Two No. 1 teams square off Saturday
By Greg Bates
It’s a matchup for the ages.
Arguably, the two best boys’ basketball teams in the state — regardless of division — will be facing off on Saturday night.
De Pere, the No. 1-ranked team in Division 1, will host Pewaukee, the top-ranked team in Division 2.
It’s a clash basketball fans have been waiting for all season. By Monday morning, five days prior to the show — err … game — tickets were already sold out for the De Pere gym that has a capacity of 1,800.
The game will feature at least five Division I college prospects. De Pere has three in senior guard John Kinziger, an Illinois State signee, junior Will Hornseth and sophomore Zach Kinziger. Pewaukee has the 1-
2 punch of senior Milan Momcilovic, who has signed with Iowa State, and junior Nick Janowski.
“It’s going to be the game of the year — number one in D-1, number one in D-2,” said Momcilovic, a top 50 recruit nationally and the No. 1-ranked Wisconsin player in the class of 2023. “You’ve got a lot of Division I prospects on the court and it’s just going to be a great atmosphere.”
“I think it’s a great opportunity for our kids, for their kids,” De Pere coach Brian Winchester said. “The environment in our gym is going to be phenomenal and it will be a tournament atmosphere against a really good team and they’re going to challenge us in a lot of ways. Milan is a terrific player, Janowski is a terrific player and they’re role guys are all really solid and they’re well coached and they do a lot of really good things.
“We look at it as just a great opportunity for us to get better and find out where we’re at on that date. Win or lose, you get back, you get great film off of it and you try and improve in the areas that you need improvement in.”
De Pere — which is off to its best start in program history at 19-0 — won at Pewaukee last season, 81-79. Pewaukee — the reigning back-to-back Division 2 state champs — is 16-2 this season.
The two teams have played one like opponent this season: Wisconsin Lutheran. Pewaukee has beaten its Woodland – West Conference foe twice, 75-67 on the road and 87-70 at home. De Pere downed Wisconsin Lutheran, 54-52, at Wisconsin Lutheran College.
The Redbirds are led in the scoring column by John Kinziger (18.7 points per game), followed closely by Hornseth (16.0) and Zach Kinziger (15.6). The team is averaging 75.7 points per game.
The Pirates are putting up 76.6 points a contest, nearly 46 combined from Momcilovic (23.4) and Janowski (22.8). Milan’s younger brother, Luka, is adding 9.5 points.
“We’re going to need a couple of the role guys to step up whether it’s just hitting a couple shots or just on the defensive end, getting down and dirty and getting a couple stops,” Milan Momcilovic said.
The key for De Pere is slowing down Pewaukee’s Big 2.
“I think our ball pressure has to pick up and we have to take away their main guys,” Zach Kinziger said. “They’ve got Milan Momcilovic and Nick Janowski, so we take them away as best we can and we can live with the other role players playing how they do.”
“Defense is key to us,” John Kinziger said. “Every night it just leads to our offense, and when we get after it on the defensive end, we get a few transition buckets and that kind of takes care of things.”
The most likely one-on-one matchups will be Hornseth vs. Momcilovic in a battle of 6-foot-8 versatile post/perimeter players and Zach Kinziger vs. Janowski, who are similar wing players that are great at getting to the basket.
“We’re just going to look to find our best matchups — if it’s finding Will in the post, if it’s that inside-out game, ball screen,” John Kinziger said. “We’re just going to try to find their weakness and attack it.”
For Pewaukee, it has the chore of trying to control a great uptempo transition offense.
“They can shoot the (crap) out of the ball,” Momcilovic said. “They’ve got a bunch of shooters around and then they’ve got Will in the middle, so I’ve got to keep Will contained. We can’t let them get free for a lot of open shots, that’s what they want to do. They’re going to run their offense and try and break us down on the defensive end. We’ve just got to communicate well and just be smart about it at the end of the day.”
For bragging rights
Since De Pere and Pewaukee are in different divisions, the game doesn’t have any implications for the postseason. However, it’s a big matchup just in general for the players.
“It’s obviously important to get in those bigger games down the road and they’re a great team,” Zach Kinziger said. “They’ve got two unbelievable players who we’ll see players like them down the road, so it’s good for us to get those experiences and to play them on our home floor is going to be fun on Saturday.”
“It’s going to get us ready for the Middletons, the Arrowheads or even Homestead again in our sectional,” John Kinziger said. “This is going to be a really fun and good matchup that we need.”
Winchester believes the game will be a good test with the playoffs just around the corner.
“We definitely want a really good opponent late in the season,” Winchester said. “It’s a really important game in a sense that it helps us prepare for the tournament.”
One key reason De Pere wants to pull off a victory is to keep its record unscathed. The Redbirds program has only had a team run the table once — in 2004-05 — during the regular season.
“That would be huge for this school,” Zach Kinziger said. “To go undefeated is a pretty cool accomplishment for each and every one of us, and we’re looking forward to trying to achieve that goal.”
A little familiarity
When it’s game time, it won’t be the first time both teams’ star players are on the court together. Far from it.
John Kinziger and Milan Momcilovic have played on the same AAU team, Phenom University, for four to five years. Zach Kinziger and Janowski — despite being one year apart in age — have played together a number of times.
“It’s nice to know their tendencies and what they like to do to help us stop them,” Zach Kinziger said.
John Kinziger and Momcilovic have developed a close bond over the years.
“I remember last year, I was trying to talk to Johnny a little bit on the court, but he doesn’t talk at all — he’s one competitive guy,” Momcilovic said. “I think this year it’s going to be the same, just locked in on the game, focused on our team, not the friendships so much on the court. Obviously, after the game we’ll talk it out.”
“We still stay in contact every single day,” said John Kinziger about his relationship with Momcilovic.
“He’s just a funny guy and fun to be around. But when we go up against him, I’m going to be full-on, this is no friendship anymore.”