With four senior starters who saw substantial play a year ago - one of whom is among the best players in the NOW area - the Franklin boys basketball team believes it is poised for a big season.
And after going 13-11 overall and 9-5 in the Southeast Conference a year ago with a junior-dominated team, why should the Sabers be?
"You have your two leading scorers coming back and all that experience and a little bit of depth coming off the bench, yes, (the coaches) have high expectations," second-year Franklin coach Tim Hogan said. "The guys have them too. It's not just the staff. They expect to do well and are very excited, and haven't disappointed to start the season. We beat two pretty good teams."
Those victories came in the NY2LA Sports Classic at Marquette, a 51-45 win over Whitefish Bay on Friday and a 67-62 defeat of Milwaukee Vincent on Saturday.
The Sabers outscored Bay, 12-2, in the fourth quarter to come back and win as senior guard Matt Krueger scored a team-high 19 points. The next night, Krueger upped his tally to 25 and senior center Nick Romanowski had 33 points and 14 rebounds.
Those two are expected to be the Sabers' leading offensive players all season, just as they were a year ago.
Romanowski, at 6-feet-7, had a breakout season with 22.5 points and 11.1 rebounds per game. He was the NOW area regular season scoring champion with five 30-plus-point games, 12 double-doubles and 2.8 blocked shots per game. He was a unanimous NOW All-Suburban selection and is the current NOW active leading career scorer with 754 points.
"He had a tremendous offseason," Hogan said. "He played with his AAU team - he and Matt played together - and (the players) played summer league, fall league, and did their workouts. They did it all and prepared to make a big run this year. That's something you like to see. That motivation, sometimes that's something you can't coach."
Krueger, a 6-4 sharpshooter, averaged 12.3 points per game last fall. He and Romanowski are joined in the starting lineup by senior guard/forward Macon Plewa (7.6 points per game), senior guard Trevor Theissen (4.1) and junior guard Brett Ksobiech (5.7), who also played AAU ball last summer.
Also returning is junior guard Nick Kriesel.
Other players to watch include 6-6 junior forward/center Danny Kingstad and 6-5 freshman forward Chad Kanugh.
Hogan said establishing depth off the bench will be key; only six Sabers scored in their initial two wins.
"When we played in that Kettle Moraine scrimmage and these first couple game, you try to figure out a rotation so the guys have some consistency," Hogan said. "I feel real comfortable with the guys we have this year. Our starters, we'll look to them to do most of the scoring, but the guys off the bench will be contributors."
Franklin is considered one of the top teams in the SEC, along with Racine Case and Kenosha Bradford.
"I would like to think that we are, but if we fly under the radar, I don't mind that either," Hogan said. "When we play those teams, it's going to be intangible things that make the difference. I don't think any team is more talented than another."
Defense has been a consistent strength for the Falcons, and that will not change this season.
"Our defense has always been good," said Whitnall coach Kent Kroupa, who directed the Falcons to a 15-7 mark last season, including 11-6 in the Woodland Conference. "We have a lot to work on for offense and rebounding."
Some of the offense will come from 6-0 junior point guard Stephen Pelkofer, who averaged 8.5 points and 2.8 rebounds last season. "He is a good all-around player," Kroupa said. "He penetrates well, can hit from outside and plays solid defense."
Bryan Nagy, a 6-4 junior post, will provide an inside presence for Whitnall. He averaged seven points and four boards last year.
Pelkofer poured in 18 points, with a trio of 3-point goals, in a 58-45 loss to powerful Milwaukee Hamilton on Friday. Nagy added 13 points for the Falcons, who were taken out of the game by a two-point second quarter.
"We had the one bad quarter," Kroupa said, "but we outscored and outplayed Hamilton in the second half. We did a good job on defense."
Kroupa likes the balance on his roster, with six seniors, six juniors and one sophomore. "We need to incorporate the younger kids in with the seniors," he said, "but I think we can be good."
First-year coach Mike Jossie, formerly of West Allis Central, will be in charge of righting the Knights' ship in 2010-11 and beyond. And it will be no easy task.
Oak Creek won just 3 of 23 games including losses in 18 of their final 19 contests last winter. The Knights have not had a winning season since going 17-4 in 2005-06 and are just 18-68 since.
Eight seniors are gone from a year ago, including all-conference pick Nick Stout.
The Knights got this season off to a good start with a 41-37 nonconference win at Greenfield on Monday. Newcomer Terrence Garner, a sophomore guard who played for Jossie at Central as a freshman, scored a game-high 19 points. Garner is considered the 24th-best player in his class in the state by wissports.net.
The Panthers struggled offensively last winter under first-year coach Ryan Fiet. They averaged only 41 points per game, the lowest total in the NOW coverage area. Four of their top five scorers from a year ago graduated, leaving senior David Jordan (5.7) as the highest returning scorer.
But Greendale has received a boost from Andrew Brees, a NOW All-Suburban Football Team selection and all-state wide receiver. Brees, who was not on the team a year ago but averaged 5.1 points per game as a sophomore, scored a game-high 25 points in the Panthers' season-opening 70-44 win over visiting Hartford on Saturday.
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