No. 16 Xavier hosts St. John's, aims to remain in first place in the Big East Conference
Two things, in particular, propelled Xavier's men's basketball team to an overtime win against Providence on Wednesday.
The Musketeers played with a winning level of toughness and they took care of the basketball, committing only five turnovers in 45 minutes.
Those two areas need to be there again on Saturday when St. John's visits the Cintas Center.
Xavier (18-5, 10-2) is tied for first place in the Big East Conference with Marquette.
In order to win a conference championship, Saturday's a game the Musketeers need to win. It's essential to protect home court ‒ something Xavier's done well this season in Big East play (6-0) ‒ and not give away any games against teams in the bottom tier of the league.
Xavier beat St. John's in December at Carnesecca Arena. The Musketeers were rolling early, then the Red Storm cranked up the pressure and climbed back in the game late.
St. John's (14-9, 4-8) may decide to bring that pressure for the entire game this time around.
The Musketeers really need to buckle down on two Red Storm players. David Jones is the most likely candidate to have a big night against Xavier. He's done it before. He scored 19 points with three 3-pointers against the Musketeers earlier this season.
St. John's big man Joel Soriano wasn't as much of a factor in the first meeting, but he's averaging a double-double and Xavier can't let him control the paint.
Xavier needs to play another game like it did on Wednesday, where the Musketeers defend without fouling.
The Zach Freemantle injury means Xavier's largely going to stick with a six-man rotation, with the possibility of some occasional help from Cesare Edwards and KyKy Tandy.
When the game was tight against Providence, Xavier head coach Sean Miller decided to go with his most reliable six guys.
If Jerome Hunter or Jack Nunge get into foul trouble, this game can become uncomfortable for the Musketeers.
Miller said Friday during his pre-game press conference that he's looking for opportunities to extend his bench in an attempt to take some strain off his starters.
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Tipoff: 5 p.m. on Saturday at Cintas Center
TV/Radio: FOX national, including FOX 19 in Cincinnati, with play-by-play from Tim Brando and analysis from Nick Bahe. Byron Larkin and Joe Sunderman will have the radio call on WLW-AM (700).
Series info: Xavier leads the series 15-6.
Xavier Musketeers (18-5, 10-2 Big East)
Coach: Sean Miller, 18th season (440-161 overall)
Offense: 83.3 ppg
Defense: 76.2 ppg
Player (Position, Height, Key Stat)
Adam Kunkel (G, 6'4", 10.1 ppg)
Jerome Hunter (F, 6'8", 6.2 ppg)
Colby Jones (G, 6'6", 14.8 ppg)
Souley Boum (G, 6'3", 16.3 ppg)
Jack Nunge (F, 7'0", 14.5 ppg)
St. John's Red Storm (14-9, 4-8 Big East)
Coach: Mike Anderson, 21st season (434-252 overall)
Offense: 77.3 ppg
Defense: 73.6 ppgProjected lineup
Player (Position, Height, Key Stat)
AJ Storr (G, 6'6", 7.7 ppg)
Andre Curbelo (G, 6'1", 9.7 ppg)
Joel Soriano (C, 6'11", 16.0 ppg)
David Jones (F, 6'6", 12.7 ppg)
Dylan Addae-Wusu (G, 6'4", 7.8 ppg)
Players to watch
Xavier did a great job against Soriano in the first matchup. He's averaging a double-double and has the ability to change a game with his presence around the basket. The Musketeers have to block him out and make his catches in the low post difficult.
With Zach Freemantle's injury, it's imperative that Nunge stays out of foul trouble and stays on the floor. Nunge will have his hands full defending Soriano, but if he plays the way he played in Wednesday's win over Providence the Musketeers should be in a nice spot.
Keys to the game
Turnovers, style of play
Taking care of the ball is always the first priority against St. John's. Getting careless, committing live-ball turnovers, and letting the Red Storm play in transition is how the water gets muddy on Saturday for Xavier.
If the Musketeers don't turn it over, they essentially force St. John's into a half-court battle, where it becomes more about which team can execute and run good offense and good defense.
KenPom: Xavier (23), St. John's (79)
NET: Xavier (26), St. John's (94)
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Big East: No. 16 Xavier hosts St. John's on Saturday