MADISON, WI - NOVEMBER 27:  Nigel Hayes #10 of the Wisconsin Badgers drives against JD Wallace #12 of the Prairie View A&M Panthers in the second half at the Kohl Center on November 27, 2016 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
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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.

Report: Felony arrest warrant issued for Maurice Watson Jr.

OMAHA, NE - JANUARY 21: Maurice Watson Jr. #10 of the Creighton Bluejays receives and ovation before their game against the Marquette Golden Eagles at CenturyLink Center on January 21, 2017 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
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A felony arrested warrant has been issued for Creighton senior point guard Maurice Watson Jr., according to the Omaha World-Hearld.

According to the outlet’s breaking news reporter Andrew J. Nelson, Watson will be charged with first-degree sexual assault. News came out earlier on Thursday that the star guard had been accused of sexual assault by a female student earlier this month.

The allegation is that Watson sexually assaulted a 19-year-old acquaintance in the bathroom of an Omaha residence around 3 a.m. on Feb. 4. She filed a report later that morning.

Watson, 23, began his career at Boston University before transferring to Creighton in 2015. He has been one of college basketball’s top floor generals during his time with the Bluejays. He was in the midst of an All-American season — and Creighton was a Final Four-caliber team — before he tore his ACL on Jan. 16 vs. Xavier.

Watson was suspended from the program on Feb. 13 for, “alleged actions that are contrary to university policies and core values.” He will not be involved in senior night festivities on Feb. 28.

T.J. Leaf, No. 5 UCLA holds off Arizona State

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 18:  TJ Leaf #22 of the UCLA Bruins rebounds over Elijah Stewart #30 of the USC Trojans during the second half of a game at Pauley Pavilion on February 18, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) T.J. Leaf scored 25 points, and No. 5 UCLA survived an upset bid by Arizona State with an 87-75 victory Thursday night.

The Bruins (25-3, 12-3 Pac-12) won their sixth straight game. Aaron Holiday added 17 points and Thomas Welsh had eight points and 11 rebounds in 18 minutes.

Torian Graham led Arizona State with 28 points and Kodi Justice added 19. The Sun Devils hit 14 3-pointers but were outrebounded 49-30.

The Bruins’ size made a difference throughout the game, with UCLA capitalizing on plenty of second-chance opportunities and taking advantage of Arizona State’s four-guard lineup with a major rebounding edge.

The Sun Devils (13-16, 6-10) scored the first seven points of the second half and got a near capacity crowd on its feet when Shannon Evans II made a fastbreak layup to trim UCLA’s lead to 45-43.

Evans’ dunk made it 50-49 at the 15:22 mark, but UCLA went on a 14-5 run capped by a 3-pointer by Holiday off an offensive rebound. The Bruins had a 31-7 edge in second-chance points and 50-22 in points in the paint.

Holiday hit a 3 for a 74-60 lead with 7:29 to play and the Sun Devils couldn’t rally again.

Arizona State led 14-10 6 minutes into the game and thanks in part to UCLA’s early turnovers. But the Bruins hit five straight shots, three for freshman big man Ike Anigbogu inside.

Anigbogu’s dunk with 6:16 to go in the first half gave UCLA a 29-21 lead, and Arizona State was forced to rely on perimeter shots with UCLA controlling the low post at both ends. The Bruins went ahead 40-27 on a follow by Welsh with 3:18 left, and led by as many as 14 before finishing the half with a 45-36 lead.

The Sun Devils didn’t make a first-half substitution and got 17 points from Graham, who hit four of his team’s seven 3-pointers in the first 20 minutes.

BIG PICTURE

UCLA: The Bruins can still finish in second place in the Pac-12, but need a win at No. 4 Arizona in one of the nation’s marquee matchups this weekend in Tucson, Arizona, for starters. They will likely have to win out and get help from the teams that play current second-place team Oregon. Either way, UCLA looks bound for the NCAA Tournament.

Arizona State: The Sun Devils dropped to 0-7 against Top 25 opponents this season, and still have one more to go in No. 4 Arizona on March 4.

TIP-INS

UCLA: Anigbogu scored a career-high 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting. … The Bruins have won all six games they have played in February.

ARIZONA STATE: Graham has 11 20-point games this season and three in his last four. … Obinna Oleka recorded his 14th double-double of the season with 12 points and 11 rebounds.

HELD BALL

UCLA freshman sensation Lonzo Ball finished with just four points, well under his per-game average of 16.9. Ball, UCLA’s leading scorer this season, also missed a couple of minutes in the first half to get his right ankle checked, briefly returning to the locker room. He returned to action just before halftime and ended up with 11 rebounds and five assists.

UP NEXT

UCLA: At No. 4 Arizona on Saturday, then home for the final two games of the regular season against the Washington schools.

Arizona State: Hosts Southern Cal on Sunday, the second-to-last home of the regular season.

More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25.

No. 16 Wisconsin suffers blowout loss to Ohio State

COLUMBUS, OH - JANUARY 31:  JaeÕSean Tate #1 of the Ohio State Buckeyes celebrates after scoring a basket against the Maryland Terrapins in the second half on January 31, 2016 at Value City Arena in Columbus, Ohio. Maryland defeated Ohio State 66-61.   (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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No. 16 Wisconsin has lost three of its last four games. The worst of those defeats came on Thursday night, as Ohio State, which by 20 inside five minutes remaining in regulation, blew out the Badgers, 83-73, in Columbus.

Jae’Sean Tate, who registered a double-double before halftime, set the tone early with energy. The Buckeyes’ defense got the Badgers out of sync, taking Ethan Happ out of the game by doubling the post. Happ was actually taken out of the game after picking up his second foul. The likely all-Big 10 first team selection played six minutes, recording zero points through the first 20 minutes.

Without Happ, the Wisconsin offense is out of sorts. That’s only compounded when Nigel Hayes is off, which he was on Thursday night. The Ohio native, in his final collegiate game in his home state, had seven points and four rebounds in 35 minutes.

The only player who was on for the Badgers was Bronson Koenig, who is still working his way back from an injury that kept him out of last week’s loss to Michigan. He had 14 (off 4-of-7 3-point shooting) of his 27 points in the first half. The rest of the team shot 29 percent, contributing 17 points in the first.

Not surprisingly, the Buckeyes took a 44-31 lead heading into the break. Imagine how lopsided that would look had the Badgers not sunk seven 3-pointers?

Wisconsin opened the day as a projected No. 5 seed in the latest NBC Sports’ bracketology. That’s most definitely going to change once Dave Ommen updates his bracket. It should be pointed out that last year, the Badgers made the Sweet 16 as a No. 7 seed. And that team had its issues as well, but had a much better résumé heading into March.

The Badgers are a game out of first place in the Big Ten, but a closer look at their NCAA Tournament résumé isn’t all that impressive. They’re 2-2 vs. the RPI Top-25. Those two wins both came at home against Michigan and Northwestern. The Wildcats are currently projected as a No. 8 seed. The Wolverines are slotted as a No. 9. Also, Wisconsin became signature wins for both those programs last week.

And up next for Wisconsin: a road trip to East Lansing on Sunday. Michigan State would also like to punch its ticket to dance by beating a ranked opponent.

Will the Badgers accommodate the Spartans, or will they end this current slide and head into tournament time with some momentum?

No. 15 Cincinnati extends home streak, beats Memphis 87-74

CINCINNATI, OH - FEBRUARY 04:  Troy Caupain #10 of the Cincinnati Bearcats dribbles the ball during the game against the Connecticut Huskies at Fifth Third Arena on February 4, 2017 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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CINCINNATI (AP) After a dominant first half, No. 15 Cincinnati relaxed and wound up sweating one out.

Jacob Evans III scored 12 of his 15 points during the Bearcats’ lopsided first half on Thursday night, and they let most of a big lead slip away before holding on for their 25th straight home victory, 87-74 over Memphis.

Cincinnati (25-3, 14-1 American Athletic) led by as many as 24 points during its highest-scoring opening half in conference play this season, pulling ahead 51-32 at the break. The Tigers cut the lead to six points before fading.

“We got off to a big lead, and in the second half I feel we started to coast a little bit,” Evans said. “We can’t do that. If we want to make a deep run in March, we can’t take a half off against any team. Our energy on defense went down.”

The Bearcats’ front line dominated on offense. Gary Clark had 13 points and nine rebounds while Kyle Washington had 16 points and six rebounds. The problem was the sluggish defense in the second half, which left shooters open.

“For about 30 minutes, I thought we played about as well as we can play,” coach Mick Cronin said. “My halftime speech gets an F. I talked to our guys about defense. Our defense was nonexistent for most of the second half. We learned our lessons.”

Memphis (18-10, 8-7 ) has dropped a season-high three straight. Jeremiah Martin led the Tigers with 23 points and 11 assists. Dedric Lawson had 21 points with 10 rebounds.

“They were a little bit intimidated to start the first half because (Cincinnati) was making shots,” Memphis coach Tubby Smith said. “And when you get in a hole like that, it’s tough.”

The Tigers cut the lead to 75-69 on Martin’s three-point play with 5:18 left. Evans’ 3-pointer – his only basket of the second half – ended the comeback. It was his only 3-pointer of the game.

BIG PICTURE

Memphis: Lawson got his 35th double-double, the sixth-most by an active player. His 18 double-doubles this season are a career high for the sophomore. He has 282 rebounds this season. The AAC record is 321 by UConn’s Daniel Hamilton.

Cincinnati: The Bearcats’ 25 straight home wins match the second-longest streak at Fifth Third Arena, which opened in 1989. The arena record is 41 straight wins from 1997-2000.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Bearcats have won four straight since a 60-51 loss at SMU on Feb. 12, minimizing the damage of their only conference loss.

BAD START

The Tigers were playing from behind the entire time because of their horrible start. They missed 10 of their first 15 shots – Lawson was 0 for 3 – while the Bearcats rolled out to a 26-11 lead.

LOOKING UP

Lawson got a loose ball while sitting under the basket in the second half and took a shot that bounced off the rim. After the slow start, he ended up 9 of 16 from the field.

CUMBERLAND BACK

Freshman Jarron Cumberland sat out Cincinnati’s last game because of a curfew violation. He was back on Thursday and had nine points in 22 minutes.

UP NEXT

Memphis: The Tigers host Houston on Saturday. They won at Houston 79-67 in overtime on Jan. 19.

Cincinnati: The Bearcats play at Central Florida on Saturday. They beat Central Florida 60-50 on Feb. 8.

More AP college basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org

Five Maine players suspended following a fight over locker room music

DURHAM, NC - DECEMBER 03:  Head coach Bob Walsh of the Maine Black Bears prepares for their game against the Duke Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium on December 3, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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There wasn’t much love being spread in the Maine basketball locker room on Valentine’s Day.

A locker room fight led to the suspensions of five players, including the team’s leading scorer. According to Larry Mahoney of the Bangor Daily News, who obtained the police report, the incident was the result of teammates Wes Myers and Marko Pirovic arguing over locker room music on Feb. 14.

Myers wanted the music off, Pirovic, who stands five inches taller and outweighs Myers by 25 pounds, refused. This led to both throwing punches, one of which connected on Pirovic’s face, breaking his jaw.

Jaquan McKennon, Ilija Stojiljkovic and Dusan Majstorovic were all suspended, but reinstated on Wednesday, for telling head trainer Ryan Taylor that Pirovic’s injuries resulted from him falling in the shower.

Myers, a junior guard averaging a team-best 16.9 points per game, remains suspended indefinitely.

Pirovic declined to press charges. All involved could still face punishment from the university, according to the Bangor Daily News.

It’s been a long season for the Black Bears. Maine owns the America East’s worst record at 6-24 (3-12). Outside of a modest three-game winning streak in late January, the Black Bears have not won a game in 2017. They close out the regular season on Saturday at home against Binghamton.