WARSAW – The Warsaw boys basketball team is very in tune with what’s happening in the Northern Lakes Conference.
The Tigers will definitely be very tuned in too come Friday night as they will be right smack in the middle of the league’s biggest game of the season.
Warsaw, which boasts an impressive 18 straight wins in NLC play, hosts Class 3-A No. 1 NorthWood in a league fracas that will go a long way towards determining this year’s NLC champion.
The Tigers and the undefeated Panthers sit tied atop the league standings at 4-0. Warsaw is 11-5 overall, while the Panthers are 14-0. NorthWood is one of just three teams in the state still undefeated on the season.
Warsaw coach Doug Ogle, who has been around the NLC for a long, long time, has his players pick the NLC games on Thursday each and every week of the season.
“We pay close attention to the NLC,” said Ogle, now in his 15th season as the Warsaw head coach and 30th overall on the Tiger bench. “We have our players pick the conference games each week and I think that keeps them very in tune with what is going on in the conference.”
Warsaw is also looking to take a big step towards making league history. The Tigers are trying to become the first team in the conference to go 7-0 in league play for three straight seasons. The only other team to claim three straight NLC championships was Concord, led by former NBA standout Shawn Kemp, from 1986-88. The Minutemen were 7-0 twice, with a 6-1 league record in the middle of their three-peat.
“We are trying to win three in a row and obviously we are pretty serious about it,” Ogle said. “We know the history. And winning the NLC is important to us.”
Ogle has directed his team to five NLC championships during his tenure.
The marquee matchup in the Tiger Den boasts two of the area’s best players. The Tigers feature senior guard Kyle Mangas, while the Panthers counter with senior guard Vinny Miranda.
The 6-3 Mangas, who sits in eighth place in program history with 1,160 career points, does it all. The Indiana Wesleyan recruit averages 21.4 points and a team-high six rebounds per outing. Mangas leads his team with 30 treys, shoots 86 percent from the free throw line and has scored 20 or more points in seven straight games. He also leads the Tigers in assists, steals and blocked shots.
Miranda, who became the ninth player in NorthWood history to go over 1,000 points last month, averages 22.3 ppg. to go with leading his team in both assists and steals per game. He is also shooting 54 percent from the field, including 40-95 from 3-point land, and 80 percent from the line and averaging five rebounds per game. Miranda has 1,149 points for his brilliant career.
Ogle knows that containing Miranda, who hit the game winning free throws with 13 seconds left to beat NLC rival Goshen 51-50 last Friday night, is a big key for the defensive-minded group.
“He’s very crafty and it seems like no one has been able to stay in front of him,” said Ogle of Miranda, who is playing point guard for the first time this season. “He’s hard to contain. We have a big task and it will take a team effort on defense for us to contain him.”
The duo of Asher Blum (5.6) and Jeremy David (4.9) are the second and third leading scorers for Warsaw. NorthWood also relies heavily on Luke Zurcher (14.0) and Caleb Lung (10.6). Warsaw averages 51 points per game and allows just 40, while the Panthers score at a 61 per game clip and give up 45 per contest.
The Tigers have faced a much more daunting schedule than the Panthers. Warsaw’s five losses, of which only one was at home, are to teams with a combined record of 56-18. NorthWood owns just seven wins over teams with at least a .500 record this season. Warsaw’s strength of schedule rank by Sagarin, buoyed by facing defending state champion New Albany and Lawrence North in the Hall of Fame Classic in December, sits at 66th. NorthWood’s SOS is 148th.
“We respect NorthWood and know they’re good,” remarked Ogle. “They are a good passing team and rebound well. I think that the free throw line, offensive rebounds and bench play will all be key factors Friday night.
“I expect us to play well and I expect NorthWood to play well. I think it has a chance to be a really well-played and entertaining game.”
NorthWood coach Aaron Wolfe is very familiar with his foe Friday night. Wolfe, who is now in his 10th season in charge of the Panthers, was an assistant coach for Ogle.
“What a great opportunity for our players,” said Wolfe of the matchup following a home win over Goshen last Friday night. “It will be a mid-season test for us in a great atmosphere. We look at a game in the NLC like this one as a great opportunity for us to get better as a team.”
Wolfe is 3-6 versus Ogle and the Tigers during his highly-successful tenure in Nappanee.
NorthWood, which lost in the regional final last year, is shooting for its fourth straight 20 win season. The Panthers went 68-9 the past three years, the second best mark in the state during that time stretch. NorthWood has won the NLC title twice, the last coming in 2007 under coach Dan Gunn.
Warsaw has won six of the last eight meetings with the Panthers, including a 51-35 final last year in front of a sold-out Panther Pit. Paul Marandet, now playing at Spring Arbor, led Warsaw with 23 points last season and Mangas scored 10. Miranda was held to just five points on 2-12 shooting from the field as NorthWood saw its 21-game home winning streak stopped by Warsaw.
The Tigers will conclude NLC play by hosting Elkhart Memorial Feb. 2 and playing at Plymouth Feb. 10. The Panthers host Concord Feb. 2 and play at Memorial Feb. 10 to wrap up league action.
The action tips-off Friday night with the junior varsity game at 6:15 p.m. The varsity contest will be shown by WHME-TV (Channel 46) at 11 p.m. Friday and again at 9 a.m. on Saturday.