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Wisconsin's Nigel Hayes has struggled mightly from the free throw line this season.

Nigel Hayes turns to Disney for motivation, post-combine mock drafts and an under-the-radar CB

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Today is Wednesday, March 8, and this is what’s for breakfast.


‘Just keep swimming’

Winning time has turned into thinking time for senior forward Nigel Hayes.

For long stretches of his sophomore and junior years, Wisconsin could count on Hayes to make his free throws in pressure situations. There was the Big Ten title game in 2015 when he made all 12 of his attempts in a game that the Badgers would end up winning in overtime. Last season against Indiana, Hayes went to the line with 10 seconds left and hit a pair to send that game to overtime, where he then made six straight to seal the win for the Badgers.

But of late, Hayes isn’t the one you want on the line when you absolutely have to have a make. His already poor season average has dropped to a career-low 58.4 percent thanks to a four-game stretch where he’s made just 10 of 28 shots, including going 2 of 8 in the final 10 minutes of those games.

“Usually, pressure situations were the easiest ones,” Hayes said Tuesday. “Pressure situations were the great ones. You go up there like, ‘It’s winning time. Be a good player, put the game away.’”

But he and the Badgers didn’t put games away. Two of their five losses to end the regular season could have been avoided had they done what was needed at the line. Against Michigan State they lost by 10 when they made 13 of 25 from the line, and saw Iowa grab a victory last Thursday because they made just 5 of 14 from the charity stripe, including sophomore Ethan Happ going 0 of 2 in the final 30 seconds. Wisconsin managed to beat Minnesota by 17 despite a 6-of-16 effort on free throws.

“Extremely,” Hayes answered when asked if the free throw misses were baffling. “You can ask (our team) manager about one of our nights where we went into the gym, and he can tell you how ridiculously good it was. Then you get into a game and you’re like, ‘All right, I literally just shot a hundred of these.’ And then here we go and it doesn’t go in. It’s like, ‘Well, damn. Let’s try it again.’ You got to keep playing that tennis match with yourself to make sure you don’t get down on yourself.”

Hayes admitted that it’s not a technical issue and that he’s thinking too much at the line, which he confirmed by going back and watching the misses on the TV copy.

Happ has had the same issue. A competent free throw shooter in practice, the first-team All-Big Ten pick has made 2 of his last 14 shots from the line.

“I don’t even know if it’s (all) the people,” Happ said when asked what changes between practice and the game. “It’s now it counts for my team to win the game or eventually lose the game. It’s just something I need to clean up, and I’m looking forward to doing that.”

The effort hasn’t been the problem. Hours have been spent trying to remedy the issue and that will continue.

“Nothing you can do but keep working,” Hayes said before referencing Dory from the Disney movie “Finding Nemo.” “That’s what Dory says. Just keep swimming. Just keep working.”

Free throws, and the ability finish in the lane, remain the biggest issues for Wisconsin. If the Badgers somehow figure that out, then a longer than expected run in the Big Ten Tournament and the NCAA Tournament is possible. Without it, though, close games are going to keep coming up as losses.

“We’ll get back to that, because it’s winning time now,” Hayes said of hitting free throws when it counts the most. “It’s tournament time. It’s time to do great, miraculous things. We’ll have to do it if we want to win, quite frankly.”

Mock draft update

With the NFL combine behind us and Wisconsin’s pro day still a week away, it’s probably a good time to take a look at how the post-combine mock drafts are treating the Badgers.

T Ryan Ramczyk

Emily Kaplan, SI.com: Seattle Seahawks (No. 26 overall)
Matt Miller, BleacherReport.com: Seattle Seahawks (No. 26 overall)
Pete Prisco, CBSSports.com: Denver Broncos (No. 20 overall)
Nate Davis, USAToday.com: New York Giants (No. 23 overall)
Charlie Casserly, NFL.com: New York Giants via trade with the Tennessee Titans (No. 18 overall)
WalterFootball.com: Cleveland Browns (No. 33 overall, 2nd round)
SBNation.com: Denver Broncos (No. 20 overall)

OLB T.J. Watt

Emily Kaplan, SI.com: Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 30 overall)
Matt Miller, BleacherReport.com: Baltimore Ravens (No. 49 overall, 2nd round)
Pete Prisco, CBSSports.com: Green Bay Packers (No. 29 overall)
Charlie Casserly, NFL.com: Green Bay Packers (No. 29 overall)
WalterFootball.com: Green Bay Packers (No. 29 overall)

OLB Vince Biegel

Matt Miller, BleacherReport.com: Denver Broncos (No. 82 overall, 3rd round)

RB Dare Ogunbowale

Matt Miller, BleacherReport.com: Pittsburgh Steelers (No. 173 overall, 5th round)

RB Corey Clement

Matt Miller, BleacherReport.com: New York Giants (No. 207 overall, 6th round)

CB Sojourn Shelton

Matt Miller, BleacherReport.com: Arizona Cardinals (No. 231 overall, 7th round)

What it means:

Few mock drafts at this point go deep enough to include all six of the Badgers who have a chance to get drafted, so the projections are a little light on several guys. But what the most recent updates indicate is the move of outside linebacker T.J. Watt up the draft boards in the minds of analysts.

Watt had a fantastic combine and appears to be making the same post-workout jump that his brother, J.J., made in 2011 after he impressed NFL personnel with his athletic ability to go along with really good tape. It took J.J. from being a late first-round pick to going No. 11 overall. T.J. may not go up that far, but his chances of hearing his name on the first night of the draft have increased.

The one surprise, though it shouldn’t be with the workout he had, was Corey Clement coming off the board after fellow running back Dare Ogunbowale in Miller’s mock draft. Clement tested poorly and will need a really good pro day next week to make up for it.

The unknown

Wisconsin opens spring practice next Tuesday, and in the lead up to the first of 15 sessions we’ve been asking and trying to answer some of the bigger questions facing coach Paul Chryst as he enters year No. 3 in Madison.

Who is the one player no one is talking about that could have a breakout spring?

There are plenty of candidates but cornerback Caesar Williams gets our vote. The redshirt freshman nearly played last year when injuries hit the position but ended up suffering a leg injury of his own that ended that possibility.

Listed at 6-foot, 180 pounds, Williams is a bigger body type than Wisconsin normally has at the cornerback position, and that could prove valuable with as much press-man coverage the Badgers play. In fall camp last year, Williams continually used his length to get his hands on passes and was a difficult guy to get separation from.

With Wisconsin needing to replace Sojourn Shelton, and not a ton of experience to do it with, Williams is a guy who could surprise.

Catching up