Basketball: MSG coaches unbeaten, unsatisfied

The four coaches who will take their teams to New York’s Madison Square Garden this week for the semifinals and finals of the 15th Coaches vs. Cancer tournament are in mid-season form, even if they insist their teams are far from it.

North Carolina’s Roy Williams, Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, Ohio State’s Thad Matta and Cal’s Mike Montgomery have combined to win 2,171 games, and their teams all are unbeaten early this season.

Listening to them on Monday’s pre-tournament media teleconference call, you’d swear these guys are sweating to eke out a single victory.

— From Williams, coach of the defending national champions: “We’re 3-0 and that’s the good stuff. But we certainly did not play very well  at all (Sunday in an 88-77 win over Valparaiso). Valpo did a much better job than we did. We’re just more gifted than they are. We have no chance in New York if we don’t get some things changed quickly. Some of our inexperienced players have to get experienced quickly and some of the experienced players have have to play better.”

Williams went on to say he thought the strengths of his team would be defense and rebounding, adding, “We were flat-out awful against Valparaiso. We have no idea if we’re going to be any good or not defensively the way we played.”

— Ohio State’s Matta, whose team faces the Tar Heels Thursday: “We’ve done some good things, but I think we’re a long way from where we need to be. Defensively, we’re making fewer rotation mistakes. I think we’re getting a better feel for that. Offensively, the big key for us is having, I guess, aggressive patience when we play, attempting to get the shot we want.”

— Boeheim, who last week won his 800th game at Syracuse: “We’re still figuring out how to replace our three leading scorers from last year. We have, obviously, a lot of new parts. We’re like everybody at this stage of the year, trying to figure out how they all fit in. ”

— Montgomery, whose Bears face the Orange: “We actually played two pretty good basketbsall teams. Murray State, I thought, was very good. They gave us all we wanted, they’re an experienced team.  Detroit is kind of a work in progress, but with pretty good athletes. Now, all of a sudden, you’re talking about the best athletes in the country, year in and year out, with the teams that will be there.”

Thursday’s schedule has Cal (2-0) facing Syracuse (2-0) at 4 p.m. PST, followed by Carolina (3-0) vs. Ohio State (2-0) at 6 p.m. Both games will be aired on ESPN2.

The event, which has raised more than $4.5 million for cancer research, features four top-25 teams for the first time in its history, at least according to the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll.

Today’s new rankings, which are virtually the same as the preseason rankings:

Coaches poll: 4. North Carolina; 12. Cal; 15. Ohio State; 24. Syracuse.

Associated Press poll: 6. North Carolina; 13. Cal; 15. Ohio State; 30. Syracuse.

Jeff Faraudo