Nigel Hayes' return solidifies Wisconsin as a Big Ten contender

Nigel Hayes' return solidifies Wisconsin as a Big Ten contender

It took three simple words for Nigel Hayes to put a smile on the face of Wisconsin basketball fans across the country.

"I'm coming back," the standout forward told the Wisconsin State Journal via text message on Tuesday evening.

Wisconsin later confirmed that Hayes is withdrawing from the NBA draft and returning to school. The senior-to-be had entered the draft without hiring an agent last month, leaving himself the option of pulling out by Wednesday's deadline.

Although Hayes once had every intention of staying in the draft, his performance the past six months forced him to reconsider. He almost certainly would not have been a first-round pick and he might have gone undrafted altogether.

Hayes endured an erratic junior season in which he averaged 15.7 points per game but struggled with the transition to go-to threat, shooting an inefficient 36.8 percent from the field and 29.3 percent from behind the arc. Then he faded to the background in two games at the NBA draft combine, scoring a total of four points on 1-for-5 shooting.

The good news for Hayes is that returning to school certainly isn't an undesirable option. Not only does Hayes have the chance to become a more efficient scorer and more consistent shooter, he also will play for a Wisconsin team that should be a fixture in the preseason top 20.  

Wisconsin could return up to 99.7 of its scoring and rebounding from last season's Sweet 16 team if there are no departures. The Badgers sputtered to a 9-9 start without Frank Kaminsky, Josh Gasser and Sam Dekker last year, however, they blossomed in February and March and came within a basket or two of the Elite Eight.

A returning Hayes will be part of a starting lineup that is expected to include co-star Bronson Koenig, fellow seniors Vitto Brown and Zak Showalter and reigning Big Ten freshman of the year Ethan Happ. Preseason expectations might not match the 2014-15 season, but the Badgers would definitely be expected to contend in the Big Ten and make another deep March run.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!