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B1G Basketball Previews 2023: Wisconsin

Let’s sit quietly and talk at a reasonable volume

Syndication: Journal Sentinel
HI MY NAME IS GREG LET’S BE FRIENDS
MARK HOFFMAN/MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL / USA TODAY NETWORK

Last Season

Things started all right for the Badgers, as they were 10-2 at the beginning of January with wins over Marquette and Maryland and a razor thin loss to Kansas. Then the wheels fell off and they went on a 1-6 stretch before finishing 9-11 in the conference and getting bounced in the first round of the conference tourney by OSU. The NCAA did not come calling, though they did make it to the Final Four of the NIT, so hang a banner.

Happy Trails

This section is pretty short. The bad twin Jordan Davis transferred to Illinois State. Jahcobi Neath gave up on America and moved back to Canada. And that’s it.

Starters

PG Chucky Hepburn, 6’2’’ 3rd Year: The Chuck comes back and Wisconsin success may hinge on a bit less chucking. Hepburn was perfectly fine on his assists and turnovers and was a plus three point shooter at 40%. However, he had one big greasy zit on that otherwise fine profile, which was his two point shooting, of which he took a lot of shots (235) and made very few (84, good for 36%). Hepburn’s usage was simply too high, so either he needs to shoot less or make more shots. That happens, and he is a very good point guard for what should be a good team.

SG Max Klesmit, 6’3’’ 4th Year: Klesmit gets the nod at starter, though that’s on shaky ground. He was fairly average at everything last season, and his shooting was pretty rough especially considering his usage was abnormally low. He was solid defensively, and there is a lot to be said for an experienced guy who knows what to do. That said, if someone’s minutes are getting sacrificed, they are probably his.

SF Connor Essegian, 6’4’’ 2nd Year: Essegian turned in a surprisingly strong freshman season. While not flashy, he was remarkably consistent, finishing in double figures 23 times. The goal this season will be to tick up his shooting - his 88% free throw shooting shows someone who could probably better than 47% from two and 36% from three.

PF Tyler Wahl, 6’9 5th Year: Wiscy didn’t meet expectations last year in large part due to Wahl. He was supposed to be their main man, and while he took shots like it, he really didn’t make shots like it. His shooting splits of 44/29/63 were well and truly putrid. Like Chucky Hepburn, he’s a good player who is taking too many bad shots. The hope is again, like Hepburn, with a more veteran team his usage will go down and his efficiency will go back up. A brick is not a ... Wahl. I’ll see myself out.

C Steven Crowl, 7’0’’ 4th Year: Crowl was quietly very effective last year, hoovering up rebounds and being the Badgers’ best option from two by a mile. His Wisconsinite pedigree had him shooting threes, though he was less effective from there. No reason to expect a drop off now.

Backups

SF A.J. Storr, 6’6’’ 2nd Year: The rare Wisconsin incoming transfer, Storr comes over after a year at St. John’s. Apparently not an Italian food fan, Storr showed some athleticism and also some pop from deep, shooting 40% from three. He’s probably the answer to all the “does Wisconsin have any athletes” question, so he could move into the starting lineup.

F Carter Gilmore, 6’7’’ 4th Year: Gilmore is a veteran play who finally got consistent minutes last season. He didn’t do much with them. His usage was so low (11%) that you wouldn’t notice him if he was on the court. That’s harsh - he was a former walk-on who earned a scholarship and minutes, but he is probably on the chopping block if Wiscy is trying to contend for the B1G.

PG Kamari McGee, 6’0’’ 3rd Year: McGee was used to give Chucky Hepburn a breather here and there. He was good for dribbling up the court and being a pest on defense. His three point attempts were terrible last season at 18%. That’s bad for Wisconsin big men, much less a point guard.

PF Marcus Ilver, 6’9’’ 3rd Year: Another rarely used bench player, Ilver’s biggest game last season saw him play 19 minutes against Illinois and score two points and grab three rebounds.

SG Isaac Lindsey, 6’4’’ 3rd Year: Hey, it’s another rarely used player who is back. Hard to talk about guys who have barely played, though Greg Gard has talked up the freshmen, so there is a good chance these rarely used players get passed over and head out of town next season.

C Chris Hodges, 6’9’’ 2nd Year: You know the drill here.

PF Gus Yalden, 6’8’’ 1st Year: The internet seems to like Yalden the most of their trio of freshmen. The composite had him at 122nd in the country and lists him as a center and power forward. He is most famous for being kind of pudgy and being nicknamed the Gus Bus. Unfortunately, they are trying to slim him down, but perhaps the freshman 15 will get him and we will see a 350 pound freshman nailing silky threes. One can dream.

PF Nolan Winter, 6’10’’ 1st Year: Your prototypical tall gangly white Wisconsinite.

CG John Blackwell, 6’3’’ 1st Year: The last freshman and perhaps the one with the most guys in front of him, Blackwell is a bigger guard who likes to get in the lane. His high school coach thinks he can fit in well at Wisconsin despite not really watching them. We know the feeling, coach.

A Conversation With Our Writers

MaximumSam: All right everybody, let’s talk Wisconsin.

BoilerUp89: Watching paint dry is more exciting.

BuffKomodo: Have we sacked and burned the Kohl center yet? No? Then I’ll enjoy going 1-1 with Wiscy yet again. Shame. Shame.

Kind of...: UW is 31-9 vs. Indiana post-Knight, so “yet again” is a curious choice.

BuffKomodo: Hey. 9 out of 23 is like…almost half. Or 24. Idk. I’m not mathing or researching.

MaximumSam: Yes, true. Watching Wisconsin basketball is akin to shooting Tabasco under your eyelids. But they will still play. How will they do?

BoilerUp89: Hepburn, Klesmit, and Essegian can shoot from outside. Wahl and Crowl are good interior players that can rebound well but get bullied by your Zach Edeys and Cliff Omoruyis. The Badgers won’t turn the ball over. They also won’t get second chance points or give up many second chance points. They’ve got to be better on 2 point field goal attempts than they were last year. That isn’t usually something that you see individual players make drastic improvements at. With heavy minutes projected for all the returning players, who is going to step up among the newcomers or the bench players?

Kind of...: Last year saw regression to the mean in close games after living a charmed life in ‘22. The major culprit was a stagnant offense that was woeful from 2 pt range. There simply was nobody who could get into the lane reliably. How to fix that?

  1. Chucky Hepburn is slimmed down
  2. Former top-100 recruit A.J. Storr transferred in from St. John’s
  3. Tyler Wahl is healthy after playing most of last year’s B1G season banged up (Wahl isn’t going to drive the lane, but he shot .570 from 2 in ‘21-’22 and .438 last year)

MaximumSam: All right, Kind of..., will Wisconsin contend this year? They return everyone of consequence.

Kind of...: There’s always a lot of happy talk in the preseason. UW’s season will turn on how much of it has some basis in fact. Will Hepburn be quicker? Will Connor Essegian shoot the way he did early last year, or after he hit the frosh wall? Will Storr fit in the system, or did he leave St. John’s b/c Pitino didn’t think he could play? Will a healthy Wahl find ‘22 form again? Will Steven Crowl become more confident and assertive? Will any of the frosh contribute meaningfully? Will either Markus Ilver or Chris Hodges have a breakout year in the post rotation.

Wisconsin doesn’t need all of these to be yes, but some of them need to be for this year to be different. Whether it’s Hepburn and/or Storr penetrating, or better ball movement, the top priority has to be opening up space in the paint. If that happens, a healthy Wahl will go back to infuriating opponents with his poor man’s McHale toolkit. It should lead to more open looks from 3 for a team that shot a respectable, but not great, 34.2% from 3 last year.

The defense will be very good. Maybe even elite if Storr buys in. Hepburn, Max Klesmit, and true frosh (yeah, I’m calling it) John Blackwell provide the best trio of perimeter defenders in the league, and Crowl and Wahl regularly frustrate all but the most physical bigs inside. (To say nothing of Carter Gilmore’s defensive versatility off the bench.)

You can’t expect Storr to be Johnny Davis, but if you remove those two from the equation, the rest of this year’s team is better the the rest of the ‘22 roster that shared the B1G title.

Feels like a team in the 3rd-6th mix in conference play. But the non-conference is absolutely brutal (Tennessee, Marquette, @Arizona, @Providence, vs. Virginia), so they might not look quite that good in Nov/Dec. (especially considering the Dec. B1G game is @MSU). If the Badgers are 8-4 or better on New Year’s, they’re probably headed for a pretty good season.

MaximumSam: Can’t disagree. This season feels like a referendum on Greg Gard - I like their pieces, and having a such a veteran team is a luxury in college basketball these days. While winning the conference might be optimistic, they should have a really strong team this year.

Kind of...: Late addition. UW just announced they’re listing Crowl, Klesmit, and Gilmore as juniors this year as all are expected to return in ‘24-’25 for their Covid year. This is either great or awful news depending on what you think about what you’ve already read. It does mean that unless Crowl blossoms into a first-round pick, Wahl will be the only player using his last year of eligibility this year. I would say that Ilver and Hodges have the non-conference season to show improvement; otherwise they might be portal bound.