Game Preview

NEW YORK -- Xavier's quest for its first Big East Tournament championship begins Thursday when it faces St. John's in the quarterfinals at Madison Square Garden.

The No. 3 Musketeers (27-4) are 6-5 in the tournament since joining in the 2009-10 season.

The Red Storm (16-16) knocked off Georgetown 88-77 in the opening round Wednesday. Shamorie Ponds returned from an abdominal strain and scored 26 points in the win.

Xavier defeated St. John's in both regular-season meetings.

"Having one of your best players in the lineup is always important," St. John's coach Chris Mullin said.

Mullin was a star at St. John's when it won the Big East Tournament 35 years ago. He understands what playing at the Garden in the postseason means to a New Yorkers.

"You can put together a few days that are wild, and phenomenal," he said. "But you have to know what makes that happen. Go out and play with energy and IQ and things like that.

"Lots of things can happen if you actually win the first game."

Center Tariq Owens is a stabilizing force for St. John's in the pivot. He leads the conference in blocked shots at three per game. The Red Storm do a good job of protecting the ball with a plus-4.6 turnover margin that led the league during the regular season. Mullin's team also recorded 8.7 steals per regular-season game.

"It's special. We really enjoy our time up in New York," said Xavier coach Chris Mack, the Big East's Coach of the Year. "We've made a couple deep runs that have fallen short but, you know I think when you get to Madison Square Garden and they tip it off, it's important.

"It's also really, really difficult. You've got to be at your best three nights in a row, possibly four depending on where you're seeded, and there's a lot of desperation on that court. I'm hopeful that our guys play with that same desperation. Don't want to share anything but it's hard to maybe answer to how we'll play until that time comes.

"I have so much respect for the coaches within our league. They're great ambassadors of the game. This (coach of the year) award, to me, is more about our team than it is about the head coach. We don't get to this point if we don't have a group that's connected, that's coachable, and that wins."

Xavier is led by Trevon Bluiett, the 13th player in Big East history to earn first-team honors three times. Bluiett averaged 19.4 points in leading Xavier to its first league title.

However, Xavier forward J.P. Macura, who averages 12.4 points per game and brings energy to Mack's team with selflessness and defense, was left off any of the conference's postseason teams.

"I think selfishly you want some recognition for what you'd consider the heart and soul of your team," Mack said. "But I also understand there are some really good players in this league. "They don't put 12 guys on the first team and 15 on the second team. It's a hard all-conference team to even get your name on, so do I think that he (Macura) was deserving? Yeah, I do, and I texted him that yesterday and, in a typical response, he hit me back and said, 'coach, I don't care about any of that crap. All I care about is getting a ring,' and it shows the type of player and the type of spirit that he has."

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