The St. John's Red Storm and Seton Hall Pirates received a boost to their slim NCAA men's basketball tournament hopes even before hitting the floor at Madison Square Garden.
The Butler Bulldogs' victory over the Xavier Musketeers on Wednesday cleared one team out of the picture, which should help the winner of the Big East tournament quarterfinal.
The victor of the No. 4-versus-No. 5 matchup could see a path to the championship game open up since the top-seeded Villanova Wildcats will be without Collin Gillespie and Justin Moore.
Even though Villanova is down two key players, it is listed as an 8.5-point favorite for Thursday's opening game against the Georgetown Hoyas.
Jay Wright's team failed its first test without Gillespie and could be the top seed most susceptible to an upset in any of the power conferences.
Big East Tournament Quarterfinal Schedule
Odds via DraftKings Sportsbook.
No. 1 Villanova (-8.5) vs. No. 8 Georgetown (Over/Under: 140.5) (Noon ET, FS1)
No. 4 St. John's vs. No. 5 Seton Hall (-1.5) (O/U: 152.5) (3 p.m. ET, FS1)
No. 2 Creighton vs. No. 10 Butler (6 p.m. ET, FS1)
No. 3 UConn vs. No. 6 Providence/No. 11 DePaul (9 p.m. ET, FS1)
St. John's (+1.5) vs. Seton Hall
St. John's and Seton Hall just met on Saturday, but there will be one key difference between that contest and Thursday's quarterfinal.
The Red Storm will have Posh Alexander back in the lineup after he missed time with an injury. According to Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports, the freshman guard told reporters he will play in New York.
The Brooklyn native is the second-best scorer on the St. John's roster and could provide the spark his team needs to make a deep run at Madison Square Garden.
Alexander averages 11.1 points per game and went through a stretch from January 18-February 6 in which he put together six straight double-digit performances.
If Mike Anderson's squad receives similar production from Alexander, it should be in good shape to win a second successive game against the Pirates.
On Saturday, the Red Storm recorded a superior percentage from the field, three-point range and the free-throw line. They also won the rebound and assist battles by small margins.
While Alexander is an important piece, leading scorer Julian Champagnie could be the reason why St. John's keeps its Big Dance dream alive. His 22-point outing on Saturday was his third 20-plus-point game in the last five contests.
Seton Hall does not have a backcourt scorer who can keep pace with Champagnie, and it only has three players who average over eight points per game.
Senior forward Sandro Mamukelashvili is the Pirates' game-changing player, but he only had 15 points on Saturday and dipped below that mark in two of the five games prior to that.
One way St. John's can take the 21-year-old out of the game is by driving into the paint and forcing him into foul trouble. He has committed three fouls in three of his last four appearances.
If St. John's keeps Mamukelashvili from making a major impact and receives the normal contributions from Champagnie and Alexander, it could move up the bracket projections.
Joe Lunardi of ESPN listed both teams on the "next four out" line following Xavier's loss to Butler, but there is room for improvement through a few wins on the top side of the bracket.
Villanova vs. Georgetown (Under 140.5)
Villanova's offense looked atrocious in its first game without Gillespie.
The Wildcats lost 54-52 against the Providence Friars in a game in which Moore suffered a severe ankle sprain that left him doubtful for the Big East tournament.
Thursday's opener will be the first time Villanova plays without both guards for 40 minutes, and there is a good chance it experiences some struggles while figuring out its offensive sets.
Villanova will likely shoot better than 22.2 percent from three-point range, but it could have trouble early on with its spacing and distribution with its top two assist earners sidelined.
A slow start would be the perfect ingredient for the under of 140.5 points to hit, especially with the way Georgetown struggled from the field on Wednesday.
The Hoyas scored 68 points, but they shot 39.3 percent from the field and made four of their 19 three-pointers in a game in which the Marquette Golden Eagles shot even worse than them.
In the first of two meetings this season, Villanova and Georgetown combined to shoot 51-for-121 from the field, and each team went through extended cold spells. Villanova faced a 13-point halftime deficit and Georgetown managed just 17 second-half points.
If Villanova locks in defensively, it could avoid a potential double-digit comeback for the second time this season versus the Hoyas.
In their last four victories, the Wildcats held opponents under 65 points. That is an improvement from the 74 points they allowed to Georgetown on February 7.
There is always the chance that Villanova finds its rhythm early, but most of the recent trends suggest at least one team will struggle to reach 60 points, which will keep the game under its projected total.
Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.
Statistics obtained from ESPN.com.
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