The new playoff format places a premium on playing quality opponents. Teams have loaded their schedules with tough games in hopes of staying near the top of the MaxPreps rankings at the end of the season. That way, they will be in contention for an at-large playoff berth if they do not win their district. But scheduling so many worthy foes can result in losses — and a shakeup in these rankings. Tampa Catholic does not have to worry about that. The Crusaders remain the top team in the area after a strong start to the season.
1. Tampa Catholic (3-0)
Up next: Tuesday at Orlando Montverde, Friday vs. Bradenton IMG Academy
Last week: No. 1
Why they stayed put: No area team had a better week than the Crusaders. They started the season with a tough stretch that included games against defending region quarterfinalist Sarasota Booker, defending state semifinalist Hillsborough and defending state semifinalist Windermere. Tampa Catholic won all of them by 16 points or more. Four players — Johni Broome (22.3 points per game), Kobe Knox (17.3), Alijah Harrison (10) and Marcellus Crutchfield (10) — already are averaging double figures in scoring. The schedule becomes even more difficult this week with a pair of games against nationally ranked teams. On Tuesday, the Crusaders travel to face Orlando Montverde, the nation’s top-ranked team according to MaxPreps. Tampa Catholic is back at home Friday to play Bradenton IMG Academy, ranked No. 2.
2. East Lake (3-0)
Up next: Tuesday vs. St. Petersburg, Friday vs. Wiregrass Ranch
Last week: No. 4
Why they moved up: The Eagles made some moves in the rankings after beating Seminole and Sunlake each by 25 or more points the first week of the season. Dionte Blanch put on a show, scoring 26 against the Warhawks and 31 against the Seahawks. East Lake also welcomed the return of Jordan Hillmon, who fractured his finger during a preseason practice. Hillmon averaged 17.5 points per game during the opening week. Though it is no longer a district game, the Eagles’ home contest against St. Petersburg will still be a grudge match considering how many meaningful games the teams played over the past few years.
3. Lakewood (3-2)
Up next: Friday vs. St. Petersburg
Last week: No. 2
Why they moved down: After beating Alonso (77-57) and Northeast (80-45) to start the season, the Spartans lost two straight over the weekend against considerably tougher competition. Lakewood fell 95-35 to the nation’s top-ranked team, Montverde, and lost a 49-48 heartbreaker to Bradenton Victory Rock Prep. Given who the Spartans played, it’s hard to drop them more than one spot. Jamille Reynolds (18.7 points per game), Oteman Delancy (16.7) and Elijah Jackson (10) have been the big scorers so far for Lakewood. Friday’s game against rival St. Petersburg should be packed.
4. Seffner Christian (0-2)
Up next: Tuesday at Lakeland Santa Fe Catholic, Saturday vs. Orlando Lake Highland Prep (@Windermere Prep Hoopfest)
Last week: No. 3
Why they moved down: Pay no attention to the record. Because the football team made it to the state semifinals, the Crusaders did not get the bulk of their players back until early last week and had one day of practice before playing defending state finalist Lakewood Ranch. Down by 20 early in the third quarter, Seffner Christian made a furious rally and had a chance to win at the end. The officials called a foul as time expired, sending the Mustangs to the line for two free throws in a tie game. They made one to win, 73-72. Mike Trigg led all scorers with 32 points. The Crusaders followed that up with a 70-59 loss to Jacksonville Providence School.
5. Wharton (3-0)
Up next: Tuesday at Plant, Wednesday at Lennard, Friday vs. Strawberry Crest
Last week: No. 5
Why they stayed put: As expected, the Wildcats cruised through their first three games, beating Alonso (64-35), Wiregrass Ranch (64-41) and Steinbrenner (82-48). The schedule is more challenging this week with the biggest game coming Tuesday against Class 7A, District 7 rival Plant.
6. Berkeley Prep (4-0)
Up next: Saturday vs. Fort Myers Canterbury (at Fort Myers City of Palms Premier)
Last week: No. 7
Why they moved up: In their only game last week, the Buccaneers were dominant, beating Cypress Creek 91-49 to remain undefeated. All four wins have been by 22 or more points. Because of exams, Berkeley Prep will have most of the week off. The Buccaneers return on Saturday to face Fort Myers Canterbury in the City of Palms tournament.
7. Land O’Lakes (2-0)
Up next: Tuesday at Cypress Creek, Friday at Fivay
Last week: No. 8
Why they moved up: The Gators took advantage of a light schedule, routing Gulf 72-38 and River Ridge 96-23. Chase Farmer led all scorers with 19 points against the Buccaneers. The offense was balanced against the Royal Knights with 12 players scoring at least three points. This week is more of the same with Land O’Lakes traveling to play Cypress Creek and Fivay in games they should convincingly.
8. Sickles (2-0)
Up next: Tuesday vs. Alonso, Friday vs. Plant, Saturday at Windermere Prep
Last week: No. 9
Why they moved up: The Gryphons built some confidence with wins over Steinbrenner (67-45) and Strawberry Crest (73-21) to open the season. Having a healthy lineup is a big reason for the strong start. The schedule becomes more difficult this week with games against Plant on Friday and against Windermere Prep on Saturday.
9. St. Petersburg (3-0)
Up next: Tuesday at East Lake, Wednesday vs. Dixie Hollins, Friday at Lakewood
Last week: No. 10
Why they moved up: Though it is a new lineup, the Green Devils still produce the same results. They started the season with wins against Pinellas Park, St. Petersburg Catholic and Gibbs. St. Petersburg had four players — Ray Perry (15 points), Deon Earley (14), Hayden McCain (12) and Rivers Lenholt (11) — reach double figures in scoring in an 83-61 season-opening victory over the Patriots.
10. Anclote (1-1)
Up next: Tuesday at River Ridge, Thursday vs. Seminole, Saturday vs. Lehigh Acres Lehigh (@Fort Myers’ City of Palms Premiere)
Last week: No. 6
Why they moved down: The health of the lineup was a concern, at least to start the season. The Sharks had three players returning from knee or ankle injuries and another coming back from a concussion. That did not faze Anclote in a season-opening 72-65 victory over Hudson. But the Sharks followed that up with a 73-72 loss to a solid Sunlake squad. Jalen Cooper, who recently committed to Palm Beach Atlantic, is off to a solid start with an average of 25.5 points and 10.5 rebounds per game.
11. Tampa Prep (4-0)
Up next: Thursday at Dunedin
Last week: No. 13
Why they moved up: The schedule has not exactly been strong, but the Terrapins are winning those games. They remain unbeaten after routing Bishop McLaughlin (68-20), Bell Creek Academy (77-18), Academy at the Lakes (85-47) and Sarasota Out-of-Door Academy (84-55) the first two weeks of the season. Three players are averaging double figures in scoring, led by Gabriel Sharp at 16 points per game.
12. Calvary Christian (3-2)
Up next: Tuesday vs. Sunlake. Thursday at Countryside, Saturday vs. Fort Lauderdale Westminster Academy (@Coral Springs’ Kreul Classic)
Last week: No. 15
Why they moved up: By far, the biggest win of the season came last weekend when the Warriors beat Orlando Jones 56-53. Tristan Gross had 25 points and Josh Berenbaum added 11 to lead the team in scoring. Beating quality opponents in a product of playing a tough schedule. Calvary Christian’s two losses were to defending Class 2A state champion Ocoee Central Florida Christian Academy and Class 7A defending state finalist Lakewood Ranch.
13. Hillsborough (2-1)
Up next: Wednesday vs. King, Friday vs. East Bay
Last week: No. 12
Why they moved down: After losing by 29 points to top-ranked Tampa Catholic, the Terriers rebounded to beat Tampa Bay Tech 64-55. Cantia Rahming, a 6-foot-5 senior guard, had a monster game against the Titans, finishing with 28 points, 10 rebounds and 6 steals. Hillsborough should be able to gain some momentum with games against King and East Bay this week.
14. Sunlake (2-1)
Up next: Tuesday at Calvary Christian, Friday at Gaither
Last week: Unranked
Why they moved in: Since taking over a winless squad in 2016, Seahawks coach James Bragg has been building a contender. Sunlake put it all together in its season-opening 73-72 win over Anclote. Jordan Golden had 22 points and Justin Lucena added 11 to lead the Seahawks in the upset. Unfortunately, Sunlake is paired in the same district (Class 6A-9) as East Lake. Any chance of getting the top seed most likely slipped away after a 25-point loss to the Eagles last week. Sunlake followed that up with a 60-55 win over Fivay.
15. Plant (2-0)
Up next: Tuesday vs. Wharton, Wednesday at Freedom, Friday at Sickles
Last week: Unranked
Why they moved in: Despite some retooling after graduating several key starters, the Panthers are in good shape to be a contender in Class 7A, District 7. They began the season with victories over Plant City (53-44) and Alonso (72-53). This week will give Plant an even better gauge of where it stands with three games against district foes.
On the bubble
Clearwater (2-0), Seminole (3-2), Gibbs (2-3), Jesuit (3-1), Blake (4-1), Nature Coast (2-0), Springstead (3-1), Wesley Chapel (2-0), Boca Ciega (3-0), Countryside (3-1)