Which player would you rather have leading your team, Iowa’s Jarrod Uthoff or Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes?

As you may or not know, there was a point in time when the Badgers had both.

Uthoff, the leader and best player of #8 Iowa (previously #4 before a surprising loss at Penn State last week), was originally a Wisconsin Badger. He redshirted his freshman year, but eventually transferred from the program the following season, despite heavy transfer restrictions instilled by then Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan.

Ryan took extreme measures that were supposed to block Uthoff from any contact with any Big Ten or ACC team (and Iowa State and Marquette), and he drew a lot of national criticism for these restrictions. It didn’t matter in the end, as Uthoff transferred to Iowa under the penalty of having to pay for a year of school, according to the Big Ten’s transfer rules.

Four years later, Uthoff is the unquestioned leader of a dangerous Hawkeyes squad, arguably the best team Fran McCaffery has cobbled together during his time in Iowa City. Uthoff leads the team in points, minutes, and blocks and is second in rebounds, and somehow only averages 1.1 turnovers per game despite a team-high 28.5% usage rate. He’s also an efficient, lights-out shooter, exemplified by his impressive 52.7 effective field goal percentage. Iowa is a very capable and balanced team, but they are a powerhouse that lives and dies by Uthoff’s ability to shoot and score efficiently and make big plays on the defensive end.

Wisconsin interim head coach Greg Gard had plenty of praise to offer when asked on Monday about Uthoff’s growth as a player.

“He’s turned into a terrific player…obviously that’s why we recruited him,” Gard explained. “He’s gone on to have a fabulous career at Iowa. I’m not surprised because he showed signs of that the year he redshirted here, he was good on the scout team a lot of days. He’s a hard worker and puts a lot of time in. He’s a big part of the season they’ve had and he deserves credit for that.”

Uthoff leaving the program opened up minutes and opportunities for a less-highly touted Badger recruit: Nigel Hayes. In many ways, the Wisconsin forward fits many of the same criteria as Uthoff, though their styles of play couldn’t be more opposite.

Hayes similarly leads his team in minutes and points and is second in rebounding, and though he turns the ball over more than Uthoff, he is a significantly better playmaker and leads his team in assists. Hayes is a better one-on-one defender and is more dangerous attacking the rim, but he doesn’t block shots like Uthoff does and he’s not even close to Uthoff when it comes to shooting the basketball. Hayes likes to bully smaller defenders on his way to the basket; Uthoff likes to shoot over them.

The advanced statistics, like PER, Win Shares, Offensive and Defensive Rating are all in Uthoff’s favor. The secondary numbers, however, do favor Nigel when looking at categories such as Steal Percentage, Assist Percentage and Offensive Rebounding Percentage, and Hayes does get to the free throw line about twice as often as Uthoff does.

Still, these numbers don’t mean much without being put into the proper context. Hayes is playing with a less experienced team that is one of the youngest in the country and experienced a significant coaching change mid-season. He’s coming off back-to-back Final Fours, the latter in which he was an integral part of a team that almost won it all. His wingman is a point guard who only averages 2.3 assists per game and struggles to create shots, and nobody on his team shoots over 40% from three. As a result, he often tries to do too much when the offense stagnates and forces himself into silly shots and unnecessary turnovers.

Uthoff’s play, meanwhile, is embedded in a drastically different context. He is complemented by another pure-scoring wing in Peter Jok, and he has much more space to work with because he is one of five Hawkeyes that shoots over 41% from three. He also benefits from having a pure point guard run the offense in Mike Gesell, an experienced player who averages over 6 assists per game. As such, Uthoff is in the perfect system that caters to his needs and allows himself space to work with but doesn’t force him to also have to create plays for his teammates.

Both teams play unique styles of basketball that are partially dictated by the skill sets of their star players. Wisconsin is ranked 26th in the country in team defense, whereas Iowa is ranked 102nd. The Badgers sport one of the 15th slowest paces in the country, preferring to run their halfcourt swing offense and trying to get the ball near the rim for easy layups and free throw opportunities. Iowa, on the other hand, is ranked 29th nationally in scoring at 80.1 points per game, and their up-tempo pace means they average a full five possessions more per game than the Badgers do.

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83% of 100 voters on Twitter said they would rather have Nigel Hayes, showing quite the Wisconsin bias.

So I ask again, which star would you rather have? Truthfully, there is no right answer here. Their skill sets are vastly different on many levels. Uthoff is a pure scorer, an amazing shooter, and he blocks shots at a very impressive rate for a wing. Hayes has the better all-around game: he’s a nifty passer, can score from everywhere on the court, can defend near the hoop and on the perimeter and he gets to the line as well as anybody. It’s a matter of preference as much as anything else.

Both are undoubted college basketball stars and the leaders of their respective teams. Hayes is currently projected as the better NBA prospect, yet Uthoff is a mid-season Wooden Award nominee. Hayes was a three-star recruit out of Ohio, and Uthoff was Mr. Basketball in Iowa as a senior. Their unique skill sets have helped establish the vastly different identity of their Big Ten squads, both of which have their sights set on greatness.

Wednesday night, however, will provide us a glimpse into this complex basketball dichotomy, as Wisconsin travels to Iowa to take on the Hawkeyes at 8:00 P.M. The talents of both players will be on full display, and you can bet they will be guarding each other at several points throughout the night. There’s a good chance that the better performer between the two will lead his team to victory. It’s possible afterwards that the Badgers will rue the day they let Uthoff flee to Iowa, though it’s equally likely Nigel proves why he’s the better pro prospect. Either way, it’s guaranteed to be a matchup worth watching, as two of the nation’s best go toe to toe. Are you ready?

Photos courtesy of hawkcentral.com and sconniesportstalk.com.