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Wisconsin Basketball Showing Tough Love With Connor Essegian Has Paid Off

The Badgers sophomore guard has earned more playing time.



Wisconsin basketball; Badgers shooting guard Connor Essegian and head coach Greg Gard
Feb 4, 2024; Madison, Wisconsin, USA; Wisconsin Badgers head coach Greg Gard talks with his players during the second half against the Purdue Boilermakers at the Kohl Center. Mandatory Credit: Kayla Wolf-USA TODAY Sports

To say things haven’t gone as expected for Connor Essegian in his sophomore season with the Wisconsin Badgers basketball program would be an understatement. 

After suffering an injury in the Badgers season opener, the former All-Big Ten Freshman pick went from playing just over 27 minutes per game and pouring in 11.7 points a night to scratching and clawing his way back into the rotation on a short leash by head coach Greg Gard. 

The 6-foot-4 guard saw limited minutes in each game after the injury but failed to perform at his usual level. Essegian’s smooth three-point shooting, his calling card, didn’t translate into results. In the first month of the season, Essegian struggled, shooting 18.8% from beyond the arc.

His injury—and lack of production opened the door for freshman combo guard John Blackwell to get some extended run, where he quickly earned the trust of his head coach on both ends of the floor. Additionally, Kamari McGee, when healthy, has been impactful on defense. Not to mention, AJ Storr had a starting role on the wing locked up. 

Minutes in the Badgers rotation suddenly became sparse due to the improved backcourt depth. With Esseigan not being known for his defensive prowess, a case for more playing time was going to be tough to make

But Essegian kept a positive attitude, accepted Gard’s tough love, and positioned himself to be key contributor off the bench for the Wisconsin basketball team down the stretch. 

Wisconsin Basketball SG Connor Essegian Earning More Playing Time 

Connor Essegian; Wisconsin Badgers Basketball

Wisconsin guard Connor Essegian (3) misses a three-pint shot during the second half of their preseason game Wednesday, November 1, 2023 at the Kohl Center in Madison, Wisconsin. Wisconsin beat UW-Stevens Point 87-44.

Since the Badgers calendar year flipped to 2024 and the program resumed Big Ten conference play, something has clicked for Wisconsin basketball shooting guard Connor Essegian.

The Indiana native has both appeared and scored in every game the Badgers have played since they took on Nebraska on January 6. During that stretch, Essegian has connected on 17 of 33 attempts (51%) from the field and 9 of 23 shots (39%) from beyond the arc.

Despite the limited minutes, Essegian is noticeably playing with the confidence and swagger Badgers fans saw when he broke the school record for most 3-pointers in a season (69).

“I think the most important thing is, he mentally has stayed in a really good place,” Gard said. “He hasn’t gotten into woe is me or feeling sorry for himself; he’s taken on the challenge of, I gotta get better, and here’s how I do that and how I need to do that, and staying positive with it.”

Greg Gard has discussed Essegian putting some extra time in the weight room and doing additional cardio to improve his conditioning. Safe to say that hard work is starting to pay off.

Last season, Essegian averaged 0.993 points per possession, per Synergy. Interestingly, he has improved that number to 1.038 points per possession this season—it’s been a remarkable in-season turnaround.

Having a sharpshooter like Essegian who can come in off the bench, have sets called for him, run him off screens, and command attention from the opposing defense while producing instant offense is a luxury.

At this point, Badgers head coach Greg Gard will likely continue to give Connor Essegian more playing time down the stretch, especially in games where the Badgers need some scoring. His defense, while still a struggle at times, has come a long way—which deserves mentioning.

In an era of players shutting down when they face adversity, Essegian deserves a tip of the cap for putting in the work and doing things the right way—while never becoming an internal distraction to the special season the Wisconsin basketball team has brewing.

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