TAMPA – After four boys basketball teams advanced to the state tournament a year ago, five are on its way to Lakeland this week to take part in the action. Tampa Catholic, Largo, Jesuit, Zephyrhills and St. Pete will all play for a chance to be crowned state champion by the end of this week.
Here’s a breakdown of the five teams’ matchups and chances to win it all.
Class 4A: Tampa Catholic
Starting in Class 4A with Tampa Catholic, the Crusaders will be searching for its second state championship ever and first since 1995. TC was last in the state semifinal in 2011 when it lost to Orlando-Jones 83-48.
Led by super athletic hybrid junior forward Kevin Knox and senior point guard and Oklahoma State commit Thomas Dziagwa, the Crusaders (26-4) can hang around with the best of them simply because of this high-scoring duo.
Knox averages 29.8 points and 11.1 rebounds per game while Dziagwa is averaging 22.8 points per game while accounting for 37.7 percent of his team’s 3-point attempts. He has made 36 percent from his shots beyond the arc.
However, TC has a tough challenge against a Jacksonville Bolles team that has three players 6’7″ or taller that can all put up big numbers. Bolles (27-3) cruised past East Gadsden in the region final 65-40 on Saturday as 6’8″ power forward Collin Smith (George Washington commit) finished with a game-high 28 points and 12 rebounds. 6’8″ forward Austin Williams (Yale commit) and 6’7″forward Jonathan DeWane (Air Force commit) combined to score 15 points and 15 rebounds.
Considering the Crusaders’ biggest player is Knox at 6’8″ with the next closest being Dziagwa at 6’5″, Tampa Catholic has to play fast and make sure it sinks its outside shots. Senior forward Jessy St. Marc, junior guard Bentlee Sanders and sophomore guard Tai Strickland will have to have career days for TC to hang around. After inching by West Palm Beach Oxbridge Academy 59-58 in the region final, the Crusaders better come out attacking on Wednesday.
Class 5A: Jesuit, Zephyrhills
First with Jesuit, the Tigers (25-5) only have one player who averages double digits in junior guard Stevie Darst (15.8 PPG) and as a team they average just 57.8 points per game. But what Jesuit lacks in scoring they make up for in overall smarts and crafty defense as they search for its fourth state title.
Head coach Neal Goldman has had his group prepared for every scenario, they’ve trailed at halftime on many occasions this postseason. On Friday, they had to travel to Cape Coral Mariner to face a Tritons team that had two players taller than 6’7″ which they beat 41-38. They used a full-court press late in the fourth quarter and won’t be afraid to use it when needed.
Jesuit keeps outsmarting its opponents. Against Jacksonville Bishop Kenny (28-3), the team they beat in the 2013 state semifinal on the way to its last title, the Tigers will have to do everything and then some. Kenny beat Tallahassee Godby 54-51 in the region final.
They’ll be facing the Crusaders (Not TC), rather Bishop Kenny, who are led by a trio of highly talented seniors in forward Christian Carlyle (FGCU commit, 23.8 PPG), guard Kendall Mitchum and point guard Chris Joyce (Air Force commit, 19.0 PPG). Carlyle and Joyce were on that 2013 team that fell to Jesuit in the state final four, so you can bet they’ll have even more motivation to pull this one out.
Zephyrhills is back in the state tournament for the first time since 1966 as they are playing for its third state title in school history. The last one came in 1964.
Although the Bulldogs (27-4) didn’t lead until just over three minutes left in the fourth quarter in Friday’s night region final overtime win 76-68 over Ponte Vedra they hustled their way back into the game. Senior guard Jeremy Oppenheimer had 32 points in the game and is averaging a team-best 22.8 points per game along with 8.2 rebounds.
Junior Aliza Quiles (10.7 PPG) and senior Elijah McGhie (9.0 PPG) have been the next best thing for this group. Senior center Hakeem Grant is the tallest player on the roster at 6’8″ but he averages just 1.4 points per game. Much like Jesuit, Zephyrhills finds other ways to win games despite its limited size.
The Bulldogs’ foe, Kissimmee Poinciana (27-5) showcases a trio of seniors that all average double figures in guards Nate Louis (16.5 PPG), Brandon Murat (13.3 PPG) and TJ Gill (11.5 PPG). The Eagles tallest player stands at 6’5″ in senior center Taron Mallard (7.3 PPG).
This should be a high-scoring affair unlike the Jesuit matchup earlier in the afternoon. The winners will play on Saturday in the state championship.
Class 6A: Largo
Largo (21-6) will be playing in its first state semifinal in 18 years up against a young Pensacola team on Friday night.
The Packers are led by two seniors, who starred on the football team in guard Dakari Allen (South Dakota commit, 17.1 PPG) and forward Brandon Drayton (Indiana commit, 9.7 PPG). Largo won by an average of six points in the regional round including a close 77-74 win over Port Charlotte in the semifinal.
Pensacola (25-5) doesn’t have a single senior in its starting lineup with junior Devonchae Bryant (10.7 PPG), Devin Gadson (7.9 PPG) and sophomore Shawndarius Cowart (13.8 PPG) leading the way. But, the Tigers have won their three regional games by an average of 23 points.
Largo has its work cut out for them against a more experience Pensacola group. Both teams are beyond athletic. This one could come down to the wire. They’ll need Allen to have a career night.
Class 7A: St. Pete
Searching for its first state title since 1933 and second ever, St. Pete has a very impressive group headed to Lakeland to battle Tallahassee Lincoln on Friday morning.
The Green Devils have three nice pieces who each average 10 or more points per game in junior guard Darius Banks (22.9 PPG), senior guard Travis Bianco (15.2 PPG) and sophomore guard Serrel Smith (16.3 PPG). Banks is a lengthy 6’6″ wing, who can score at will and take over the game at any time.
Senior forward Glenn Miller (6’8″) and junior wing AJ Ford (6’7″) are the two tallest players on the roster. Miller will be drawing a tough defensive matchup against junior Dwight Wilson (North Florida commit, 16 PPG, 11 RPG).
Wilson along with senior guard Kyle Kincey (17 PPG) are the top two players for the Trojans as they appear in their first ever state semifinal. Lincoln will cause a big challenge for St. Pete, but expect the Green Devils to attack throughout and not let up. Slowing down Kincey will be key as St. Pete looks to win with its pure speed.
Tampa Bay Area Boys Basketball State Championships Schedule
Class 4A Semifinals – Wednesday, February 24
Westminster Christian (Miami) vs. Holy Trinity (Melbourne), 1 p.m.
Tampa Catholic vs. Bolles (Jacksonville), 3 p.m.
Class 4A Championship – Thursday, February 25
TBD vs. TBD, 8 p.m.
Class 5A Semifinals – Thursday, February 25
Jesuit (Tampa) vs. Bishop Kenny (Jacksonville), 1 p.m.
Poinciana (Kissimmee) vs. Zephyrhills, 3 p.m.
Class 5A Championship – Saturday, February 27
TBD vs. TBD, 11 a.m.
Class 6A Semifinals – Friday, February 26
Dillard (Fort Lauderdale) vs. Deltona, 6 p.m.
Largo vs. Pensacola, 8 p.m.
Class 6A Championship – Saturday, February 27
TBD vs. TBD, 1:30 p.m.
Class 7A Semifinals – Friday, February 26
St. Petersburg vs. Lincoln (Tallahassee), 10 a.m.
Blanche Ely (Pompano Beach) vs. Melbourne, noon
Jake Perper is the founder of Prep Sports Scouting. Make sure to follow along for all the updates on Twitter: @JakePerper.
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