Not often are three teams of the caliber of Independence, Franklin Heights and Whetstone high school boys basketball teams set up to meet during the first two rounds of the Division I district tournament.

Not often are three teams of the caliber of Independence, Franklin Heights and Whetstone high school boys basketball teams set up to meet during the first two rounds of the Division I district tournament.

The Falcons are the 14th and highest seed of the three and were 15-5 before playing the 18th-seeded Braves in the first round last Tuesday.

The winner will play the 17th-seeded 76ers at 6:15 p.m. Saturday at Jonathan Alder. Independence is 13-7 overall, and Whetstone had the same overall record before facing Franklin Heights.

The Falcons finished tied for second in the OCC-Capital Division, Whetstone was third in the City-North and the 76ers tied for second in the City-South.

"I know a little bit about Whetstone because they're in the City League, and I've watched Franklin Heights," 76ers coach Tom Cripe said. "I think all three of us are pretty evenly matched."

All three have shown significant improvement from a year ago, when only Independence advanced as far as the second round. The winner Saturday likely will face top-seeded Northland in a district semifinal at 8:45 p.m. March 7 in the Fairgrounds Coliseum.

The 76ers' depth took a hit when senior guard Kevin Malone quit early this month, but sophomore James Young had 17 points in a 62-56 win over West on Feb. 13 and senior Chandler Wells also has been seeing more playing time.

Senior Greg Dawkins has continued to lead the way for Independence, averaging 15.7 points and 8.5 rebounds, and junior forward Brandon Tyler averages 14.8 points.

The 76ers figure to be in a battle underneath regardless of which team they play. The Braves have one of the area's top post players in senior Tanner Furno and the Falcons have one of the area's leading rebounders in Peter Kpan.

"Honestly, I don't really like the way we finished the season out," said Cripe, whose team won four of its last five. "I just don't think we were focused. It seems like our guys don't believe sometimes, but the good thing about our team is that we play well when our backs are against the wall."

•MORE BOYS TOURNEY ACTION -- Eastmoor coach Sean Taylor wasn't willing to call his team's 62-56 loss to Northland last Saturday at Mifflin in the City championship a moral victory, but the tightness of the final score likely opened the eyes of a few coaches.

DeSales coach Blair Albright, whose top-seeded team will face the Warriors if both teams make it to a Division II district final, was among those in attendance. Eastmoor is the fourth seed and opens the tournament at 6:15 p.m. Friday at Centerburg against Linden-McKinley or Hamilton Township, which met last Tuesday.

"It gives us confidence to know we can play well against good teams," said Taylor, whose team lost its third consecutive City final to the Vikings. "A lot of people were saying that we're just in the lowly South Division and that we're going to come in here and get beat by 40. We came in to win and not lose by six, but we did play well."

Also opening the boys tournament after first-round byes are West (Division I) at 6:15 p.m. Saturday at Olentangy Orange against second-seeded Dublin Scioto or Briggs and Africentric (Division IV) at 6:15 p.m. Saturday at Westerville North against Grove City Christian.

•GIRLS NOTES -- The only City girls team not to have played at least one tournament game is Briggs, which opens the Division I district tournament at 7 p.m. today at Harvest Prep against sixth-seeded Pickerington North or Watkins Memorial.

Brookhaven, Northland and Independence played in the second round in Division I last Wednesday.

In Division II, Beechcroft and South opened last Tuesday and Eastmoor and Mifflin opened last Wednesday. Africentric opened the Division IV district tournament last Tuesday.

•DISTRICT WRESTLING -- The City will be represented by 12 wrestlers at the district level.

The Division I district tournament will be Friday and Saturday at Hilliard Darby and includes Brookhaven's Louis Ford (189 pounds), Marion-Franklin's Filandus Boyd (112), Quinton Ryman (152), Josh Bidlack (171) and Paul Caldwell (heavyweight), Walnut Ridge's Lamar Ross (189) and Cameron Trudell (215) and West's Derrick Neimester (152) and Jason Russell (171). Whetstone's Dustin Dutcher, who finished fifth at 171 at Watkins Memorial, is expected to compete because of an injury to fourth-place finisher Willie Tatum of Pickerington Central.

In Division II, Centennial's Shqiprim Hasani (135), East's Pat Jones (189) and Linden's Nick Banton (171) will compete Friday and Saturday at Heath.

•ON TO STATE -- Whetstone's Wade Westbrook finished fifth (344.9) in diving at the Division I district meet last Saturday at Ohio State and will be the lone representative from the City at the state meet, which began last Wednesday and will conclude Saturday in C.T. Branin Natatorium in Canton.

Centennial had three boys and one girl individually and all six of its relays at the Division II district meet last Friday and last Saturday at Ohio State, but none advanced to state.

The Stars girls finished 20th (20) of 35 teams behind champion New Albany (353) and the boys were 32nd (9) of 37 teams behind first-place New Albany (527).