A very good Tennessee team came to the Kohl Center last night, and despite taking some punches in the mouth from Wisconsin, left with a 10-point victory.
The Badgers scored 70 against a very long and strong defensive team, but shot just 25% from three (6-24). Unlike last year, UW can score in a variety of ways this year, so they’re not doomed when the deep shooting freezes. But against a team like the Volunteers, one I expect will make a deep tournament run, it was a problem. And let’s not forget the poor free throw shooting (61% as a team), especially from super senior and team leader Tyler Wahl (2-7 for 29%), who tried to take over late, but was foiled by (getting) fouled.
Credit Tennessee’s defense for some of that poor 3-point shooting, but UW was getting open looks from the arc and bricking them.
So the team’s long-distance sniper, Connor Essegian, was badly needed on a night his team struggled from deep. But the sophomore guard is still nursing a sore back suffered in the opening game, and he was noticeably wincing out there in his 11 minutes against the Vols. He missed his one deep shot and made a layup on a back cut and a free throw for 3 points on the night. Interesting aside: teams prepping for the Badgers and Essegian overplay him in the arc, so the shooter is wisely back-cutting for easy layups early in the season, two of which he got against the Vols (once he was fouled).
UW’s other top outside shooters, Chucky Hepburn (1-4), Max Klesmit (2-7) and AJ Storr (2-7) had off nights from three. Klesmit was probably exhausted from trying to stop 6’6″ guard Dalton Knecht, who looks like a future NBA player. Storr led Wisconsin with 17 points, but needed 20 shots to get there, an inefficient night.
Essegian will get healthy eventually, hopefully by Tuesday, and his deep shooting and three-level scoring will give Wisconsin yet another weapon to complement their impressive arsenal this year.
Of course, Wisconsin’s team defense needs to and will get better. You can’t give up 80 at home, even to a great team. True freshman Nolan Winter looked lost on some pick and rolls, getting caught in between where the ball could be lobbed over the 7-footer for a dunk. Welcome to the next level, kid.
And the Badgers had no answers for future All-American Knecht. He beat up on the shorter Klesmit for much of the night, and even schooled the taller, 6’8″ Wahl, an elite defender, when the Badgers had to have a stop at the end of the game. Knecht, in his fifth Covid year, played two years at Northern Colorado before transferring into Tennessee for his final season. He put up 24 points against the Badgers.
In other UW news
Gus Yalden is back from his leave of absence to deal with a “personal family matter,” which may have had something to do with him getting cited twice by police so far this semester for underage drinking and marijuana possession. He didn’t see the floor against Tennessee, but projects to be a contributor this season. He has excellent court vision, good size and even some swagger that will be needed in the Badgers’ brutal non-conference season.
Wisconsin plays at Providence on Tuesday, then Virginia on Monday, Nov. 20, and THEN a wild first week in December, when they get #5 Marquette at home on Dec. 2, travel to Michigan State on Dec. 5 to play Spartans, who started the season as a top-five team, then on to play at Arizona, currently ranked #12 and fresh off a victory at #4 Duke. Buckle up.
Badger Stripes is a sports news organization that provides in-depth coverage of Wisconsin athletics. Follow us on Facebook.
The Racine County Eye, which includes the Kenosha Lens, is your source for local news that serves our diverse communities. Subscribe today to stay up-to-date with local sports, business, and more.
Racine County Eye and Kenosha Lens – Journalism that serves.