Nigel Hayes: Will he stay or will he go?

We will know the answer to that question by May 25 when Wisconsin’s junior forward has to make a final decision on his NBA draft status. During the next four weeks, Hayes, who has not signed with an agent, will be gathering information to help him decide if he will return to the Badgers for his senior season.

Based on his performance in the recently completed 2015-16 season, Hayes should put aside his NBA thoughts and play for Wisconsin one more year. It would be a win-win for him and the Badgers. Wisconsin seems to have all the makings of a great team for 2016-17. If Hayes returns, all five starters and all four top reserves, will be back, which is unheard of in the college era of one and done. Wisconsin would be starting four seniors – Hayes, Vitto Brown, Bronson Koenig and Zak Showalter – and a red-shirt sophomore – Ethan Happ – next season. Its top four reserves – Jordan Hill, Charlie Thomas, Khalil Iverson and Alex Illikainen – from this season would also be back. And a bonus! Two talented freshmen who couldn’t play this season: hot shooting guard Brevin Pritzl (medical red-shirt) and 6-11 forward Andy Van Vliet (NCAA issues), are also expected to be in the rotation next season. That, with Hayes, is an 11-deep rotation.

At the moment, the focus is on Hayes, who despite his First Team All-Big Ten selection, underachieved for much of the season. Compared to the previous season, his numbers just weren’t very good. His overall FG percentage was only 36.8 and from 3-point it was only 29.3 – hardly shooting numbers that would impress NBA scouts. Those shooting percentages were lowest among the five Badger starters. (Happ did not attempt a 3-point shot.) They were also considerably much lower than his 2014-15 numbers: FG % of 49.7 and 3-point of 39.6!

Hayes was only the second leading rebounder on the team with 204, far behind Happ’s 278. He also led Wisconsin in a category that is a negative: turnovers. Hayes had 79 turnovers in 35 games compared to only 51 in 40 games during the prior season.

It also seemed like his poor shooting also affected his ball handling and his play on the defensive end. Bottom line: Many times his body language just didn’t look good on the court.

And as far as intangibles, Wisconsin needed Hayes to be a team leader, a challenge he never seemed to fully embrace.

If a “new and improved” Hayes returns, Wisconsin would likely be the favorite to win the Big Ten Championship and a top ten team in the country.

Will he celebrate Senior Day with the Badgers next year?

I think so.

John Finkler

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