Minnesota-Xavier First Round Tourney Preview

Minnesota faces Xavier in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The two teams will face off Friday in the first of four games held at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee. Gophers fans are hoping that they can use the close proximity (a five-hour drive) to their advantage. Xavier finished 25-8 overall and 14-2 in the Atlantic 10 Conference, which got three teams into the NCAA tournament field.

Xavier had an outstanding season, tying with Temple for the Atlantic-10 regular season title, despite their top three scorers from last year's team, which won the Atlantic-10 regular-season championship and made it to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16. They also lost head coach Sean Miller, who took the Arizona job.

Seven of their eight losses were to NCAA tournament teams and the other loss was to Dayton, a team that played in Minneapolis last year that return most of their lineup but faltered down the stretch and will play in the N.I.T.

Xavier lost to Marquette 71-61 in the first round of the Old Spice Classic after starting the season 3-0. Xavier sophomore Jordan Crawford, who averaged a team-high 19.7 points per game, missed all nine of his shots and didn't score in the first half. He wound up with nine points. The Musketeers bounced back with a win over Creighton before losing to Baylor.69-64.

They lost road games at Kansas State 71-56 and a heartbreaking controversial 69-68 loss to Butler to fall 6-4. The Musketeers fell to Wake Forest 96-92 in double overtime in their final game before the start of conference play. They won the first four games in conference play before losing to Temple 77-72 on the road. Xavier won four more A-10 games before their worst loss of they ear, falling 90-65 to Dayton. They bounced back to beat NCAA Tournament team Florida 76-64 on the road and won their final six conference games of the year. They lost to Richmond 89-85 in overtime in the Atlantic-10 semifinals.

Xavier is led by 6-foot-4 guard Crawford, who transferred from Indiana after his freshman year when Kelvin Sampson left the program. Crawford made a name this summer for dunking over LeBrom James, only to see the video of the play being taken by Nike officials. He was named first team All-Atlantic-10 and led the team in scoring, three-pointers made and steals. Crawford is an athletic player who is very explosive. However, he is also a good shooter who made 39% from three-point range and 76.9% from the line, sixth in the conference in both categories. Crawford finished second in the A-10 in scoring.

Jason Love, a 6-foot-9, 265-pounder, is the lone senior on the roster. He made big strides as an offensive player, boosting his scoring from 6.7 points to 11.9 this season. Love is a strong physical player who is a good defender. He led the team in rebounding and was fifth in the A-10 in that category.

Sophomore point guard Terrell Holloway showed great improvement as a playmaker this season. The six-footer had 125 assists (sixth in the A-10) compared to 62 turnovers compared to 75 to 64 as a freshman. He is an excellent free throw shooter, making 85.1% from the charity stripe, tops in the A-10. However, Holloway made just 30.9% from beyond the arc.

Jamel McLean, a 6-foot-8, 235-pound junior, grew as a scorer and rebounder this season. The former Tulsa transfer had four double-doubles after having just one the previous year. He was seventh in the conference in rebounding.

Mark Lyons, a redshirt freshman, started the season scoring in double figures in his first four games. He missed three games during the midseason and then scoured in double figures in just two of his next eleven games after his return. However, he bounced back to score ten or more points in four of his last five contests. Lyons is an effective player coming off the Xavier bench.

Dante Jackson has had to play more minutes at point guard as a freshman and junior, but with the continued development of Holloway, he has been allowed to play his more natural position of shooting guard. He is primarily an outside shooting threat as 49 of his 65 field goal were three-pointers. Jackson was third in the A-10 in three-point percentage.

Brad Redford, a 6-foot sophomore, is even more of a one-trick pony. Ninety-eight of his 104 fields goals made in his two collegiate seasons were from beyond the arc. He led the A-10 in three-point shooting as a freshman and was second this past year.

Kenny Frease, a 7-foot center, could play an important role in their matchup against Minnesota and centers Ralph Sampson III and Colton Iverson. He shots a high percentage from the field, making 52.1% from the field. However, he struggled from the line, making just 54.2%. Frease was a highly recruited player who had offers from schools such as Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Ohio State and West Virginia before committing to Xavier as a junior. He has struggled with his conditioning and has been a bit of a disappointment in his early college career. However, his size could be important against the Gophers, who have utilized their "Twin Towers" attack more as the season has progressed.

Junior forward Andrew Taylor, who played in only nine games last year, due to injury, averages nearly ten minutes per game off the bench. The 6-foot-8 former Division II transfer has yet to post more than six points and six rebounds at Xavier.

The Minnesota-Xavier matchup figures to be one of the most competitive of the first round NCAA Tournament games.

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