Here are three things to watch for when St. John's (6-5) takes on Providence (11-2) on Tuesday night at Carnesecca Arena.
Tip-off is at 7 p.m., and the game will air locally on MSG. You can also watch the game via ESPN3.
THE SECOND SEASON: This will be the Big East opener for both teams -- in fact, this is the very first night of Big East conference play, with one other game also on the slate (Pittsburgh at Notre Dame).
St. John's had an up-and-down 11-game stretch to start the season, but the Red Storm have won two straight heading into this matchup. The six first-year players in the seven-man rotation will get their first taste of Big East action on Tuesday night.
"Things are coming along," said freshman point guard Phil Greene on Monday. "We've been having long, tough practices so we can be ready and be prepared for the Big East. We know it's going to be a challenge, but we're up to the challenge."
SECOND IMPRESSION: St. John's fans will get their second look at freshman Amir Garrett on Tuesday night. The 6-foot-6 swingman only became officially eligible on Dec. 21, just hours before the Red Storm's 66-61 win over Texas-Pan American. Garrett played 15 minutes in that game, despite not even being able to participate in a team practice yet, and contributed three points and two rebounds. (Click here for my story on Garrett's debut.)
We should get a little better sense of what Garrett can provide this team in this game, now that he has some practices under his belt. He said Monday that he is feeling more comfortable, particularly at the offensive end of the floor. "I'm coming along pretty quickly," Garrett said. "I think two or three weeks and I'll be where I need to be."
THE OPPONENT: Providence is off to an impressive start under new coach Ed Cooley, a Providence, R.I. native who came over from Fairfield during the offseason. The Friars were picked to finish second-to-last in the Big East in the conference's preseason media poll, but look capable of exceeding expectations. They've won seven straight games since back-to-back losses to Iowa State and Northern Iowa in the South Padre Island Invitational in late November.
To be fair, Providence has played a pretty weak schedule so far, while St. John's has played three ranked opponents, including at Kentucky. (Click here for Andy Katz's story on Providence's hot start.)
Four Friars score at least 13 points per game, led by 6-foot-2 junior point guard Vincent Council, who is averaging 16.9 points and 6.9 assists per game. Six-foot-four sophomore Gerard Coleman (15.8 ppg, 6 rpg), 6-foot-1 sophomore Bryce Cotton (15.7 ppg) and 6-foot-6 freshman LaDonate Henton (13.1 ppg, 8.8 rpg) are the other key contributors.
One thing Cooley has brought to the program is a renewed emphasis on defense. Last season, Providence was dead-last in the Big East, giving up 79.9 points per game. This season the Friars are allowing just 62.9 points per game so far.