Trending Upward: Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes is Making an ImpactPosted by Brendan Brody on January 4th, 2014
Wisconsin has been the story of the B1G thus far, as the Badgers improved to 14-0 on the season with their 76-48 win at Northwestern on Thursday night. Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky have garnered most of the attention from the rest of the college basketball world, but freshman Nigel Hayes is starting to come on strong as well. He’s emerging as a legitimate factor, giving the Badgers a tremendous athlete coming off the bench. Hayes scored a career-high 19 points in that game, and his play of late is something of which to take notice.
“He listens, he works, he’s athletic and strong for a freshman so the combination is pretty tough to beat, and he feels that there really isn’t anything that he can’t do, but he knows he’s not a three-point shooter, so he doesn’t shoot three-point shots. He just does what he knows and he can do and what he does well. “
Bo Ryan’s quote here was in reference to his standout freshman while speaking with the ESPN crew after the win. The quote illuminates the fact that Hayes seems to know his place and is bent on fitting in and contributing wherever he can. He rarely forces anything on the offensive end, but you can see his confidence growing with each game. He’s now going aggressively to the basket, where in the beginning of the season he was more likely to have deferred to a teammate. In looking at Hayes’ numbers, you can see an upward progression as he’s gone for 15.3 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.7 steals, and a block per game in his last three outings. He has done this while shooting a stellar 63 percent from the field and getting to the free throw line 30 times. He was named B1G freshman of the week on December 30, and has a good chance to win it again after this weekend is over.
If Hayes continues to mature and earn playing time in Ryan’s system, Wisconsin will have more match-up flexibility and can play several different ways. At 6’7″ and 250 lbs, the player built like a defensive end guarded everyone from seven-footer Alex Olah to JerShon Cobb on Thursday night. Any scoring the Badgers get from him is a bonus, but his main contribution to the team is in his defensive versatility. He can act as a small-ball center if Ryan wants to play him alongside Dekker and three guards, or they can put him at power forward with Kaminsky. With his confidence growing in spades, Hayes is poised to make an impact in more ways than one for a team that seemingly just keeps getting better as the season progresses.