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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

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. Clearwater wide receiver Keedrik Murray (5) catches the ball for a touchdown during the first quarter at Gaither High on Nov. 15. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
    The 25th edition of the game will be held at Clearwater High.
  2. Clemson co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott talks with receivers Mike Williams (7) and Artavis Scott (3) during a 2016 game at FSU. Scott was named USF's coach Monday. [DAVID GROOMS/CAL SPORT MEDIA  |  ZUMAPRESS.com]
    Though not the bay area’s primary recruiter for Clemson, Scott’s fingerprints are all over the region.
  3. Tampa Catholic's Alijah Harrison attempts to block the ball from Andrew Jackson's Logan West during last year's state semifinals in Lakeland. [LUIS SANTANA  |  Times]
    Tampa Catholic holds on to the top spot after an impressive opening week.
  4. Tampa Bay Tech's Amiya Evans (30) drives the ball during the first half of the state championship game between Tampa Bay Tech and St. Thomas Aquinas last season in Lakeland. [Times]
    The big three stays the same, but Wesley Chapel moves up a slot in our latest rankings.
  5. Tampa Prep's Grace Langston (50), left, works to disrupt a shot attempt by Wesley Chapel's Mia Nicholson (12) during the game on Friday. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  TImes]
    The Wildcats lead early, then hang on to improve to 5-0 on the season.
  6. Cambridge Christian coach Bob Dare and wife Beth at the 2015 state championship in Orlando. [BOB DARE  |  Special to the Times]
    The longtime Lancers coach, who led the program to the state title game in 2015, will no longer be a coach or teacher at the school.
  7. River Ridge senior Brandi Willard is among the area leaders in points per game so far this season. [SCOTT PURKS  |  Special to the Times]
    Our offensive and defensive leaders for Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties.
  8. Academy of the Holy Names senior Madison Kurtz, right, gets congratulated by sophomore Nicole Sakre after scoring a goal in a 4-0- victory over Steinbrenner early this season. [SCOTT PURKS  |  Special to the Times]
    The Jaguars, who came up short at state a year ago, expect to remain energized and focused all the way to a title.
  9. Jalen Cooper is among a group of seniors on the Anclote roster who have been playing together since middle school. [SCOTT PURKS  |  Special to the Times]
    A three-point loss in last season’s playoffs spark the Sharks to strive for more.
  10. Seffner Christian doesn't shy away from tough competition, taking on a team that reached state last season in its season opener. [DIRK SHADD  |  Times]
    The defending state finalist Crusaders rally from a 20-point deficit only to watch host Lakewood Ranch sink a free throw as time expires.
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