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Wisconsin Badgers Basketball: Is Nigel Hayes the New Kaminsky?

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Nigel Hayes seems ready for a breakout season and after the losses that the Badgers faced in the offseason, he's needed more than ever.

Nigel Hayes goes in for a layup in the National Championship Game
Nigel Hayes goes in for a layup in the National Championship Game
Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

After an impressive season featuring a Big Ten Regular Season and Conference Championship Title, a return trip to the Final Four, and a second place finish in the NCAA Tournament, Bo Ryan's Wisconsin Badgers will lose a lot of talent heading into next season. After losing five of its top seven scorers to graduation and the NBA Draft, Wisconsin may have been hit harder than any other Big Ten team following the 2014-15 season.

Seniors Traevon Jackson, Josh Gasser, and Duje Dukan will undoubtedly be missed. The trio combined for over 25% of the team's points and a huge chunk of its leadership as well. Jackson and Gasser especially will be missed for the way in which they took command of this Wisconsin Badger team throughout the entire season.

But atop one of the most outstanding teams in the 2014-15 season, the departure of two key players will leave Wisconsin with some serious questions heading into next season. Wooden Award Winner and National Player of the Year Frank Kaminsky and superstar Sam Dekker will be missed more than anyone else on the Badger roster. Dekker and Kaminsky combined for over 40% of Wisconsin's points and rebounds last season. With all of its departures, Wisconsin loses 71% of its scoring. Is it time for Bo Ryan to start biting his nails?

The Rise of Hayes

If there is anyone in college basketball ready to have a breakout season, it might as well be Nigel Hayes. Among a team of upperclassmen and experienced players, the sophomore Hayes stuck out as a pivotal piece to the Wisconsin Badger puzzle last season. Hayes proved himself to be a complete player his sophomore year.

As a freshman, Hayes averaged just 17.7 minutes and 7.7 points per contest. As an off-the-bench contributor, Hayes' solid season featured an impressive 51% shooting from the field. A true power forward at 6'8", Hayes could work the post and get to the free throw line, but once there, he became somewhat of a liability. Hayes shot a mere 59% from the charity stripe. While his massive frame helped him maneuver in the post, work could be done with his rebounding, as the freshman only pulled down 2.8 boards per game.

If there was any doubt to Hayes' abilities his freshman season, it was cast away the very next year. Hayes went on to improve his numbers by astonishing margins. His points per game shot up by nearly five points, he suddenly averaged more than three more rebounds than his previous season, and his free throw shooting went up by an astounding 16%. Possibly the biggest transition for Hayes was the development of both a mid-range and outside game. The sophomore shot nearly 40% from three point range after never having attempted a three as a freshman.

What's Next?

Nigel Hayes may very well stand as Bo Ryan's best player heading into next season. Along with the sharpshooting sophomore Bronson Koening, he'll be asked to do a lot next season for a rebuilding Badger squad. Given the expectations, Hayes seems up to the task.

Nigel Hayes went from a solid scorer in the post to an all-around player on both ends of the floor in his first two seasons with the Badgers. Kind of like Frank Kaminsky, Hayes is beginning to prove that he can do it all. Put a guard on him? He'll back him down in the post. Play a big man on him? He'll stretch him out and shoot all over him from the perimeter. Hayes is on the rise, and if Ryan continues working with him to improve his game, we could see him do just as much, if not more, than Frank Kaminsky did during his career with the Badgers.