The Badgers defeated the Syracuse Orange 77-60 last night in the Kohl Center to improve their record to 6-2. Here are some takeaways from the win.
Nigel Hayes is a better passer than a scorer…when he wants to be.
That statement isn’t a knock on Nigel’s scoring ability, nor is it saying he’s selfish. Although he can spend too much time on the perimeter and hoist too many threes which aren’t his strengths and that frustrates Badger fans, you can’t negate the fact that Hayes is a great scorer. When Nigel gets the ball on the block, his footwork is almost as good as Ethan Happ’s. Hayes scores or reaches the foul line with ease. Half of the battle is just getting the ball to Hayes where he can do something with it.
With all that being said, Nigel Hayes the passer adds a different dimension to this team. Bronson Koenig is a heck of a guard, and a much better passer than his 1.6 assist per game average, but stats don’t lie and he’s still only averaging 1.6 assists per game. If Hayes can become the play maker in the starting group and create for others, the Badgers are a completely different team.
Last night he had 10 assists, a career high. Undoubtedly, it’s easier to pass against a 2-3 zone. And even more undoubtedly, the difficulty that Syracuse’s zone presented last night isn’t what it normally is. There were holes all over that zone, but Nigel was on a different level last night. There was somewhat a cause and effect of Happ’s big night of 24 points and Nigel’s career high 10 assists.
Head coach Greg Gard said of Hayes, “That’s the type of all around player he can be and is.”
Even Happ said, “It was all Nigel.”
Nigel spent almost his entire night at the elbow spot, catching the ball, turning and looking for the open man. In addition to dumping the ball down to Happ, he also had a few nice kickouts for threes.
Even the man Nigel himself said, “I like to pass the ball more than score. I don’t know how it’s something that’s a secret still that I pass the ball really well. I feel like after four years people should have caught onto that by now, but regardless, I enjoy passing the ball more than scoring, again.”
Nigel is a completely different player when he sticks to what he does best.
Above, I mentioned Nigel’s tendency to spend too much time on the perimeter. On the season, he’s shooting less than 30% from the three-point line. His scoring average has dipped, as well as his free throw attempts.
In the last two games against Prairie View A&M and Syracuse, Nigel has shot a combined zero threes.
In those two games, he has combined for 26 points on 9/16 shooting, 15 boards, and 12 assists.
He tied his season high in scoring against Prairie View A&M. Against Syracuse, he set his season high in rebounds and his career high in assists. He had five offensive boards against Syracuse, a season high as well. Those offensive boards definitely have something to do with that it was against a zone, but the fact that Nigel spent a lot more time in the paint and around the free throw line was also a major contributor.
Ethan Happ is back
After a slow start to the season in which he didn’t score in double figures in his first three games, the reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year is finally looking like the reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year again.
In the last five games, Happ is averaging 16.8 PPG and 10.6 RPG.
Beyond that, he’s been much more aggressive, which is a major factor in the increase of production. The slow start was because of his lack of shot attempts. Last night, he was 10/12 from the field on the way to his 24 points. Nigel deserves a lot of the credit, and he got it above, but Happ also deserves some credit for finding the holes in the zone himself.
Happ had multiple nice contested finishes, as well as a few strong dunks.
In addition to the scoring, he had 13 rebounds last night, six of which were on the offensive end.
Bronson Koenig finds his shot
Bronson Koenig is the Badgers leading scorer and has been their best perimeter threat, but he was in the middle of a little slump before the game against Syracuse. He only scored two points in the beatdown against North Carolina. Against Prairie View A&M on Sunday he had 11 points and rough 1/6 effort from the three-point line. It certainly wasn’t the bounce back performance that would garner much satisfaction. In fact, his best three-point shooting night was in the opener, when he went 4/10.
But against Syracuse, Koenig found his stroke and he was hot from the very start. Koenig hit two threes in the beginning of both halves to set the tone for the Wisconsin offense. He went 6/9 from deep contributing to his 20 point night. Some of the Koenig threes were difficult shots, but he did as he does when he’s at his best, and hit them anyway.