Dienhart: With Nigel Hayes back, Wisconsin is Big Ten favorite

Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Dienhart: With Nigel Hayes back, Wisconsin is Big Ten favorite

B1G INTERVIEW - Nigel Hayes entertains, drops the mic in presser after beating Ohio State.

Big news at Wisconsin, as forward Nigel Hayes is returning to Madison for his senior season. What’s it mean? The Badgers are the favorite to win the Big Ten in 2016-17. Michigan State and Indiana will have something to say about that. But Hayes return to Madison stamps the Badgers as the team to beat in my book.

Hayes will be the lynchpin of a Wisconsin lineup that returns every major contributor, including Bronson Koenig and Zak Showalter in the backcourt and Vitto Brown and Ethan Happ up front, and welcomes in a pair of heralded recruits. Koenig will be one of the top point guards in the Big Ten, while Happ was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year last season for a UW squad that made it to the Sweet 16 and played for the national title in 2015 and reached the Final Four in 2014.

The 6-8, 235-pound Hayes failed to impress in his NBA tryout. In fact, many mock drafts don’t even include the Toledo, Ohio, native. In two games at the NBA draft combine, Hayes tallied a total of four points on 1-for-5 shooting. Today is the day players must declare if they will remain in the draft, which is June 23.

”Getting the opportunity to gather information about the NBA and visit with professionals at that level was a really valuable experience for me,” Hayes said. ”Playing in the NBA still remains an important goal for me, but that can wait another year.”

Other key Big Ten players who will make a decision today are Indiana’s Troy Williams and James Blackmon; Maryland’s Melo Trimble; Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan; Nebraska’s Andrew White. Earlier, Purdue’s Vince Edwards and Iowa’s Peter Jok opted to return to school after testing the waters.

Last season, Hayes was asked to step into a larger role with the departures of Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker. He averaged 15.7 points but shot just 36.8 percent from the field and 29.3 percent from behind the arc, while averaging 5.8 rebounds and a team-high 3.1 assists. Hayes has played in 113 games with 75 starts. He is the fifth player in school annals to have 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 200 assists.

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Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer

About Tom Dienhart: BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, and send him questions to his weekly mailbag.

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