Nigel Hayes

Wisconsin forward Nigel Hayes celebrates with fans after an NCAA college basketball game against Iowa, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016, in Iowa City, Iowa. Wisconsin won 67-59. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Hayes returning to Wisconsin for senior season

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Wisconsin has cemented itself as one of the teams to beat in the Big Ten for the 2016-17 season.

Forward Nigel Hayes, the Badgers’ leading scorer and assist man, is withdrawing his name from NBA Draft consideration to return to Madison for his senior season, he told the Wisconsin State Journal on Tuesday evening.

Hayes declared for the draft last month, but did not hire an agent, taking advantage of new NCAA legislation that allowed him to attend the NBA Draft combine and workout for pro franchises. He was largely regarded as a fringe first-round prospect by draft observers.

His decision is a major boon for Greg Gard, who may have the Big Ten’s best team in his first full season at the helm after taking over for Bo Ryan in the middle of last season. Wisconsin had a major turnaround under Gard, which ultimately resulted in him moving from interim to full time. The Badgers were 7-5 when Ryan stepped down, but recovered by going 13-4 to end the season and make the Sweet 16. 

Now, the entirety of that team, headlined by Hayes, is returning for another year and almost assuredly will be a top-15 (or better) preseason pick. Michigan State will welcome in a dynamite recruiting class that features five-stars Miles Bridges and Cassius Winston, and Indiana should remain strong, but the Badgers, with some players having the experience of  playing in two Final Fours, could very well have the best roster on paper with its blend of talent and experience. Whichever team is pegged as the favorite, the top of the Big Ten is shaping up to be a fantastic race.

No. 17 Wisconsin struggles in tight loss to Western Illinois

Bo Ryan
Associated Press
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Even with the major personnel losses incurred after last season’s national title game loss to Duke, the general consensus regarding No. 17 Wisconsin was that head coach Bo Ryan would be able to figure things out. Since Ryan took over in Madison in 2001, the Badgers have finished no worse than fourth in the Big Ten standings in any year. And with guard Bronson Koenig and forward Nigel Hayes back, Friday’s opener against Western Illinois didn’t appear to be all that dangerous.

But looks can be deceiving, as the Leathernecks hung around throughout and ultimately won 69-67 on two Garret Covington free throws with 10.2 seconds remaining. Koenig’s mid-range jumper in the final seconds missed the mark, giving WIU their first win over a Big Ten opponent since 1994.

JC Fuller, who made all four of his three-pointers, led the winners with 20 points with Covington (whose sister is a member of the Wisconsin women’s basketball team) adding 16 and Jabari Sandifer 12.

While Wisconsin’s offensive numbers were certainly a concern, as they shot 35.5 percent from the field and 7-for-21 from three, the Badgers also struggled on the defensive end of the floor. Western Illinois shot 54 percent from the field and 7-for-9 from beyond the arc, scoring 30 points in the paint. Given Wisconsin’s need to find consistent scoring options to supplement the efforts of Koenig and Hayes (17 points apiece), how they perform on the defensive end will be critical as this group develops.

As for the offensive showing, Wisconsin did get 11 points and five rebounds from Vitto Brown and he’s one of the players they’ll need to step up in light of the departures of Sam Dekker, Duje Dukan, Josh Gasser, Traevon Jackson and Frank Kaminsky. But of the six players to attempt at least six shots for Wisconsin only one, Koenig (7-for-15) shot close to 50 percent from the field.

The Badgers did manage to post an offensive rebounding percentage close to 50 percent (47.7 to be exact), they only outscored Western Illinois by five points (17-12) in the second chance points category. Khalil Iverson and Charlie Thomas were responsible for ten of Wisconsin’s 21 offensive rebounds, but what the Badgers did (or didn’t do) with those extra possessions proved to be the difference.

Their struggles in making shots prevented the Badgers from cashing in on those second-chance opportunities, and had they been able to do so at a higher rate there’s no talk about a surprising home defeat.

Obviously there’s still plenty of basketball to be played this season, so there’s no need for Badger fans to panic. But if anything was learned Friday night, it’s that this Wisconsin team has a lot to figure out on both ends of the floor as they look to account for the departure of a special group.

VIDEO: Nigel Hayes’ game-winner caps Wisconsin scrimmage

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Sunday afternoon Wisconsin held its annual Red vs. White Scrimmage at the Kohl Center, giving fans their first look at a team that will look far different from the one that made two consecutive Final Four appearances (runners-up last season). Frank Kaminsky, Josh Gasser, Sam Dekker and Traevon Jackson have all moved on, leaving juniors Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes as the leaders for Bo Ryan’s 2015-16 squad.

It would be Hayes who provided the end of game heroics Sunday, as his contested step-back three from the left corner in the final seconds gave the Red team a 47-45 victory over the White. They had a little help down the stretch too, as a dubious technical foul was assessed to make it a one-possession affair ahead of Hayes’ game-winner.

Zak Showalter led the winning team with 11 points and two assists, with freshman Andy Van Vliet chipping in with eight points, nine rebounds and four blocks in his Kohl Center debut. Koenig paced the White team with a game-high 14 points to go along with three rebounds and three assists, and redshirt freshman Ethan Happ chipped in with eight points and eight rebounds.

Wisconsin, which has finished no worse than tied for fourth in the Big Ten since Ryan took over as head coach, opens its regular season November 13 against Western Illinois. Above are highlights from the scrimmage, along with Ryan’s explanation of the technical foul, courtesy of Wisconsin Athletics.

Wisconsin regroups, welcomes newcomers after 2 Final Fours

Nigel Hayes
Associated Press
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MADISON, Wis. (AP) Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan groaned when he thought back to passing drills on the first day of preseason practice.

So many new faces, so many mistakes.

“I was afraid someone was going to get hurt,” Ryan said at the team’s media day Thursday. “There were five or six guys out there that hadn’t been in the drills that hadn’t seen them.”

There is quite a different dynamic from last season’s veteran, fun-loving squad.

The trusted senior backcourt of Josh Gasser and Traevon Jackson is gone. Sam Dekker is in the NBA after being drafted in the first round by the Houston Rockets.

And no more Frank Kaminsky, the 7-foot ringleader, anchoring the middle. The Wooden Award winner as the top college player was drafted by Charlotte.

They were the four leaders of teams that went to back-to-back Final Fours, and had a school-record 36 wins last season.

This new group is still getting used to each to other.

“It was weird, man,” said forward Vitto Brown, recounting the first day that the Badgers gathered as a team. The nameplates on the lockers belonging to the storied departing class were empty.

“Now that they’re gone, it was like, `Who’s there?”” Brown recalled.

Well, Ryan, for starters. Given another opportunity to talk about his future after this season, Ryan passed.

“There are no guarantees out there. For me to even take 2 seconds about later just takes away from the job that I can do with these young men,” Ryan said.

He had announced in June that he planned to retire at the end of the season. Two months later, Ryan left open the possibility of staying beyond this season.

Last week at Big Ten media day, Ryan didn’t rule out coaching beyond this season.

On Thursday, his focus was trained on the immediate future.

“I don’t know what else he would do besides coach,” forward Nigel Hayes said.

The junior with the affinity for NCAA tournament stenographers is the leading returning scorer after averaging 12.4 points. Hayes said he has worked on all facets of his game this offseason. Ryan wants Hayes to get to the foul line more and to be more assertive.

“He needs to make sure that what he does is scrutinized even more now because …. all eyes are on him from his teammates,” Ryan said. “His leadership skills will be on display, every drill he does in practice when it comes to his teammates.”

It’s a role that Hayes has already relished, Ryan said. Another junior, lightning-quick point guard Bronson Koenig (8.7 points), is the other returning starter who will be counted on to set the tone for the youthful roster.

Brown and Zak Showalter, two juniors who had moments coming off the bench, are also back. They’ll assume more responsibility this year.

And that’s it from last year’s nine-deep rotation, which means a lot more teachable moments for newcomers. That means some growing pains for Wisconsin at the season’s outset.

The starting lineup isn’t already set, unlike last year’s star-studded group. Beyond Hayes and Koenig, and Brown and Showalter to a lesser extent, there will be jostling for roles on the depth chart.

“I’m not Santa Claus with a bag of minutes over my shoulder, ready to give them out,” Ryan said gruffly. “I don’t give them out – they’re earned.”


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Wisconsin’s Riley Dearring responds to the Nigel Hayes diss track

Nigel Hayes (AP Photo)
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The Wisconsin rap beef isn’t quite over yet as Nigel Hayes’ initial diss track has now drawn responses from teammates Vitto Brown and Riley Dearring.

After Brown dropped his response to Hayes, Dearring did the same, this time over 2Pac’s legendary battle track “Hit ‘Em Up”. While Dearring, a seldom used freshman guard, gets points for picking a proper beat, it would have been nice if he used a great photo like Brown did for the cover of his diss track.

You can listen to Dearring’s track here. Your move, Nigel.

Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes helps with’s Word of the Day (VIDEO)

Nigel Hayes, Frank Kaminsky
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Before Riley Curry was winning over the heart of America with her press conference shenanigans during the NBA Playoffs, Wisconsin rising junior forward Nigel Hayes was having fun using big words in press conferences during the 2015 NCAA Tournament to test the NCAA’s stenographer.

Hayes had fun using the rare words through the Badgers’ run to the title game and he had multiple encounters with stenographers at different tournament venues. This offseason, Hayes is staying sharp with his vocabulary as he helped out with their Word of the Day.

On Thursday, Hayes made a video to celebrate the website choosing, “floccipaucinihilipilificationas the Word of the Day.

It’s good to see Nigel is still working to increase his vocabulary this summer and it’ll be interesting to see if he tries to bust out some more big words during his junior season.