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Wisconsin Basketball and the Curious Case of Connor Essegian



Wisconsin Badgers Basketball; Connor Essegian
Nov 6, 2023; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; An athletic trainer helps Wisconsin Badgers guard Connor Essegian (3) up off the floor during the first half against the Arkansas State Red Wolves at the Kohl Center. Mandatory Credit: Kayla Wolf-USA TODAY Sports

Connor Essegian, since a mere five minutes into the season-opener, has been one of the biggest stories of this young Wisconsin basketball season. After suffering an injury in a game against Arkansas State, last season’s breakout Wisconsin Badgers star has barely gotten on the court. 

The injury may have been the reason for Essegian‘s lack of playtime before, but it certainly is not now. Even entirely healthy, the Wisconsin fan-favorite is firmly outside UW’s rotation. 

Wisconsin Basketball Coach Greg Gard: Essegian “Is In a Funk Right Now”

Essegian’s struggles were center stage during Wisconsin’s victory over Jacksonville State Thursday night. He did not play during the first half and only played during one meaningful possession in the second half. The Indiana native subbed in for freshman John Blackwell, who had been called for his third personal foul. Immediately, Essegian was beaten on a backdoor cut to the basket and was replaced by Isaac Lindsey at the next whistle.

When asked about the sophomore guard’s performance after the game, Wisconsin basketball head coach Greg Gard said Essegian “is in a funk right now defensively.” However, he praised the former three-star prospect’s coachability, saying, “We know he can do it.”

The idea that Essegian is simply in Gard’s doghouse is lazy. Gard values his defensive process but also cares deeply for his players. After Thursday night’s game, Gard quipped that he will call Essegian when he is “45-years old playing in a men’s league in the YMCA asking [him] ‘how did you guard tonight?’ Until they shovel dirt on me I will keep coaching you.”

Connor Essegian is Hurt by His Lack of Versatility

Essegian’s defensive struggles are well-known, but he also has serious offensive limitations. Those compounding factors have kept him off the floor. 

Wisconsin Badgers Basketball shooting guard Connor Essegian

Mar 2, 2023; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers guard Connor Essegian (3) gestures after scoring a three-point goal during the second half against the Purdue Boilermakers at the Kohl Center. Mandatory Credit: Kayla Wolf-USA TODAY Sports

The 2022 Indiana Mr. Basketball finalist is a true shooting guard. On offense, it is a role he plays exceptionally. He made 69 three-pointers a season ago, setting a Wisconsin basketball program record for most three-point makes by a freshman. However, as Gard put it after Thursday night’s game, “the scouting reports are out on him,” the Wisconsin Badgers coach put plainly. “You gotta add layers to your game. You gotta grow your game because they got all the freshman film when you bang threes. They’re not letting you get loose as much.”

With a nearly one-dimensional game right now, Wisconsin has better options on the roster than Essegian.

Wisconsin Basketball Newcomers Have Replaced Essegian for Good Reason

The other players on the wing that Essegian has to contend with for minutes are all more versatile on offense than the 2023 Big Ten All-Freshman Team selection. Gard has frequently employed Max Klesmit as a backup point guard – a role Essegian could not play. Although newcomers Blackwell and AJ Storr are officially listed as guards, they play more as small forwards. They get to the free-throw line much more frequently than Essegian and are still excellent three-point shooters. 

Wisconsin basketball head coach Greg Gard and freshman John Blackwell

Dec 9, 2023; Tucson, Arizona, USA; Wisconsin Badgers guard John Blackwell (25) talks to Wisconsin Badgers head coach Greg Gard during the second half at McKale Center. Mandatory Credit: Zachary BonDurant-USA TODAY Sports

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Essegian is a below-average to lousy defender. Unlike his peers, he cannot play multiple positions on offense. The players he competes with for minutes can replicate most of what he does offensively. That is not a great spot for the sharpshooter to be in. 

It is time for Wisconsin basketball fans to stop asking why Essegian is not getting minutes. Frankly, right now, he does not deserve them.

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Kedrick Stumbris covers Wisconsin football, basketball, hockey, and volleyball. He received his B.A. with economics and political science majors from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2018 and has had his work published on Bleacher Report and Verbal Commits.