Jess Settles, BTN Basketball Analyst, March 15, 2015
CHICAGO — Before the ball goes up in the Big Ten tournament final Sunday afternoon at the United Center, it's time to share my latest "Three Takes."
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This week, I discuss Nigel Hayes, the Badgers' X-factor, Michigan State appearing to have reclaimed its swagger and looming NBA decisions for talented Big Ten players.
1. Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin always seeking perfection
Wisconsin super sophomore Nigel Hayes was not happy with his team?s performance. Following a competitive win against gutsy, yet undermanned, Michigan in the third round of the Big Ten Tournament, Hayes noted much room for improvement as he sat alone at his locker.
?I left my feet and made a terrible pass, Sam (Dekker) tried to throw one behind his back, Frank (Kaminsky) had a couple," he said, while shaking his head at himself and his teammates. ?We have to play better.?
Note that Hayes and the Badgers won the game by 11 points and finished with a measly seven turnovers while committing only five fouls. "Playing better" means different things to different people. To most teams, seven turnovers in a game is a season low. At Wisconsin, seven turnovers is a bad day.
That?s the standard the Badgers have set and their execution at both ends of the court is why the regular-season Big Ten champs are a serious national championship contender.
?When you make a turnover on our team, you might as well just start heading to the bench, not pass go, and don?t even think about collecting your $200,? Hayes said, in a way only he can.
In defeating Purdue on Saturday, the Badgers committed three turnovers against arguably the Big Ten?s most aggressive defense. Two of the three miscues came in the final 1:13 of the game with the starters on the bench!
That?s why they lead the nation in fewest turnovers, because everyone on the team knows the value of each and every possession.
And, as much deserved publicity stars Kaminsky and Dekker receive, due to their versatility, Hayes is the X-factor if Wisconsin wants to win the Big Ten tourney title Sunday, as well as return to the Final Four.
His brilliance as a passer, shooter, driver and defender was on full display against the intimidating front line of Purdue?s A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas. Hayes nailed three 3-pointers, pulled down six rebounds, handed out five assists, and, you guessed it, had zero turnovers.
2. Michigan State looks to have swagger back
Travis Trice, once again, delivered the big shots when Michigan State needed them, this time against Maryland, and the Spartans find themselves back in the Big Ten tourney title game with repeat on their minds.
?Down 16 points to a team that defeated us twice and that is highly ranked, it?s definitely an emotional win,? the clutch senior said.
What changed for Michigan State, a team that struggled to win close games during the regular season? Trice told me that the Spartans needed to get that ?Old School Michigan State swagger back,? so they called a players only meeting and watched film of Michigan State champions of the past.
?Just seeing the energy and passion they played with was important to us," Trice said. "We were on the bubble a month ago and needed to watch Mateen, Mo Pete, J Rich and the guys play.?
Trice finished with 20 points, but it may have been the effort of Matt Costello over the last few weeks that has Michigan State rolling. Costello scored 10 hard-earned points against the Terrapins and made key plays when star forward Branden Dawson was on the bench during the second half.
I told Costello his team seemed to play a little tougher when he was in the game. He laughed and said, ?You can tell coach Izzo that!?
Michigan State has its swagger back, and all of the regular-season disappointments are a distant memory as it suits up for Sunday afternoon?s Big Ten tourney final. Denzel Valentine said it best: ?It?s March, and there are championships available.?
3. Star juniors' looming NBA decisions
It?s so entertaining to sit courtside and watch coaches and players pour their hearts into the pursuit of a championship. "March Madness" Big Ten style is as good as it gets. And while Michigan State and Wisconsin prepare for a Big Ten slugfest, and trips to the NCAA tournament, many Big Ten teams are already planning for next season and thinking about how their rosters are going to come together.
While it appears likely that Ohio State freshman star D'Angelo Russell will turn pro, the landscape of next year?s Big Ten will be seriously altered by the decisions of this season?s excellent junior class. Caris LeVert, A.J. Hammons, Sam Dekker, Terran Petteway and Yogi Ferrell would be among the conference's top players next season, if they return. But, that?s a big if.
In my opinion, all five would benefit by returning to school and getting better. But I understand their dreams, injuries, and outside influences all factor into the decision. Let?s just hope they get the right information and do what is best for themselves, not the people around them. I know their coaches all feel the same way. It?s one thing to be drafted, and another to have a long career.