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Film Session: Nigel Hayes’ performance against Syracuse could change Wisconsin’s season

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No. 17 Wisconsin, for perhaps the first time all season, finally looked like the team that was a preseason favorite to win the Big Ten regular season title on Tuesday night.

The Badgers shredded the Orange, winning 77-60, an offensive performance that only gets more impressive when you consider that there were just 64 possessions in the game.

Looking at the box score, the change seems obvious, right? Wisconsin got Ethan Happ, who we have long said is Wisconsin’s best player, more involved – he finished with 24 points and 13 boards and led the team in field goals and free throws attempted – while Bronson Koenig, who entered the game shooting 24.6 percent from three, finally found the range from distance, going 6-for-9 from beyond the arc and scoring a season-high 20 points in what was by far his most efficient game of the season.

What simply looking at the box score won’t tell you, however, is that the real difference in this game, and what could end up being the launching point for a Wisconsin Big Ten title run this season, is the way that Greg Gard used Nigel Hayes.

Or, perhaps more importantly, the way that Hayes decided to play.

For the first six games of the season, Hayes played like he was a floor-spacer.

On Tuesday night, he was the guy that you space the floor around.


Nigel Hayes was entrenched in the high-post against the Syracuse zone, and he put on an absolute clinic is how to breakdown a 2-3 zone.

His high-low passing was incredible. He used his eyes and ball-fakes to move the defense and create open threes for his teammates on the perimeter. He was a puppetmaster, and a young Syracuse team didn’t stand a chance against it.

This is important to note because this is not what Wisconsin’s zone offense has always looked like this season.

Take, for example, this possession against Georgetown from the Maui Invitational. Does this look anything like the zone offense from Tuesday night?:

Wisconsin would go on to win this game, but it wasn’t because the Badgers thoroughly dominated from the tip. Oklahoma State and, arguably, Arkansas State landed more impressive wins over that same Hoya team, and neither of them were expected to do all that much this season.

In fact, it’s been possessions like that that have bogged down the Badgers this year. As talented as Koenig is, he’s a scorer at heart, not a facilitator. Through the first three weeks of the season, he’s been where the Wisconsin offense has gone to die. He entered Tuesday night’s game 14-for-57 from three not because he’s a bad three-point shooter, but because so many of his threes have been contested jumpers off the dribble:

As Koenig proved on Tuesday night, he’s dangerous when he can take catch-and-shoot rhythm threes – all six of the threes he made were no-dribble jumpers – but without another proven playmaker on the floor, he hasn’t gotten all that many opportunities to do so.

Hayes, on the other hand, has not proven to be a good standstill shooter. I went through and watch all of the jumpers that he has taken this season, and he’s had quite a few good, clean, often wide-open looks from three. He just missed them. Maybe he’s not quite as good of a shooter as he thinks he is. Maybe he’s lost his confidence in his jumper. Maybe this is just a fluky thing that happens in a random subset of 31 three-pointers.

But whatever the issue is, it wasn’t getting answered by Hayes plopping himself behind the three-point line and bombing away. The criticism of him heading into the year was that he shot 36 percent from the floor and 29.3 percent from three as a junior, that he needed to settle less for jumpers, which is something that he was still doing early this year; through the first six games of the year, Hayes was shooting 29.0 percent from three while taking 1.5 more threes per game than he did as a junior.

In addition to missing wide-open, catch-and-shoot threes, Hayes was also missing deep, contested jumpers like these:

Here’s the thing: Hayes is probably the best playmaker on Wisconsin when he wants to be. He led the team in assists last season. We all saw how good of a passer he can be last night when he wants to be. He’s also capable of scoring in the post and beating bigger defenders to the rim. He’s the kind of versatile forward that overpowers smaller defenders and beats bigger defenders off the dribble. He was named the Preseason Big Ten Player of the Year, and when he plays like he has the last two games, he looks the part.

And it’s no coincidence that when Hayes is playing this way, Wisconsin looks like the best team in the Big Ten.

VIDEO: Top 2018 recruits Zion Williamson and Romeo Langford go head-to-head at adidas

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This weekend is the first live evaluation period of the spring recruiting calendar as college coaches from all over the country are scouting (and babysitting) the top recruits in the Class of 2018 and 2019.

Friday night the adidas Gauntlet in Dallas opened with a marquee matchup of two star players as five-star forward Zion Williamson and five-star guard Romeo Langford went head-to-head in what should be one of the best games of the spring.

Most scouting services have Williamson and Langford as the No. 2 and No. 3 overall prospects in the Class of 2018 as the duo didn’t disappoint in front of the huge crowd in Fort Worth.

Williamson helped his team to a win with 26 points and seven rebounds while Langford had 28 points, four rebounds and four assists. You’ll be hearing plenty about both of these guys over the next few months as both are still wide open in the recruting process.

(H/t: Ball is Life)

Report: Coppin State hires Juan Dixon as new head coach

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Coppin State has hired former Maryland star guard Juan Dixon to be its next head coach, according to a report from Don Markus of the Baltimore Sun.

The 38-year-old Dixon is best known for leading Maryland to the 2002 national championship as he was the Most Outstanding Player at the Final Four that year. Now Dixon will have a chance to lead a Division I program for the first time.

Dixon spent seven years in the NBA and also played professionally in Europe before joining the Maryland coaching staff in 2013 as a special assistant to head coach Mark Turgeon. Not retained by Maryland after the 2015-16 season, Dixon took the head coaching job for the women’s team at the University of the District of Columbia last season as the Division II program finished only  3-25.

Coppin State finished last season with an 8-24 record after losing its first 12 games of the season. While Dixon will generate some positive local buzz given his background, he’s going to have an uphill battle trying to rebuild that program.

Nebraska scores important Class of 2017 commitment from four-star guard Thomas Allen

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Nebraska landed an important commitment from the Class of 2017 on Friday as four-star guard Thomas Allen is heading to Lincoln next season.

The 6-foot-1 guard is considered the No. 99 overall prospect by Rivals in the national Class of 2017 rankings as Allen was previously committed to N.C. State before head coach Mark Gottfried was fired.

A scorer with a good amount of skill, Allen has a chance to come in and make an immediate impact at Nebraska as he can play a bit on or off the ball. Allen should help offset the loss of senior Tai Webster in the Husker backcourt.

Allen joins wing Nana Akenten in Nebraska’s Class of 2017 recruiting efforts.

North Carolina lands four-star Class of 2017 big man Garrison Brooks

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North Carolina pulled in a late Class of 2017 commitment to begin the weekend as the Tar Heels secured a pledge from four-star Class of 2017 big man Garrison Brooks.

The 6-foot-9, 225-pound Brooks was previously committed to Mississippi State, but he was granted his release this spring to explore other opportunities.

The Tar Heels pounced as they’re getting a low-post threat who could develop into a potential double-double threat. A solid rebounder who isn’t afraid to play with physicality, Brooks has a chance to earn some immediate rotation minutes with seniors like Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks exhausting their eligibility.

Brooks is regarded as the No. 120 overall prospect in the Class of 2017, according to Rivals, as he is a four-star prospect. The native of Auburn, Alabama joins a North Carolina recruiting class that includes point guard Jalek Felton, shooting guard Andrew Platek and big men Brandon Huffman and Sterling Manley.

Report: NCAA ‘anticipates’ hearing UNC case in mid-August

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Today, the AP churned out a story on Greg Sankey’s involvement with the NCAA’s investigation into the academic scandal at North Carolina, and buried within that story is this little nugget:

UNC must respond to the latest charges by May 16. The NCAA enforcement staff then has until July 17 for its own response. Sankey wrote that his panel will hear the case in August with “anticipated” dates of Aug. 16 and 17.

Rulings typically come weeks to months later.

We’ve been down this road before, as the current iteration of the Notice of Allegations is the third that the NCAA has provided the university. The first was given out back in May of 2015 for an investigation that began back in 2010.