By J.C. Carnahan
While college basketball makes its march towards the end of another season, the sports landscape in Orlando is about to turn over a new leaf later this month.
Soon to be in hibernation are the forgettable seasons of the reincarnated Orlando Solar Bears and downtrodden Orlando Magic, giving way to a couple of football franchises through the end of summer.
The Solar Bears (27-33-3-4) finish the home ice hockey schedule this week with games against Cincinnati (Sunday) and Florida (Tuesday and Wednesday) at the Amway Center.
Six more home games remain for the Magic (18-51) before the season ends April 17 in Miami. In the short term, the Magic host Oklahoma City Friday and the Heat on Monday, two matchups they’ll be heavy underdogs in once again.
It’s of little wonder to those who follow these teams to how they’ve become such cellar dwellers in their respective conferences.
The Solar Bears struggled with injuries and a revolving door of minor league players. The Magic struggled with injuries and the lack of any experienced go-to players. Never mind that whole Dwight Howard thing.
Here’s hoping the Orlando City Soccer Club and Orlando Predators can give local sports fans something to cheer about soon.
Orlando City has certainly held up its end of the bargain. After winning a USL Pro title in 2011 and nearly repeating the feat last season, the Lions have reloaded for another championship run.
Orlando City opens its regular season on the road at expansion Phoenix FC on April 7 before heading to Los Angeles on April 10. The home opener at the Citrus Bowl is scheduled for April 14 against Rochester.
The Predators, on the other hand, are coming off its first losing season since its inception in 1991. The Preds hit the Arena Football League field on Sunday at New Orleans as they face a VooDoo team led by former quarterback and coach Pat O’Hara.
Those types of reunions are always a lot of fun.
After another road game at San Jose on March 29, the Preds open at Amway Center against Philadelphia on April 6 in a game that pits new Preds coach Doug Plank against his old team.
It’s a safe bet that both the Lions and Preds will provide a little extra bang for your buck this spring, at least compared to the doldrums of our local winter sports teams.
Local Products Hit NCAA Hardwood Friday
Chances are good that, if you’re a basketball junkie, you’ll be wasting your weekend away with a remote control during the first two rounds of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
And for good reason, as Friday’s opening round features a handful of local players who spent their high school years in gymnasiums throughout the area.
Here’s what’s on tap:
12:15 p.m. – senior guard/forward Jayson Guerrier of Oviedo High School and No. 15 Albany vs. No. 2 Duke. Guerrier started 17 of 31 games this season. He’s hit 65 3-pointers and averaged 5.3 points and 2.6 rebounds.
2:10 p.m. – sophomore guard Shane Larkin of Dr. Phillips High School and No. 2 Miami vs. No. 15 Pacific. Larkin, the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year, is the main draw when it comes to locals in the NCAA Tournament. Larkin is averaging 14.6 points and 4.4 assists.
6:50 p.m. – senior guard Sherwood Brown of Olympia High School, sophomore guard Brett Comer of Winter Park High School and No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast vs. No. 2 Georgetown. As mentioned last week, Brown was named Atlantic Sun Player of the Year while Comer earned MVP honors at the A-Sun Championship.
7:27 p.m. – sophomore guard Jacob Kurtz of Hagerty High School, freshman guard Dillon Graham of The First Academy and No. 3 Florida vs. No. 14 Northwestern State. Each has received a limited number of minutes this season for the Gators, but you never know who might get a chance to step up come tournament time.
Rollins College Makes Early Tourney Exits
After holding off Lynn for a one-point win in the opening round of the women’s Division II South Region in Ft. Lauderdale, the Lady Tars were routed by Nova Southeastern on Sunday.
Despite the early exit, the Tars (22-9) appear positioned for an even deeper run next season as they lose just one senior, guard Tera McDaniel out of Edgewater High School.
Sarah Blackburn ended the season on the All-Sunshine State Conference Second Team. The guard out of Bishop Moore High School is one of four seniors slated to return to a squad that featured a combined 10 freshman and sophomores.
The Rollins College men’s basketball team lasted just one day in its South Region Tournament in Lakeland, losing 59-53 to Saint Leo on Saturday.
The Tars (19-11) must reload this summer as they lose All-SSC First Team point guard Kyle McClanahan of Winter Park High School, guard Brett Chance out of Lake Howell High School, and forwards Adam Allen and Dave Diakite, a UCF transfer.
UCF Knights Tourney Run Falls Short
The UCF women’s basketball team fell short of capping an improbable run in the Conference USA Championship this past Saturday as the Knights lost 75-66 to Tulsa in the title game.
Junior Erica Jones and C-USA Freshman of the Year Briahanna Jackson were named to the all-tournament team for UCF (16-18), while guard Gevenia Carter finished her career as the 16th Knight to score more than 1,000 career points.
Carter and forward Kayli Keough were the lone seniors for UCF this year.
For more on local sports, follow J.C. Carnahan on Twitter @JCCarnz