JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The boys high school basketball state playoffs begin Thursday night. A glance at the matchups.
(5) Oak Ridge (19-7) at (4) Sandalwood (18-7)
Region glance: It’s been one of those seasons where things have lined up for the Saints. Coach Joseph Simmons, who replaced veteran coach Rocky Cusack (340 career victories) following the 2021 season, has found a groove for Sandalwood. PG Jordan Smith (14.1 ppg, 7.1 assists per game) is unquestionably the team’s top player. His walkoff shot to stun Riverside, 54-53, on Feb. 1, touched off a four-game winning streak for the Saints.
(8) Booker T. Washington (20-6) at (1) Ponte Vedra (23-3)
(5) Nease (19-7) at (4) Crestview (19-8), 8 p.m.
(7) Fletcher (18-10) at (2) Gulf Breeze (20-6)
(6) Tallahassee Lincoln (18-7) at (3) Fleming Island (14-13)
Region glance: The area’s deepest region, with a realistic path to the regional final for all four area teams. Fleming’s record includes nine forfeits, so the product on the court is much better than its winning percentage indicates. The Golden Eagles — led by Colton Zapp (12.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg), Ahman Greenidge (11.9 ppg), 9 rpg) and Antoine Sandy (10.3 ppg) — are tough and prepared for a postseason trek. Top-seeded Ponte Vedra is perhaps this region’s deepest team, with four players in double figures in scoring (Ross Candelino at 14 ppg, Luke Pirris at 11.3, JT Kelly at 10.2 and Nathan Bunkosky at 10.1). Fletcher’s Lajae Jones (20.4 ppg, 7.4 rpg) and Seth Allen (11.2 ppg) give the Senators a very good chance to win every game out. And even in losses, Fletcher is in the mix. Six of Senators’ 10 defeats have come by four points or less. Nease is right in the thick of things here, too, with Logan Ryan a double-figure game waiting to happen.
(8) Choctawhatchee (14-14) at Riverside (22-4)
(7) Ribault (15-9) at (2) Orange Park (23-4)
Region glance: The Raiders meet a Trojans team that it last saw in the 2018 playoffs and lost in a 63-60 heartbreaker. OP, led by JU-bound G Josiah Sabino, is looking for its first playoff win since 2009. The Trojans enter the postseason in a funk, losers of four straight. Marquis Harris (12.2 ppg), Caleb Williams (12.1 ppg) and George Woods (10.2 ppg) lead the Trojans. Riverside has been very consistent this season, with Dominick Scott and Montez Dunson powering the Generals. They get a first-round clash against a Choctaw team that beat them in the regional finals last season.
(8) Marianna (14-11) at (1) Jackson (25-2)
(7) North Marion (15-11) at (2) Paxon (24-3)
Region glance: The Tigers are a magnet to the state semifinals. That shouldn’t change this year. Coach James Collins has another exceptional squad, with a good bit of length. Stephon Payne, James Morrow and Donte Crummell are all 6-7 players and give the Tigers inside presence to go along with the outside game. Jackson has won 19 straight games and is a very good pick to end up in Lakeland, site of the state championship rounds, for the fourth straight season. Paxon has become a steady playoff program, too. Even with a new coach in Kenny Elliott leading the way, the Golden Eagles haven’t missed a beat. Camden Tyner (14 ppg) and Kyle Jones (11.1 ppg, 6 rpg) pace Paxon.
(8) Episcopal (15-12) at (1) Providence (23-4)
(5) Bishop Snyder (13-12) at (4) Ocala Trinity Catholic (21-5)
Region glance: Solid region here, with the top-seeded Stallions the clear-cut favorite to reach the regional final. Jaylen Robinson (11.4 ppg), Mason Lee (10.4 ppg) and Chris Arias (10.3 ppg) lead a strong Providence squad that enters on a seven-game winning streak. The Stallions have beaten Episcopal twice this season (51-42, 51-39). Kent Jackson (12.4 ppg) and Mark Flakus (11 ppg) pace the Eagles, who love to launch the 3-ball and are very good at doing it (34% from behind the arc). Snyder, which won the district title a year ago, will have to start its playoff quest on the road. Moise Balungu (13.6 ppg) and Jalen Gilmore (13.5 ppg) are veteran playmakers and the Cardinals have played a rugged schedule to prepare for this stretch.
(8) University Christian (15-12) at (1) North Florida Educational (21-7)
(6) Impact Christian (15-13) at (3) St. Joseph (19-7)
Region glance: Another good local region, with the Lions and Flashes in what should be one of the area’s better first-round games. Impact is a contender for Lakeland annually under coach Benjamin Jones. It has reached the final four in three of the final four seasons. St. Joseph, led by Maxon Sword (16.5 ppg), has challenged and beaten quite a few bigger programs this season and hung tough in games against teams like Providence. UC’s Orel Gray (14.4 ppg) and Desirrio Roles (11.2 ppg) lead the Christians, and they’ll need to turn in a headlining performance against an NFEI team that has already beaten it by 18 points this season.
(4) Bell (15-12) at (1) Bradford (12-10)
Region glance: The Tornadoes enter on a four-game winning streak and get an immediate rematch against Bell, a team it beat 55-49 in the district championship. Daejon Shanks (9.8 ppg), Shayne Davis (9.8 ppg) and Jontez Williams (9.5 ppg) lead Bradford.