The expectations are high on the hardwood in Madison.
Nigel Hayes was picked as the Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year, the conference announced Tuesday evening, and was one of three Wisconsin Badgers included on the 10-man Preseason All-Big Ten Team.
Hayes averaged 15.7 points per game last season, good for 10th in the Big Ten, and also ranked in the top 20 in the conference with 5.8 rebounds a game. It's been an illustrious career for Hayes so far. He was named the Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year in 2014 and played crucial roles on the Badgers teams that made back-to-back Final Four appearances in 2014 and 2015, reaching the national championship game in the second of those trips. In 2015, he was an All-Big Ten Third Team selection. Last season, he was an All-Big Ten First Team selection. Hayes is the fifth Badger ever to accumulate 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 200 assists and just the second to do it in his three years.
But Hayes alone is not the reason the Badgers are probably going to start the season as the Big Ten favorites. The team returns almost everyone from last year's surprisingly successful season. Bo Ryan retired midstream and yielded to Greg Gard, who did a phenomenal job, leading Wisconsin to a 15-8 finish, a third-place finish in the conference and a Sweet Sixteen appearance in the NCAA tournament.
Joining Hayes on the Preseason All-Big Ten Team were teammates Bronson Koenig and Ethan Happ. Koenig averaged 13.1 points per game last season, ranking in the top 25 in the conference, and only five players made more 3-pointers than Koenig, who hit 83 on the season. Happ was terrific as a redshirt freshman, earning Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors after averaging 12.4 points and 7.9 rebounds and leading the conference with 63 steals.
Of course, seven of those spots on the Preseason All-Big Ten Team were held by players not from Wisconsin. Illinois' Malcolm Hill, Indiana's James Blackmon Jr., Indiana's Thomas Bryant, Iowa's Peter Jok, Maryland's Melo Trimble, Michigan's Derrick Walton Jr. and Purdue's Caleb Swanigan were also honored Tuesday.
Hill is the conference's leading returning scorer and the chief reason for excitement in Champaign. He averaged 18.1 points a game last season as well as 6.6 rebounds, ranking in the top 10 in the league in both categories.
Blackmon missed the entirety of conference play last season due to injury. He played in all 13 of the Hoosiers' non-conference games, averaging 15.8 points per game and putting up three performances of at least 20 points. Bryant was terrific in his freshman season, averaging 11.9 points per game and 5.8 rebounds, also leading the Big Ten with a 68.3-percent shooting clip. He put up a huge 19 points in Indiana's big NCAA tournament win over Kentucky.
Jok was a top-10 scorer in the conference with 16.1 points per game and ranked just outside the top 10 in the league with 40 steals.
Trimble earned plenty of offseason attention with his decision to return to College Park for his junior season. He was an All-Big Ten Second Team selection a season after earning All-Big Ten First Team honors as a freshman. Trimble had a massive increase in assists last season, averaging nearly five a game, but he saw his scoring numbers dip significantly, shooting just 41 percent from the field and 31.5 percent from 3-point range after shooting 44.4 percent and 41.2 percent in those respective categories a season earlier.
Walton is a do-it-all man for the Wolverines who averaged 11.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game last season.
Swanigan also made the decision to stay in school instead of head to the professional ranks. He helped the Boilermakers to an impressive season last year, the team reaching the Big Ten Tournament title game before an embarrassing first-round exit from the NCAA tournament. Swanigan was the leading rebounder in the conference with 8.3 boards per game.