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Wisconsin Basketball Coach Offers Blunt Assessment on Connor Essegian

Wisconsin basketball can’t afford for Connor Essegian to play through his mistakes.



Wisconsin Badgers Basketball shooting guard Connor Essegian
Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard and guard Connor Essegian (3) leave court after their game Thursday, March 2, 2023 at the Kohl Center in Madison, Wis. Purdue beat Wisconsin 63-61.

Greg Gard and the Wisconsin Basketball team have found themselves in a predicament regarding sophomore shooting guard Connor Essegian. 

A back injury suffered in the season opener against Arkansas State derailed a plan the Badgers coaching staff had to utilize the Badgers sharpshooter as a scoring threat off the bench. 

But Essegian’s back is reportedly no longer an issue. Coach Gard even laid out a plan to expand the Indiana native’s role as he works his way back into a rhythm.

However, he received only four minutes of playing time, none of which came in the first half, scoring three points in garbage time against one of the Wisconsin basketball team’s last non-conference opponents before Big Ten play.

The scarce playing time suggests what I’ve been cautioning Badgers fans about: a rotation where he may not be a factor, and Coach Gard’s post-game remarks seem to affirm that notion.

Wisconsin Basketball Head Coach Greg Gard Gives Honest Assessment on Connor Essegian. 

Following the Wisconsin basketball team’s 75-60 victory over Jacksonville State, Greg Gard was asked about Connor Essegian, and his answers on the Badgers guard were pretty telling.

Right now, I’d argue that Essegian, who is averaging 2.4 points and 0.9 rebounds on 31% shooting in limited playing time, has a shorter leash than Bo Ryan had with Sam Dekker, and that’s saying something.

“Holding him accountable is the best thing we can do as coaches and demand that you have to guard,” Gard told reporters. “He is in a funk right now. He’s better than he was two, three weeks ago. He understands it. He has to be more physical defensively.”

No matter which way you slice it, the former Big Ten All-Freshman team standout has struggled mightily on defense since the day he stepped onto campus. While Essegian’s offense was enough to justify his shortcomings on last year’s team, this season’s squad is a bit different.

“A year ago, he played on a team that was ok,” Gard said. “We’re a much better team. We have more depth. You have to grow your game because they have all the freshman film on you when you bang threes.

“We know he can do it, but it’s not one of these things we can afford to let him play through. The stakes are too high.”

In all honesty, these comments shouldn’t come as a surprise. The Wisconsin basketball program has a true freshman in John Blackwell, who’s taken those opportunities and proven he’s a superior player deserving of every minute he gets.

AJ Storr and Max Klesmit are starting-caliber players who bring more to the table than Essegian. Kamari McGee continues to make the most of his minutes — and is a spark plug on the defensive end, which is where you earn Gard’s trust. Simply put, the minutes aren’t there, and unless he can figure things out, his role isn’t suddenly going to change.

Wisconsin basketball, which sits at 8-3 on the season, is in a much better place than a year ago and doesn’t need to compromise its core values to work Essegian back into the rotation.

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