Not everything can be easy. It's a disappointing thing to hear as a youngster, but it's a reality that adds value as time goes on. After all, if something is easy, it often isn't worth doing. It's the things that are hard that really build one's character and allow a person to grow.
Although there are probably some Badger fans that wish things were different, there's no denying that Wisconsin junior Nigel Hayes won't have an easy decision for the upcoming 2016 NBA Draft. Hayes gets the unenviable position of having to choose between another year of college or the money bags awaiting him in the NBA.
Most signs indicate that Hayes will return, but as followers of the NBA Draft have come to realize, there's no true way to anticipate, predict, and project who will declare, when they will declare, and where they will get drafted. Seriously, seven-day weather reports are probably more accurate than most early NBA Draft projections.
Given this, it's probably not worth debating or trying to predict what Hayes will decide. However, what is an interesting discussion is what his decision could mean for the Big Ten.
This is because Hayes' decision could reshape the Big Ten.
After the season ended, I posted my way too early 2016-17 Big Ten power rankings. At the time, there were still many key NBA decisions and recruiting decisions remaining. I even wrote about some of these storylines, including where some transfers would land, Josh Jackson's decisions, and some of the NBA decisions.
Simply put, there were a lot of moving parts.
However, as I write this piece, many of those decisions have already shaken out. Sure, there are still some transfers some commitments on the recruiting trail, and some NBA decisions that will occur before next season, but we have a much better look at next year's Big Ten now than when I wrote my first power rankings for next season.
Like those weather forecasts, now that we're getting closer, things are getting a lit clearer to interpret. And one of the biggest things that is becoming clear is that Wisconsin could be in position for a special season.
Wisconsin might not have been a perfect last season, but there's no denying the Badgers were a good team. After all, you don't make the Sweet 16 and win 13 of your last 17 games if you aren't at least a good team. Wisconsin had its flaws and some of those got exposed against Nebraska and Notre Dame late in the year, but this was a good team that was just a few seconds away from making the Elite Eight.
But even with all of this success in 2015-16, the Badgers could be even better next year. That's because, if Hayes returns to Madison, the team is returning every significant contributor from last season. This includes Bronson Koenig and Zak Showalter in the backcourt, freshmen Alex Illikainen and Khalil Iverson on the wing, and Big Ten Freshman of the Year, Ethan Happ upfront.
From a team that went to the Sweet 16.
On top of that, what might be the scariest fact about these returning contributions is that Wisconsin improved its play down the stretch. The team went 13-4 over its last 17 games with eight wins over top 100 KenPom teams, including wins over Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Pittsburgh, and Xavier. Most teams don't get that many good wins in a season and Wisconsin did it in just a few months.
Admittedly, there are going to be some legitimate challengers to Wisconsin in the Big Ten, even if Hayes returns. Indiana looks like it will have a really talented team led by its frontcourt, Michigan State is bringing in an elite level recruiting class, and even teams like Maryland, Michigan, and Purdue could make some noise.
However, even with those teams, it's hard to see anybody else having a more complete team than Wisconsin with Hayes. The Badgers would not only have at least three players capable of All-Big Ten status, but a proven starter at every position, and at least one proven backup at every spot. Obviously, some players would have to show some offseason improvement, but that's a championship caliber roster.
We will see what Hayes decides in the coming weeks, but with how things sit now, if Hayes returns to Madison, it could reshape the title race in next year's Big Ten.