It seems like every season a Bo Ryan coached player explodes on the scene and surprises everybody with their level of improvement from the previous season. Last year it was relatively easy to identify Badger Forward Frank Kaminsky as the 2013-14 breakout player. Kaminsky exploded for a school record 43 points against the North Dakota St Bison early on in the season, which set the stage for a massive junior season for the Wisconsin big man which included a first ever trip to the final four under coach Ryan.
This season, there are 3 main candidates that have the ability to take their game to the next level. The three players that I am referring to are Senior Forward Duje Dukan, Sophomore Guard Bronson Koenig, and Sophomore Forward Nigel Hayes.
It would be all too fitting for Duje Dukan, the redshirt senior Forward, to put it all together in his last season to become a consistent scoring threat off the bench for the Badgers. During the last game of the previous season, a one point loss to Kentucky in the national semifinal, Dukan came off the bench and provided 8 points in 15 minutes on just 5 shots, which was impressive.
I personally think that Dukan will be a consistent scorer off the bench for the badgers in his final season but I don’t believe that he will receive enough playing time to be labeled as the next Badgers “Breakout star”.
During his freshman campaign, Koenig went through some ups and downs, but ended the season on a strong note, posting 11 points in 20 minutes of playing time during the Final Four match-up with Kentucky.
This season he will be receiving more playing time as Senior Guard Ben Brust has graduated. Koenig will play the role of backup point guard and will definitively be the first guard off the bench for Bo Ryan’s Badgers. Koenig will also be improved from last year but I am still unsure if he will be able to get enough playing time to become the next break out star unless he unseats starting point guard Traevon Jackson during the season, which seems unlikely.
Nigel Hayes would have been the breakout star for the 2013-14 badgers if not for Frank Kaminsky’s incredible development into the country’s premier big man. As a true freshman, the Toledo, Ohio native went on to average 9.8 points per game during conference play en route to the honor of Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year. With limited playing time, Hayes still managed to rank second on the Badger team as he attempted 164 free throws.
Hayes appears ready to move into a starting role on the badgers as the power forward which will allow Sam Dekker to play more on the wing at the 3 spot, where he will project at the next level.
Hayes was satisfied with his role as a freshman, but this year Hayes has worked hard to add 3-point shooting to his game. If all the reports that we are hearing regarding Hayes are true, then this Badgers offense will be a true “pick your poison” type to deal with.
The top 7 returning players will be threats from behind the arc, which will open up more driving lanes for badgers to get easy buckets and more opportunities at the foul line.
Keeping this in mind, I expect Nigel Hayes to be the 2014-15 breakout star of the Wisconsin badgers. I estimate that Hayes will average 12+ ppg and 8+ rebounds per game and will be second team all big-ten when it is all said and done. If Hayes can raise his free throw shooting to around 80% it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see him average around 15 ppg on the season.
The dude is a beast who will only blossom with an expanded role on the 2014-15 squad.