quarterfinalist

This week: Tuesday vs. Hudson; Wednesday vs. Sunlake

Outlook: The Sharks were a depleted bunch in the preseason. Jakob Hester was out with a sprained meniscus and Jalen Cooper and Diontray Manuel both nursing sprained ankles. All three are expected to be back in the lineup either this week or next. Anclote will have as much height as anyone in the area with five players who are 6-foot-4 or taller. Cooper and Hester are both Palm Beach Atlantic signees who will be counted on for production as the Sharks try to make an even deeper run in the playoffs after getting knocked out in the region quarterfinals last season.

7. Berkeley Prep (3-0)

Last season: 19-9, Class 5A region semifinalist

This week: Wednesday at Cypress Creek

Outlook: The Buccaneers swept their three games at the shootout they hosted last week, beating Bell Creek (68-18), King (66-30) and Gibbs (63-41). Varun Ajjarapu and Kegan Karnes were among the players who stood out for Berkeley Prep. The schedule now becomes significantly lighter. After Wednesday’s game against Cypress Creek, the Buccaneers have a 13-day layoff before their next game.

8. Land O’Lakes (0-0)

Last season: 24-3, Class 5A region semifinalist

This week: Tuesday at Gulf, Friday vs. River Ridge

Outlook: The Gators did a lot of good things last season. They had a 16-game win streak and advanced to the region semifinals. The pieces are still in place to build off that success, chief among them the return of guards Chase Farmer and Mekhi Perry. The schedule includes mostly Pasco County teams the first three weeks of the season. The real test comes at the Nature Coast Christmas Tournament Dec. 27-29.

9. Sickles (0-0)

Last season: 11-15

This week: Tuesday at Steinbrenner, Friday vs. Strawberry Crest

Outlook: The Gryphons got a boost with the offseason addition of Dillon Mitchell, a 6-foot-7 forward who transferred from Alonso. Mitchell recently picked an offer from Texas A&M. He teams with Zach Johnson, Gary Jones III and Javohn Thomas on what already was a talented starting lineup.

10. St. Petersburg (1-0)

Last season: 24-5, Class 8A region semifinalist

This week: Tuesday vs. St. Petersburg Catholic; Friday vs. Gibbs

Outlook: The Green Devils are going through some rebuilding after graduating so many elite prospects the past few years. Still, there is talent and the potential for another deep playoff run. On Monday, St. Petersburg opened the season with an 83-61 win over Pinellas Park. The big matchup, at least this week, comes on Friday against rival Gibbs.

11. Gibbs (0-1)

Gibbs will need players like Marcus Lloyd to step up in the absence of the injured Tre Gilliam. [DIRK SHADD | Times]

Last season: 17-11, Class 6A region semifinalist

This week: Friday at St. Petersburg, Saturday vs. Lakeland Kathleen

Outlook: Much like last season, the Gladiators are having to compensate for the temporary loss of leading scorer Tre Gilliam, who is out with an injury to his shin. To fill the void, Gibbs will rely on Bryce Brown, Marcus Calvin, Marcus Lloyd and Chris Levy.

12. Hillsborough (0-0)

Last season: 28-3, Class 6A state semifinalist

This week: Tuesday at Bloomingdale, Thursday at Tampa Catholic

Outlook: The Terriers were hit hard by graduation, losing nine players who helped the program advance to the state semifinals the past two seasons. With six freshmen and sophomores on the roster, Hillsborough will have to turn to Tyriq James, the team’s top returning scorer, for leadership.

Related: RELATED: Hillsborough coach Chris Ward’s unusual methods yield exceptional results

13. Tampa Prep (0-0)

Last season: 21-8, Class 4A region quarterfinalist

This week: Tuesday at Bishop McLaughlin, Thursday vs. Bell Creek Academy, Friday vs. Academy at the Lakes

Outlook: Terrapins coach Joe Fenlon, who was inducted into the Florida High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame earlier this year, had to find a replacement for last year’s leading scorer, Jaren Phillips, who graduated. Fortunately, the offense was balanced and there are plenty of others that can produce, including Gabriel Sharp (13.4 points per game last year) and Jaden Gray (12 points per game).

14. Seminole (1-0)

Last season: 14-10

This week: Tuesday at East Lake, Friday at Countryside, Saturday at Lakeland Victory Christian

Outlook: The Warhawks got off to a strong start, beating Palm Harbor University last week 74-38. The schedule gets much this week with games Pinellas County rivals East Lake on Tuesday and Countryside on Friday.

15. Calvary Christian (1-1)

Last season: 16-10

This week: Tuesday vs. Northside Christian, Friday at Lakewood Ranch, Saturday vs. Orlando Jones (@Orlando Oak Ridge’s Breast Cancer Awareness Shootout)

Outlook: After coming up short in the district tournament last season, the Warriors beefed up their schedule to prepare for what they will face once the regular season ends. It shows with a tough weekend stretch that includes games Lakewood Ranch and Orlando Oak Ridge. Calvary Christian has the lineup, led by forward Josh Berenbaum, to handle those games. On Monday, Berenbaum had a team-high 15 points in an 82-22 win over River Ridge.

On the bubble

Clearwater (1-0), Plant (0-0), Tampa Bay Tech, Jesuit (2-0), Nature Coast Tech (0-0), Wesley Chapel (0-0), Springstead (1-0), Sunlake (0-0), Boca Ciega (0-0)

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Fivay girls basketball players, from left: Marielis Creque, Jania Jones and Savannah Shaffer. [RODNEY PAGE   |  Times]
    The Falcons are a postseason threat and there’s not a senior to be found on the roster.
  2. Junior Talon Bergantino is among Central's leading scorers this season. [SCOTT PURKS  |  Special to the Times]
    After taking their lumps vs. their older siblings, Talon and Caden Bergantino have emerged as fierce competitors for the Bears.
  3. Karim Nohra pulls no punches in getting his Carrollwood Day team ready for another playoff push. [SCOTT PURKS  |  Special to the Times]
    The Patriot girls notch another lopsided basketball victory with a senior-dominated team.
  4. Kobe Knox, center, and Tampa Catholic regain the top spot in the rankings thanks to recent wins over Leesburg, Naples and Seffner Christian. [LUIS SANTANA  |  Times]
    Tampa Catholic takes over the top spot again after an impressive showing last week.
  5. Tampa Prep's Arianna Mosley (10), center, challenges the Wesley Chapel defense during a December game. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  TImes]
    Little change at the top as the regular season winds down.
  6. Flag football players from left to right: Steinbrenner's Jacqueline Figueredo, Robinson's Emily Kemp, Leto's Anaily Mendoza, along with Martha Minahan at Monday night's (Jan. 20, 2020) sixth annual Bill Minahan scholarship awards dinner. [ERNEST HOOPER  |  Special to the Times]
    Chamberlain’s James Ash, Wharton’s Edwouens Marcelin, Steinbrenner’s Jacqueline Figueredo and Robinson’s Emily Kemp are also honored at the sixth annual awards banquet.
  7. Chamberlain offensive tackle Cesar Reyes said via Twitter on Sunday he plans to sign with USF. [SCOTT PURKS  |  Special to the Times]
    The Bulls fortify depth at quarterback and on the offensive line.
  8. Jesuit's Brett Gerena (7) celebrates recovering a fumble in the third quarter of this past season's Class 5A region semifinals. [JOHN PENDYGRAFT  |  Times]
    The Black Knights have commitments for 2020 from five locals, the most of any Division I-A program in the country. And they may gain more.
  9. Saturday's Seminole Shootout was full of closely contested basketball action. [DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    Berkeley Prep and Clearwater also pull out tight thrillers Saturday.
  10. You'll find Chimera Iloanya and Seffner Christian at the Lakewood MLK Holiday Classic this weekend. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
    Looking for some stellar hoops matchups this holiday weekend? Hosts Lakewood and Chamberlain have you covered.
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