Since the Ivy League has eight teams and is the only conference without a conference tourney, its regular season is often referred to as a 14-game conference tourney. Jon Teitel got to sit in on the call and ask a question of coaches from each of the eight schools, and here is what they had to say (www.ivyleaguedigitalnetwork.com/ivyleague/video/ivyleague-mens-basketball-midseason-teleconference—jan-15%2c-2014):
Q: Shabazz Napier had a triple-double in a win by UConn back in November: where does rank among the best players you have seen this season?
A: He is one of the best players we have seen this year, and he made some plays to beat us in the final 10 minutes after we had closed the gap to 10 points.
Q: Was there any big lesson learned from your three point loss to Penn last Saturday or does it just show that anyone can win a rivalry game?
A: There was no giant lesson that we learned, but we need to get a little more physical in the lane and play better defense. We were not looking past them at all, and they have played a really tough schedule this year.
Q: You are the only Ivy team with four double-digit scorers now that sophomore center Darien Nelson-Henry is back after missing a month due to a concussion. Is this the most balanced team that you have had during your time at Penn?
A: This may be the most balanced team in terms of scoring, which shows that we are playing selfless basketball, but as a staff we need to teach the team to give a more consistent effort defensively.
Q: Sophomore guard Siyani Chambers leads the Ivy League with 4.7 assists-per-game while Wesley Saunders is number one with 2.4 steals-per-game. As someone with a lot of postseason experience, how important do you think guard play will be to your success if you make it to the postseason?
A: College basketball is traditionally known for having good guard play lead to success, but I personally think the key to our team will be our frontcourt play in terms of how far we can go this year.
Q: JR C Gabas Maldunas led your team in rebounding the past two years and leads the Ivy League with 8.5 rebounds-per-game this year. What makes him such an important part of your team?
A: He is a special player and a dominant rebounder who is quick to the ball. He takes pride in rebounding and means a ton to us, as he is also our leading scorer this year. The few times that he has gotten into foul trouble it has given us significant problems because we do not have another answer when he is out of the game.
Q: You lost to Syracuse, Louisville and Notre Dame in non-conference play. Do you think there is such a thing as having a non-conference that is too difficult in terms of preparing you for the conference season?
A: When we originally made our schedule we had an entirely different team in mind that we would have this year; had we known in hindsight that we would be missing so many guys due to injury, we might have scheduled games a little differently. I think a tough schedule is attractive from a recruiting standpoint and it helps prepare us for Ivy League play, but if you think this year’s schedule was tough then just wait until you see next year’s schedule!
Q: You return everyone on your roster next year due to not having a single senior: are you surprised that your team has been able to play so well despite being so young?
A: You always play to win and we have been getting better with each game. Not having any seniors concerned us at the start of the season, but guys like junior small forward Alex Rosenberg got to play a lot as a freshman, and the hard work they have put in has paid off.
Q: Sophomore forward Cedric Kuakumensah leads the Ivy League with 3.1 blocks-per-game (top-20 in the country) despite standing 6’8” and playing fewer than 24 minutes each night. What makes him such a good shot-blocker, and do you think he will end up as the best shot-blocker in Ivy history (breaking Brian Gilpin’s conference record of 252 career blocks)?
A: He has really long arms and good instincts and timing, which puts himself in a good position to block shots at the rim. I do not know about conference history, but I am confident that he will end up as the best shot-blocker in school history. He anchors our defense and was named a captain as a sophomore, which should tell you a lot about the respect our players and staff have for him.