MILWAUKEE -- It's been a hard-fought, sloppy first half between the Musketeers and Gophers, and the end result is a 26-26 tie at halftime. Some assorted thoughts from the first 20 minutes of today's first Milwaukee regional game:
Both teams are defending well. This was slightly unexpected. Both Xavier and Minnesota register in the 40s in defensive efficiency. Xavier especially has thrived on its offense for much of the year. Minnesota's number is a little deceptive, as the Gophers have played much better defense entering the NCAA tournament (see their Big Ten tournament win over Purdue, in which the Boilermakers registered a record-low 11 first-half points.) But both teams are scrapping hard on the defensive side of the ball. Xavier is making things difficult for Minnesota with good hands -- the Musketeers are slapping and deflecting the ball all over the court. Meanwhile, Minnesota has defended its own rim with alacrity -- the Gophers had 10 (!) blocks in the first half -- forcing Xavier to get their best looks from outside.
Jordan Crawford is a lot of fun to watch. The Xavier guard -- another of the former Indiana transfers making waves in this tournament, alongside Ohio guard Armon Bassett and St. Mary's forward Ben Allen -- is as confident as they come. He doesn't just finish breakaways. He scoops in pretty finger rolls. Crawford doesn't just take on his defender. He sets him up, stares him down, and hits a three-pointer in his eye. It was a struggle on the offensive end for Xavier in the first half, but Crawford, who scored 11 points, still got his.
The referees are not popular here thus far, but this unpopularity is mostly confined to two calls Minnesota originally got but which were quickly reversed after a second ref stepped in. Memo to the various boo-birds here: Both calls were right. (A third near the end of the half was less, um, correct.)
If there's one word to describe the first half, it's sloppy. Minnesota has made Xavier look like a very average offensive team, especially around the bucket, while Xavier's pressure has made the Gophers look haphazard in their own half-court. The quality here is not exactly high. But it is entertaining.
Sitting in front of players' families is always a good time. It's proof that no matter how high the level of basketball on display, the same issues that plagued the parents of your under-13 club soccer team plague the parents and relatives of college basketball players. Everyone wants their son to play, and everyone wants their son to get the ball. And, when in doubt, the consensus cheer is "Come on guys! Teamwork!" Always a good time.
I'll have plenty more after the second half finishes up, so check back here for more. And be sure to stop by our chat, where I'm popping in whenever my Internet connection allows.