By: Wells Dusenbury
It's playoff time for high school basketball in Florida and the road to Lakeland beings Thursday night. 22 area teams will hit the court with dreams of a state championship. Last year, three area teams made it to Lakeland (Grandview Prep, Spanish River and Vero Beach). Will we have see that number grow or shrink this year? Let's break it all down now with the first round match-ups.
Contender: Jupiter (18-5)
Despite graduating last year's top scorer in Bobby Hain, Jupiter has put together another stellar season under head coach John Andersen. Behind FAU center commit Grant Pelchen and explosive wing Mike Edgley, the Warriors are once again legitimate threat.
Sleeper: Treasure Coast (18-5)
The Titans have quietly put together an outstanding season together this year. In addiction to capturing the District crown, they're riding an 11-game win streak heading into the postseason.
Most intriguing 1st round match-up: Park Vista (17-10) @ Jupiter (18-5)
While Jupiter might be the top 8A squad, they have to first get past plucky upstart Park Vista in the first round. Under first year head coach Drew Quinn, the Cobras have undergone a complete transformation, going from 9-16 last year to 18-5 this year. Even more impressive? 9 of their 10 losses have come by a combined total of just 35 points. The Cobras stick around with teams and will present a tough challenge for Jupiter.
X-Factor: Mario Lambert (Vero Beach)
After a Final Four run last year, the Fighting Indians have taken a step back this year due to the graduation of the majority of contributors from that squad. Mario Lambert, who recently signed with Louisiana Tech for football, was one of the more explosive players on that squad and can go off at any time. If he heats up in the postseason, Vero Beach could pull and upset or two along the way.
Contender: Palm Beach Lakes (20-3)
The Rams have been the area's top big school program this year and are moving into the postseason with good momentum. With an explosive group of guards in Qunicy Rideau, Kamil Williams and J.D. Coleman, Lakes could easily get hot and put together a big playoff run.
Contender: Martin County (23-3)
OK, I cheated and picked two for 7A. The most incredible stat for Martin County, courtesy of the TC Palm? John Leon is 73-10 during his three seasons as the Tigers' head coach. Last year, his squad just missed out on a trip to Lakeland after falling in the Regional Finals by a single point. This year, his team is equally as potent and should have the chance to exact revenge on last season's defeat.
Sleeper: Royal Palm Beach (17-7)
The Wildcats have played the Rams tight in their three match-ups, with RPB taking one of three. They're a battle tested team and have competed in nearly all of their game this year. While they had a lopsided loss to Atlantic early in the season, they could definitely pull a stunner on the Eagles in round 1 if they're not careful.
Most intriguing first round match-up: Lake Worth (22-5) @ Palm Beach Lakes (20-3)
In Murray Smith's first year at the helm, the Trojans' win total has skyrocketed from 7 to 22. With one of the area's top scorers in junior Aaron Horne, Lake Worth can do some serious damage if he's on his game.
X-Factor: Jermohn Queen (Martin County)
Despite standing at just 5-7, Queen has established himself as one of the area's top scorers during his Tiger career. Last year, Queen served as the number two option for Martin County, with Boston College football signee Justin Simmons as the team's top threat. This year he's the team's go-to-guy and if he rises to the level he's capable of (he put up 53 in an overtime win this season), then the Tigers will be tough to beat.
Contender: Suncoast (23-4)
The Chargers are another team that's put together a sneaky good season. While they've struggled against some of the area's top teams, they have an explosive roster that could cause problems for teams.
Sleeper: Jensen Beach (16-10)
With only two area teams in 5A, Jensen Beach is the by default the sleeper team. Heritage is one of the top teams in 5A and it's tough to imagine the Falcons getting past them.
Most intriguing first round match-up: Dillard (12-10) vs. Suncoast (23-4)
Last season, the Chargers were upset in their opening round game against Heritage. Despite its 12-10 record, Dillard is no slouch.
X-Factor: Laterrance Butts (Suncoast)
The sophomore guard has been the Chargers' leading scorer this season and they'll need him to continue his stellar play if they want to avoid another first round upset.
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