This is the first time in many years that Badger fans have been considerably more excited for basketball season to start while football is still going strong. I suppose that will happen for a team that is coming off a Final Four run and returning every major contributor except for starting shooting guard Ben Brust. Wisconsin doesn't need anyone to step in and be a superstar this year, they have two excellent options in center Frank Kaminsky and small forward Sam Dekker, but they do need a number of supporting pieces preforming adeptly at their roles in order to go a game further than last year.
They have the perimeter defensive stopper in Josh Gasser, they have the senior point guard with ice running through his veins in Traevon Jackson, they have a talented backup point guard that can step in and run the offense when Jackson needs a breather in Bronson Koenig, but what they need to be a truly great teams is another presence in the front court. This is where Nigel Hayes steps in. He will, presumably, step in to the starting lineup at the four and pair with Kaminsky down low. Hayes isn't some unknown quantity, he did win B1G Freshman of the Year last season after all, but he does hold the key to Wisconsin's success as a team this year.
With no backup center on the roster, Hayes could be become the main man in the paint if Kaminsky gets in foul trouble this year. Hayes' rebounding percentage last season was 9.8, good for fourth on the team of players who played significant minutes. To truly be valuable for the Badgers, he's going to have to up that number to the 12-15% range. If he can do this while keeping his passing game strong, Hayes will be one of the best power forwards in the B1G. His value last year came in his ability to draw defenders away from the basket (due to his polished mid-range jumper) and find a cutting teammate for a layup. His assist percentage was 11.8, which only trailed Jackson and Koenig (and technically Vitto Brown, but small sample sizes and all that).
One thing that has been noted by many Badgers fans over the summer was the revelation that Hayes had been working on his three point shot. He did not attempt a single three last year, but according to Bo Ryan Hayes has been knocking them down with consistency in practice. This added dimension could prove deadly for B1G defenses since Hayes could now conceivably score in three different ways: from beyond the arc, from the top of the key, and driving to the basket. That is an offensive Cerberus right there.
Players for Bo Ryan usually don't get a chance this early in their careers to be a major contributor to the team, but out of necessity and sheer talent Nigel Hayes has forced himself into Ryan's rotation and has become a trusted member of the team. He's also really good at sideline reporting and interviews.