Posted: 4:43 pm Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

Inside the boys’ basketball regional finals matchups 

By Jeff Greer

Four area teams remain in the hunt for a state basketball title, and they’re each one win away from a trip to Lakeland. Let’s break down their matchups.

Spanish River is playing with house money at this point, making it farther than any Sharks team ever has before. Atlantic is back in the region finals for the second consecutive season after a 45-year drought. Martin County, one of the area’s most accomplished hoops programs, is in line for its eighth appearance in the state tournament. And then there’s Grandview Prep, which has been to five consecutive state semifinals, searching for its first state title.

Here’s some information on their opponents. I’ll list the full statewide region finals schedule down below.

Spanish River at Deerfield Beach
Fans making the trip south to Broward County won’t exactly be watching playoff veterans, but they’ll be in for a treat. Spanish River, which is making only its second playoff appearance in school history, plays an exciting brand of basketball. The Sharks have the most complete starting five in Palm Beach County this year, and they showed in their 71-51 win over John I. Leonard that they can shut down guard-heavy teams.

Deerfield Beach, a young team, turned the ball over 33 times in its region semifinal win over Cypress Bay. That won’t cut it against River, which has an athletic, defensively oriented group. River’s played some of the best defense I’ve seen all season, and if it can get any scoring out of Dante Scholl or Colton Gelb to complement Evan Kupferberg and Reggie Love inside, it’s hard not to like the Sharks in this one. Pick: Spanish River.

Martin County at St. Petersburg
If you’re a fan of basketball history like me, you’ll love this: St. Petersburg has been to the playoffs 41 times. In those 46 appearances, St. Pete made 26 state tournaments. Martin County’s been 22 times, plus the aforementioned seven state berths. Of course, neither team has made state in decades — Martin County in 1987; St. Pete is 1972 — but someone’s about to rekindle the old historic magic on Saturday.

St. Pete’s Demontrae Adams and David Jones provide a nice inside-out mix. Jones had the game-preserving block in his team’s region semifinal win over Seminole. Martin County will need its big-time players to produce, particularly Jermohn Queen and Justin Simmons. It’s hard to pick a road team, especially when Martin County has to go across the state, but this team has been on fire all year, and it won’t stop yet. Pick: Martin County.

Pompano Beach-Ely at Atlantic
This is a bit of a mismatch, at least in theory. Ely is one of the top 20 teams in the nation, according to ESPN and several other polls. Atlantic surprised people with its run to yet another region final. Last year, when Atlantic made its historic run to the same round, it lost by 30 at Miramar. Luckily for the Eagles, this year’s edition is at home.

Atlantic scorer Jamal Palmer has emerged as a star in Palm Beach County. He must have a humongous performance against Ely for Atlantic to have a chance. Ely has two Division I prospects in its starting five — 6-foot-1 point Benji Bell and 6-7 forward Kahlil Thomas. Both are big for their positions at the high school level, and Atlantic will need to pack it in on defense. It’s been a great run for Atlantic, but this is too much of a challenge. Pick: Ely.

Grandview Prep at Sarasota Christian
Not to disparage Sarasota Christian, but this game is all about Grandview. Can the Pride stay level-headed enough to make a sixth straight state tournament? Daniel Garga has been unreal all season, and his consistent production gives Grandview a dynamic wing player who can score, rebound and pass. He has partners in crime, especially dead-eye shooter Eric Mance, but it’ll be on Garga to put up a big-game performance. He was awesome as a breakout star at last year’s state tournament.

Grandview has the star power to get back to Lakeland and finally break through, so it’s on the Pride’s experienced group to stay even and get the job done. Pick: Grandview Prep.

Schedule of games
Each region final tips off at 7 p.m. on Saturday night. Admission is $7. Here’s the full schedule for Saturday:

8A region finals
Winter Garden-West Orange at Oviedo-Hagerty
Sarasota-Riverview at Vero Beach
Spanish River at Deerfield Beach
Miami Killian at Miami-Hialeah Gardens

7A region finals
Ocala-Forest at Oviedo
Haines City-Ridge at Orlando-Oak Ridge
Martin County at St. Petersburg
Pompano Beach-Ely at Atlantic

6A region finals
Pensacola-Pine Forest at Jacksonville-Wolfson
Leesburg at Orlando-Edgewater
Winter Haven at Palmetto
Miami Norland at Naples-Collier

5A region finals
Jacksonville-Parker at Panama City-Rutherford
Brooksville-Nature Coast at Gainesville-Eastside
Tampa-Jesuit at Lake Wales
Cape Coral-Mariner at Plantation-American Heritage

4A region finals
Jacksonville-Raines at Tallahassee-Godby
Orlando-Lake Highland Prep at Williston
Fort Myers-Bishop Verot at Tampa Berkeley Prep
Fort Lauderdale-Pine Crest at Miami LaSalle

3A region finals
Daytona Beach-Father Lopez at Jacksonville-Providence
Orlando-First Academy at Tampa Prep
Fort Myers-Evangelical Christian at St. Petersburg-Shorecrest Prep
Weston-Sagemont at Miami-Archbishop Curley

2A region finals
Deltona-Trinity Christian at Tallahassee-FAMU High
Land O’Lakes-Academy at the Lakes at Orlando Christian Prep
Grandview Prep at Sarasota Christian
Miami-Westwood Christian at Hialeah-Champagnat Catholic

1A region finals
Chipley at Malone
Quincy-West Gadsden at Graceville
Hawthorne at Monticello-Jefferson County
Chiefland at Lake Butler-Union County