Three of the nation's top 20 teams are poised for the opening of the first Big East tournament starting Thursday afternoon in the Civic Center here.

No. 2 Syracuse, No. 8 St. John's and No. 20 Georgetown tied for first place in the regular season, with the Orange (5-1, 24-2) winning a coin flip for the first-round bye.

3 p.m. -- St. John's (5-1, 23-3) vs Providence (0-6, 11-15).

7 p.m. -- Georgetown (5-1, 21-5) vs. Seton Hall (1-5, 14-12). The game will be broadcast by WOL-1450, WPRW-1460, and WINX-1600.

9 p.m. -- Connecticut (3-3, 19-7) vs. Boston College (2-4, 18-8).

The semifinals are scheduled Friday night, with St. Johns' and Georgetown expected to meet in the 7 o'clock opener followed by Syracuse against the BC-UConn victor at 9. The 3 p.m. Saturday final will be regionally televised by NBC (WRC-TV-4).

Neither Syracuse nor St. John's practiced today, but there were reports from New York that St. John's freshman David Russell's status is uncertain because of a dislocated index finger injured in a collision with teammate Trevor Jackson Monday.

The injured finger on his left (shooting) hand was taped to the middle finger and the Holiday Festival's most valuable player was able to practice Tuesday. Russel is the second teammate, that Jackson has helped put down this season. He accidently broke Frank Gilroy's nose in six places in preseason.

But Georgetown Coach John Thompson, describing his team's play as "indescribably delicious," following 10 straight wins that included a victory at Syracuse, has no time yet to worry about St. John's.

Like all coaches, he is worried about his next opponent. He feels his team had a psychological advantage going to the Syracuse game because everyone in Syracuse was talking about the Orangemen's next opponent -- St. John's.

As a result, his team sat around a Syracuse hotel listening to newscasts talk about the St. John's Syracuse game. He felt it gave his team an even greater incentive.

"Seton Hall has to feel like we did before we played Syracuse," Thompson said.

Georgetown whipped the Pirates, 81-67, earlier this month, one of only two home defeats for Coach Bill Raftery's team this season. But the Pirates won only three games on the road and at neutral sites.

Both teams missed key inside players in the previous game. Seton Hall's 6-foot-11 Dan Dunne was out with an ankle injury. Georgetown broke the game open when 7-foot Mike Frazier got both Frank McNeil and Darryl Devero in foul trouble.

Georgetown center Ed Springs missed the Seton Hall game with a sprained ankle, one of seven games that Springs missed.

"I felt we needed him so badly (for postseason play) that we waited until he was completely healthy," said Thompson.

Spriggs, however, will not return to the starting lineup. He is the third center off the bench, following Mike Hancock and Frazier, and Thompson plans to leave it that way.

"He's my good-luck charm," said Thompson of Hancock starting. "Maybe it's my paranoia or superstition. Spriggs can dominate when I choose to put him in. I feel comfortable enough about their (Hancock and Frazier) playing that he doesn't have to get tired. And it definitely has its psychological effects."

Spriggs was a major force in the victory over Syracuse and Thompson said that he plans to play two of his three centers together more during postseason play, moving Craig Shelton to small forward and leavening the Hoyas with an imposing power front line when they need it.

St. John's should beat Providence with or without Russell at full speed. But the Friars are playing at home and have been in contention until the final minutes of all but two games this season, against Syracuse and Duke, St. John's won here earlier, 68-62.

The BC-UConn game is a tossup.

Southwest Conference references will officiate the games. Big East officials will work the Southwest Conference tournament.