NCAA Tournament

Wisconsin's big three has sights set on Phoenix and deep tournament run

Can Wisconsin's triumvirate of stars lead the Badgers to the promised land in Phoenix? 

Image By: Graphic by Stephanie Rink

Quiet leader:

Though his shooting development hasn’t been what fans had hoped, the importance of Nigel Hayes to the Badgers’ success is unquestionable. His defense and passing abilities, in particular, stand out in his game. Earlier in the season, Hayes had the tendency to force up jump shots, and the results weren’t very good. However, he’s gotten back to doing what he does best on offense—working inside, punishing smaller defenders when they cover him man-to-man and being more selective with his jumpers and 3-pointers. When his shooting stroke is on, as it was in UW’s 28-point win over Northwestern, he is a force to be reckoned with. Hayes has been with Wisconsin for one of the best stretches in program history, highlighted by back-to-back Final Four appearances during his first two years and last season’s Sweet 16 run. Whether or not the Badgers are able to make another deep run in his final season may come down to how well Hayes performs.

— Zach Rastall

Klutch Koenig

Amid the panic that ensued with the Badgers’ late-season collapse and the hype around Ethan Happ’s stellar sophomore campaign, Bronson Koenig had a quietly efficient year for Wisconsin. The senior is playing fewer minutes per contest than last season, but has increased his scoring and field-goal percentage slightly in 2017. In a season where Wisconsin’s offense was often erratic, finishing No. 8 in the Big Ten in points per game, Koenig’s ability to hit timely shots has become even more important. The Badgers looked out of sorts when Koenig missed their trip to Ann Arbor, Mich., due to injury—they lost 58-64—and Greg Gard’s squad was 6-2 in contests where the senior scored at least 20 points. Koenig may not be the most athletic Badger, but his ball security and clutch play will be as important as ever for a team looking to give its seniors one last trip to the Final Four.

— Jake Nisse

Sophomore stud

Ethan Happ, a former three-star recruit, has blossomed into Wisconsin’s most vital presence below the rim. In his redshirt season, Happ practiced against current NBA players Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker. That experience translated to a 2016 Big Ten Freshman of the Year award, but his contributions to the team didn’t stop there. This year, he leads the team in scoring, while opening up space for shooters. On the opposite end, Happ ranks tops in the country in defensive rating, No. 3 in defensive win shares and No. 11 in steal rate. Happ’s remarkable ability to accumulate steals deserves a tip of the hat, as he is the only player in the Top 70 of steal rate taller than 6-foot-7. In less than a year, he has gone from a solid asset to a deadly weapon.

— Jonathan Mills

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