Nigel Hayes

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Nigel Hayes shines against as No. 17 Wisconsin beats Marquette

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What a difference a year makes.

Last season at this time, Wisconsin dropped a home game to a Marquette team that was headed to the NIT.

This year?

The Badgers put six players in double-figures as they went into Milwaukee and knocked off Marquette, 93-84.

Bronson Koenig continued his hot shooting, finishing with 18 points and six assists while shooting 4-for-6 from beyond the arc. Vitto Brown chipped in with 15 points, Khalil Iverson had 16 and Ethan Happ chipped in with 11 despite battling foul trouble all afternoon.

But the really story here – hell, the story of Wisconsin’s season to date – has been the change in the way that Nigel Hayes plays.

Hayes was terrific again on Saturday. He had 17 points, nine boards, four assists and three steals. He shot 6-for-10 from the floor and attempted just a pair of threes, making one of them. He had the ball in his hands when Wisconsin was trying to kill off the game, and, more importantly, head coach Greg Gard has seem to start to take advantage of just how good Hayes can be as a facilitator.

There are a couple of points that need to be made here:

  1. When Hayes plays like this, he deserves to be in the all-american discussion. He’s averaging 18.0 points, 7.3 boards and 6.7 assists in the three games Wisconsin has played against high-major competition since the change, and the Badgers have won five straight games while playing easily their best basketball of the season.
  2. And it’s not just because of the numbers he puts up. When Hayes operates as Wisconsin’s de-facto point guard, it makes everyone else on the roster better. For starters, it allows Koenig to play off the ball, where he seems to be more effective. He’s at his best when he’s hunting shots and trying to create off the bounce, but his aggressiveness can be detrimental when he’s the only one touching the ball. It also means offense runs through Happ more often since Koenig isn’t dominating possession, and it lets guys like Brown space the floor because they’re actually able to get rhythm threes.

As of today, Wisconsin is the favorite to win the Big Ten, even if Indiana is far more likely to end up being a No. 1 seed in March.

Player of the Week: Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin

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Nigel Hayes had arguably the best week of his career in what might turn out to be the most important week of Wisconsin’s season.

It started on Tuesday night, when Hayes had nine points, 10 assists and 11 boards as he eviscerated No. 22 Syracuse’s zone in a dominating, 77-60 win for the Badgers. Four days later, Hayes finished with a season-high 28 points, adding six assists and shooting 10-for-13 from the floor as Wisconsin pulled away late to be Oklahoma, 90-70.

The past week was the best week of basketball that the Badgers have played this season, and so much of that credit falls on the shoulders of Hayes, who has refocused the way that he’s playing the game. The knock on Hayes during his junior year and through the first two weeks of his senior season was simply: He settled for way too many threes. As a junior, he shot 29.3 percent while shooting 3.8 threes per game. Prior to the last three games, Hayes was shooting 29.0 percent from three while taking 4.5 per game.

In other words, after a year where Hayes essentially proved that he was not a good enough shooter to be a ‘shooter’, he was shooting even more.

The last three games, however, Hayes has taken just two threes and made them both. He’s playing inside-out, he’s operating as a facilitator as much as he is a scorer and, as a result, he’s looked every-bit the part of the guy that was picked to be Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year.

When Hayes plays like this, the Badgers are right there with Indiana as the favorite to win the Big Ten title this season.

RELATED: Player of the Week | Team of the Week | Five Takeaways

THEY WERE GOOD, TOO

  • T.J. Leaf, UCLA: Leaf was the best player on the floor for the Bruins as they went into Rupp Arena and knocked off No. 1 Kentucky. Leaf showed off his versatile skill-set, but he also played with a toughness and a defensive mettle that wasn’t exactly expected of him entering the season. We know how good the Bruins are on the offensive end of the floor, but if they’re getting stops, too? Scary.
  • Josh Hart, Villanova: Hart is playing some of the best basketball of his career, and never was that more evident than this week. He averaged 14.0 points and 8.5 boards while chipping in with 19 total assists in wins over Penn and Saint Joseph’s. We’ve already talked about how Hart has added a consistent three-point shot and how he can make plays in ball-screen actions, now he’s handing out double-figure assists? Entering the week, Hart had never averaged two assists per game for a season, including this season.
  • Rodney Bullock, Providence: It’s too early in the year to make any blanket statements about Bullock or a young Friar team, but he’s averaging 21.4 points on the season and, this week alone, had 36 points in a win over New Hampshire and followed that up with 17 points as the Friars beat No. 21 Rhode Island.
  • Kevin Hervey, UT Arlington: Hervey, who may be the best NBA prospect in the mid-major ranks, posted a pair of double-doubles in road wins this week, including 18 points and 10 boards as UTA went to Austin and knocked off Texas.
  • Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame: Colson, the 6-foot-5 power forward for the Fighting Irish, is averaging 18.7 points and 10.7 boards this season. He’s notched five straight double-doubles, two of which came this week, including a 24-point, 17-rebound, three-block performance in a win over Iowa.

Nigel Hayes’ 28 points, six assists paces No. 17 Wisconsin past Oklahoma

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) Wisconsin coach Greg Gard says what makes Nigel Hayes and the Badgers play at their best is one in the same – how far the 6-foot-8 forward is from the basket.

And with Hayes working largely from 18 feet and in, he scored a season-high 28 points Saturday as No. 17 Wisconsin shook off a slow start and blew past Oklahoma 90-70.

“The further he gets from the basket, the more the hard match-up scenarios level off or dissipate,” Gard said.

Gard said what impressed him most about Hayes was he shot 13 free throws, hitting 10, and didn’t turn the ball over once while dishing out six assists. Most of those assists were at the rim as the defense collapsed, opening up outside shots.

Hayes said he’s just taking what the defense gives him.

“It’s just a matter of me staying consistent, staying confident in myself with the work I put in, whether it’s inside or outside, just going with that mindset that no one can guard me,” said Hayes, who took only two 3-point attempts and made both.

The Badgers (7-2) trailed Oklahoma (5-2) the entire first half as they struggled to guard dribble handoffs that gave the Sooners momentum while attacking the rim. But once the Badgers cleaned that up and found their shooting touch, they pulled away.

Wisconsin was 4 of 13 from behind the arc in the first half, and Rashard Odomes put Oklahoma up 58-57 with a 12-footer 8 minutes into the second half. But Bronson Koenig of the Badgers answered with a 3 that started a 20-3 run to put the game away.

The Badgers connected on 8 of 14 3-point attempts in the second half, including three in their decisive run.

Koenig, Ethan Happ and D’Mitrik Trice all scored 16 points for Wisconsin.

Oklahoma committed 16 turnovers, eight in each half. But the Sooners were able to overcome that in the first half by hitting 5 of 8 from behind the 3-point line. Those shots stopped falling in the second half as they went 1 of 6, and coach Lon Kruger said the Sooners didn’t find a way to answer as Wisconsin’s confidence shot up in their final run.

Odomes led Oklahoma with 17 points.

“Some of it was certainly our doing. Some of it was Wisconsin making a good play,” Kruger said of the 20-3 run. “Those opportunities are what we have to learn from and certainly do a better job.”

BIG PICTURE

Oklahoma: It was the first true road game and first against a ranked opponent for a squad that has 11 underclassmen on the roster. But the Sooners didn’t come out intimidated and built an eight-point lead in the first half. Still, they contributed to that decisive Wisconsin run with six turnovers over the 5-minute run. They haven’t beaten a ranked non-conference team in a true road game since 1989.

Wisconsin: When the Badgers have an inside and outside game working together, they can put on a display. Struggling from outside in the first half, they were outscored 40-37. Hitting from the 3-point line, they outscored Oklahoma 53-30 in the second half.

FALSE ALARM

Midway through the first half, the Kohl Center’s firm alarm went off, triggering a recorded message there was an “abnormal condition” in the building and urging everyone to exit. The game continued with the alarm still going off, including as Hayes went to the free throw line and hit 1 of 2. The alarm eventually stopped, and the public address announcer said there was no emergency in the building.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

That’s consecutive wins for Wisconsin over teams from Power Five conferences, which should provide a boost to the Badgers, who dropped a spot in the poll last week after losing to North Carolina 71-56 in Hawaii.

UP NEXT

Oklahoma: On Wednesday, the Sooners host Oral Roberts, who they have beaten 14 straight times.

Wisconsin: The Badgers host Idaho State on Wednesday.

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.

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

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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.