Four undefeated college basketball teams take the court at Madison Square Garden tomorrow in the semifinals of the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer.
Fifth-ranked Pittsburgh plays Maryland and No. 13 Illinois takes on Texas in the nightcap.
With help from NBA scouting director Ryan Blake — who is on a 3,000-mile motorcycle road trip to benefit the American Cancer Society and will be posing with his Triumph bike at the Garden tomorrow — here is what you need to know before tip-off:
No. 5 Pittsburgh (3-0)
Last season: 25-9 (lost in Round 2 of NCAAs)
Coach Jamie Dixon brings back nearly everyone from a squad that finished near the top of the Big East last season and earned a No. 3 seed in the Big Dance. “He leads by example,” Blake said of Dixon. “He might not tell you that he’s in the trenches for you; he’ll show you that he will be. That’s why players want to play for him. They want to go the extra mile and they start believing in themselves. .. Players develop under him.”
Ashton Gibbs (Scotch Plains, N.J.), junior, guard, 6-foot-2
Forming a dangerous backcourt with senior guard Brad Wanamaker, Gibbs averaged 23 points in the Panthers’ first two games after leading the team in scoring last season.
Last season: 24-9 (lost in Round 2 of NCAAs)
Gary Williams enters his 22nd season at the helm and is the reigning ACC Coach of the Year. But the Terps lost three key starters from last year’s squad, including conference player of the year Greivis Vasquez. “He’s consistent and persistent,” Blake said of Williams, whose Terps won a national title in 2002. “He knows what he wants in terms of recruits, he produces and he’s a mentor as well.”
Pe'Shon Howard (Los Angeles), freshman, guard, 6-foot-3
Maryland is the only team of the bunch that had a serious scare en route to this tournament’s semifinals, but the Terps got past Charleston 75-74 thanks to Howard’s jumper with three seconds remaining.
No. 13 Illinois (3-0)
Last season: 21-15 (lost in Round 3 of NIT)
Illinois hauled in a stellar recruiting class, which has raised the expectations for Bruce Weber’s squad despite the disappointments of last season. The Illini figure to be a force in the Big Ten all year.
Demetri McCamey (Bellwood, Ill.), senior, guard, 6-foot-3
McCamey, who led the Illini in scoring, assists and steals last season, earned an all-conference first team selection. “One of things we’re worried about is his sense of turning the ball over, becoming too risky, not being able to shoot,” Blake said. “But what he’s shown is how to play as a leader, as a quarterback of his team. He really sees the court well and finds and chooses his opportunities for himself, which makes his teammates better.”
Last season: 24-10 (lost in Round 1 of NCAAs)
Texas suffered an epic plummet last season, going from No. 1 in the polls to an afterthought in its own conference, the Big 12. But coach Rick Barnes continues to stockpile high school All-Americans, meaning the Longhorns have the talent to compete with anyone.
Gary Johnson (Houston), senior, forward, 6-foot-6
An undersized power forward, Johnson is a very tough player who could be the key to holding this Longhorns team together. “Here’s a guy that is just an absolute warrior on the court,” Blake said. “He works with such energy, things happen not only for him, but for his teammates. He’s creating opportunities. He’s averaging eight boards and 16 points [in 28 minutes] in two games. That’s sort of what he did in 23 minutes last year.”
2K Sports Classic
(4) Pittsburgh vs. Maryland, Thursday, 7 p.m. ESPN2
(16) Illinois vs. (22) Texas, Thursday, 9 p.m. ESPN2
Teams TBD, Friday, 7 p.m. ESPN2