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BTPowerhouse 25 - #1 Nigel Hayes

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BTPowerhouse's staff counts down the best players in the Big Ten heading into the 2016-’17 season.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Wisconsin vs Xavier Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

In the months leading up to the 2016-’17 college basketball season, BTPowerhouse will be releasing a new series called the 'BTPowerhouse 25,' which features the Top 25 players in the Big Ten as voted by members of the staff. All players set to be on Big Ten rosters for next season were eligible during the staff vote with their top selection receiving 25 points and their 25th and final selection receiving 1 point.

There are few players in the NCAA quite like Nigel Hayes. The senior super-forward is a college basketball anomaly. He’s equipped with an NBA-level floor/ceiling but has played with the inconsistencies that lead to a career overseas. He’s thrived as a third banana on a championship contender and underwhelmed when he’s been forced to be THE guy (except for, you know, when he hasn’t). He flirted with the NBA — who almost immediately recommended he comes back around next year with a better pick up line — and is now coming back to the Big Ten with an ultra big chip on his shoulder.

During the off season, he’s been in the gym working on his individual game, he’s Stone Cold Stunned people around campus, he’s enticed students to buy season tickets with free doughnuts, he’s taken important stands on racism and other social issues both in interviews and on his social media platforms (he’s easily one of the best player follows in the country), all the while becoming one of the most glowing personalities in our sport.

He’s a damn treat... one that we all need to digest fully before he’s searching for NBA minutes in a few short months.

BTPowerhouse 26 - #1 Nigel Hayes

  • Eligibility: Senior
  • Career Totals: 113 games, 1,340 pts, 557 rebs, 219 asts, 105 stls
  • 2015-2016’s averages: 36.2 mins, 15.7 pts, 5.8 rebs, 3 asts, 1.1 stls, .4 blks
  • Positional Role: Point-forward/super-forward/small ball five/Half Bash Brother with Ethan Happ

Hayes has every tool you could want from a stretch big man. He can bang in the post. He can gallop around plodding defenders with his Dancing With the Stars type foot work. He can launch it from the perimeter (I still believe he can be/is a good shooter, despite last years contrary numbers). He’s a P&R/pick-and-pop nightmare. And the high-low game with him and Happ is always a thing of beauty. He’s on a tier to himself going into the Big Ten basketball season both on paper and in film and there’s little question.

And that’s despite the roller coaster season we watched from Hayes last season.

Wisconsin has a fantastic opportunity in front of them. They have more than enough talent to reach the Final Four for the third time in four seasons. Now imagine how lethal they’ll be with a consistent Hayes fighting for that first round NBA money.

Player Strengths

Versatility is the latest, greatest basketball buzz word. The more versatile you are the more likely someone is going to covet you. Luckily for Bucky and his cohort of Badger fans, Hayes might be the most versatile player in the Big Ten (as I briefly covered above).

For those on a work time crunch, you only really need to watch the first four or five highlights of the video above to understand what I mean. First, you’ll see that Hayes takes an opposing big off the dribble and finishes in traffic (complete with a fantastic stare down). Next, you’ll see him throw a dude in the spin cycle on the block and then dunk all over his confused dome. After that, you’ll see Hayes come off a down screen, take the ball from the top of the key to the right and release a clean mid range jumper. And last but certainly not least, he gives you a little taste of his back-down-Dirk game.

B-E-A-UTIFUL.

There is something special that happens with offensive weapons like Hayes, especially in college basketball. They become basketball gravity, pulling all of the defenders in their direction whether they have the ball or not. Guys are always looking out of the corner of their eye to see where he’s at and what he’s doing.

Thus, Hayes’ decision to return for his senior season is monumental for the offensive output for the remainder of the Badgers roster. There is little question in my mind that Hayes’ is going to cash in on his own opportunities no matter what coaches come up with to stop him. But the amount of space he is going to give guys like Happ, Bronson Koenig, Zak Showalter and Vitto Brown will be his biggest gift and might be his biggest collegiate strength.

Everything is easier with a Nigel Hayes.

Everything.

Areas of Improvement

It’s all between the ears for Hayes. He needs to find the consistency that fleeted him last season and simply slow down. Sometimes the best play is the one that is the easiest; something Greg Gard needs to pound into his head. When Hayes tried to force the situation last year, things weren’t pretty.

And that’s the rub. With the amount of talent that Hayes has, he shouldn’t have to force anything. If he can figure out how to play within himself and Coach Gard’s system, everything else will fall into place. It’s a basketball cliche at this point to say “let the game come to you”, but there’s some truth to that statement when looking at Hayes’ performance from last year.

Perhaps Hayes was pressing last year in hopes of being THE guy that we all expected him to be. Perhaps Hayes was trying to “get his” to impress NBA scouts. Perhaps Hayes just needed a full season to learn how to play without Frank Kaminksy and Sam Dekker.

Perhaps it was all of the above... and I’d be shocked if we’re asking the same questions at the end of this year.

Player Projection

Hayes is going to be the Big Ten Player of the Year, a Top-10 player in college basketball and will lead the Badgers on yet another deep tournament run.

Rinse. Wash. Repeat.

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'BTPowerhouse 25' Rankings: