Stacy Revere/Getty Images
It's a homecoming for Nigel Hayes and three other Badgers on Thursday night.

Last trip home for Nigel Hayes, spring questions for Wisconsin’s early enrollees and the latest mock drafts

Zach Heilprin

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Today is Thursday, Feb. 23, and this is your Wisconsin Wake-Up Call.


Heading home

Nigel Hayes has said that, at this point in his career, games against Ohio State are just another game. But it’s hard to take him seriously, especially since he grew up in Toledo as a big Buckeyes fan; his brother, Kenny, played football for them; and perhaps most importantly, he felt slighted that despite being offered a scholarship, he wasn’t a priority for coach Thad Matta in the recruiting process.

As recently as last year, when a reporter asked Hayes about Wisconsin having more Ohio guys on the floor at one point than Ohio State, the loquacious senior dropped one of his more memorable postgame responses.

Now, though, as he prepares for his final trip home, with the Badgers slated to face Ohio State on Thursday night, Hayes admitted there are some jitters.

“It’s a little nerve-racking going back home,” he said. “A lot of people haven’t seen me play in person since high school. So I get a lot of friends, family, other teachers, other people in the community that I know are fans, and then they show up. You just want to make sure you perform well for them. They came there to watch you, so you definitely want to do well.”

Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes will play in the state of Ohio for the final time in his college career on Thursday. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

This will be just the second time Hayes has played at Ohio State, the other coming in 2015, a game in which he scored only eight points. But he’s generally done well against the Buckeyes, averaging 17.7 points per game in the other three matchups, and going 3-1 overall. And though Thursday night will be special, his focus remains on one thing.

“Trying to get a win. Pretty much. Plain and simple. That’s what we need right now,” Hayes said. “Our last four games (and) we need four wins. We’re going to try to get them all, starting one game at a time. We play Ohio State next, so that’s all we care about, is trying to win.”

Winning their final four games would, at worst, leave them as Big Ten co-champions with Purdue. But the only way the Badgers are going to beat the Buckeyes, Michigan State, Iowa and Minnesota is if Hayes continues to ramp up his intensity and play with the same urgency as he did against Maryland on Sunday. That’s the Hayes, paired with sophomore Ethan Happ and senior Bronson Koenig, that can lead Wisconsin to realizing its full potential in the final month-and-a-half of the season.

Helping early

With Wisconsin starting spring practice on March 14, we’re taking a look at some of the biggest questions the Badgers will face over the 14 sessions leading into the spring game on April 21.

What early enrollee will benefit most from spring practice?

Six members of Wisconsin’s 2017 recruiting class enrolled early, but only one is being counted on to contribute right away, so this question is very easy to answer. It’s outside linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel.

The Missouri Valley Conference Freshman of the Year at South Dakota in 2015, Van Ginkel transferred to Iowa Western Community College last season, where he had 50 tackles, including 13 tackles for a loss.

“We saw on tape everything we want our outside linebackers to do, and he was doing it at a high level against college competition,” outside linebackers coach Tim Tibesar said in early February. “That’s the thing that jumped out at us. That’s why we go and recruit a guy like that, who’s a two-for-two kind of guy that we think can come in and contribute for us right away.”

At 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, Van Ginkel is very much in the same physical ballpark as Vince Biegel, one of the guys he’s hoping to replace in the Badgers defense. And it was watching Biegel, as well T.J. Watt, that made Madison so attractive to Van Ginkel.

“I tried to watch them as much as I could to get a feel for how they run their defense,” said Van Ginkel, who has two years of eligibility left. “Just seeing all the success they had, all the hard work and dedication they put into it, I feel like that fits who I am and what I bring to the table. That had a big influence on it.”

The spring is big for Van Ginkel on a couple fronts. First, he needs to get more comfortable playing upright as an outside linebacker, considering almost all of his success as a pass rusher came from the 3-point stance defensive linemen use. Second, because of his lack of experience as an outside linebacker, he admitted that dropping into coverage will be an initial weakness and something he needs to focus on.

Still, even with his inexperience as a true outside linebacker, Van Ginkel wasn’t recruited by Wisconsin to sit. He fills a need, and the spring is the first chance for him to show he can do it.

“I have high expectations for myself,” he said. “It’s something that you need to have. You need to have confidence. I feel like I can come in and compete for a starting job.”

Pre-combine mock drafts

The NFL Scouting Combine will get underway Tuesday in Indianapolis, and draft rankings and mock drafts are likely to change drastically after the event. But before it does, let’s take a look at where several of the draft-eligible Wisconsin players stand heading into the all-important workouts and meetings.

OL Ryan Ramczyk
CBSSports.com: Denver Broncos, No. 20 overall
NFL.com: Los Angeles Chargers, No. 7 overall
ESPN.com: Seattle Seahawks, No. 26 overall
Heavy.com: Houston Texans, No. 25 overall
SportingNews.com: Denver Broncos, No. 20 overall
OptimumScouting.com: Indianapolis Colts, No. 14 overall
WalterFootball.com: Seattle Seahawks, No. 26 overall
DraftTek.com: Philadelphia Eagles, No. 15 overall

LB T.J. Watt
WalterFootball.com: Los Angeles Chargers, No. 38 overall (2nd round)
NFL.com: Los Angeles Chargers, No. 38 overall (2nd round)
DraftTek.com: Cincinnati Bengals, No. 41 overall (2nd round)

RB Corey Clement
NFL.com: Pittsburgh Steelers, No. 94 overall (3rd round)
DraftTek.com: Cleveland Browns, No. 128 overall (5th round)

LB Vince Biegel
DraftTek.com: New York Giants, No. 181 overall (6th round)

Catching up

  • From Jim Polzin at the Wisconsin State Journal: Coach Greg Gard says the Badgers still have plenty to work on.
  • UWBadgers.com has a behind the scenes video of what the 2016 season was like for the Wisconsin volleyball team.
  • Wednesday marked the 37th anniversary of the “Miracle on Ice,” and Wisconsin took time to look at the role (hint: a big one) women’s hockey coach Mark Johnson played for Team USA.