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Wisconsin Basketball: Backcourt preview

Let’s take a dive into the new-look Badgers backcourt that includes new transfers and emerging players.

Nebraska v Wisconsin Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images

The Wisconsin Badgers are set to begin their season this weekend in an exhibition game against UW-Eau Claire, meaning it’s time to examine the new-look roster after star guard Johnny Davis departed for the NBA in the offseason.

Today, in the first installment of roster previews, let’s examine the Badgers’ backcourt, which has some new faces to alleviate the loss of Davis in what could be an underrated unit in the Big 10 this season.

The Projected Starters

Chucky Hepburn

Returning for the Badgers is sophomore guard Chucky Hepburn, who is in line for a breakout season after averaging 7.9 points on 38% efficiency from the field in 2021.

Hepburn, who played a secondary role to guard Johnny Davis and forward Brad Davison a year ago, is an aggressive slasher, whose 34.8% clip from beyond the arc could be vital if the number proves to be sustainable on greater volume.

Hepburn’s ability to create his own shot should provide an offensive boost to the offense, which was seen during Wisconsin’s red-white scrimmage where the guard scored 12 points on an efficient 6/9 shooting, which involved a variety of jumpers and finishes near the rim.

What remains to be seen is how capable Hepburn will be in distributing the ball, although the sophomore did have several games last year with at least four assists.

If the breakout candidate can become more well-rounded offensively, Wisconsin should be able to maintain its offensive status from a year ago.

Max Klesmit

Klesmit appears to be a strong candidate to start in 2022, fitting in well thus far after transferring from Wofford this offseason.

Last season, the junior guard averaged nearly 15 points, shooting 44.6% from the field and 34% from three, while missing double-figures in scoring just five times last season.

Klesmit had a strong showing in the Red-White scrimmage, scoring a team-high 17 points on 7/13 efficiency while shooting 3/7 from three.

But, the Wofford transfer showcased defensive potential, moving well for his 6’3, 200-pound frame, which should only increase his playing time as Wisconsin looks to strengthen that facet of their game.

With Klesmit, Wisconsin has another guard capable of creating their own shot, and a player who has the ability to catch and shoot, which will be necessary with the aggressive tendencies of others on the team.

Jordan Davis

Jordan Davis, the brother of now-Wizards guard Johnny Davis, is the wildcard for the Badgers this season.

The 6’4, 200-pound guard played a minimal role in 2021, averaging just 6.5 minutes per game and hitting just 32.5% of his shots from the field.

However, with the departures of several veterans, the junior will be tasked to play a bigger role, at least early on, given his experience in the system.

Davis’s shot-making ability remains a question mark, which was only furthered by his 4/12 shooting day during the Red-White scrimmage, but he possesses the potential of a strong slasher, given his frame.

Davis’s calling card, though, is his defense, which should keep him on the floor as Wisconsin looks to improve in that area.

But, I wouldn’t be surprised if another player usurped him in the rotation as the season prolonged, given his limitations on the offensive side of the ball currently.

The Backups

Connor Essegian

Nobody has had a bigger rise this offseason than freshman guard Connor Essegian, whose three-point shooting was visualized during Wisconsin’s Red-White Scrimmage and their open practices.

The 6’4, 185-pound guard was in double figures in three of Wisconsin’s four games during their France exhibition tour in the offseason, while scoring a red-team high of 15 points on an incredible 6/7 shooting, including 3/4 from three.

Following the scrimmage, head coach Greg Gard expressed his confidence in Essegian, but acknowledged that his defensive abilities would dictate his playing time.

But, his shooting ability should earn him minutes in his freshman season, giving Wisconsin another player with the ability to create their own shot.

Kamari McGee

Kamari McGee was another transfer to the program, coming from a porous Green Bay team that won just five games in 2021.

With high usage numbers given the state of the team, McGee’s efficiency wasn’t strong in his freshman season, as he shot just 38.8% from the field and 27.5% from three.

Now, McGee’s role is likely to be a secondary ball-handler behind Hepburn, which was demonstrated during the scrimmage, but he’s another valuable addition that head coach Greg Gard was able to secure via the transfer portal.

McGee is likely one of the team’s best defenders, and that trait should be valuable as long as teams don’t neutralize his slight 6’0, 180-pound frame.

Additionally, McGee shot at an 80% clip from the free-throw line in 2021, suggesting that his efficiency as a shooter could improve with less usage, which will be the case in 2022.

Jahcobi Neath

Neath, a transfer from Wake Forest a season ago, has faced injury concerns over the past two years, which have limited his playing time, both at his former school and at Wisconsin.

The 6’4, 190-pound guard has struggled with efficiency following a solid freshman campaign, shooting just 35.7% from the field in 2020 and 25.6% in 2021, while hitting just 22.2% of his three-pointers during that time frame.

Now fully healthy, Neath’s role for the 2022 season is currently unclear, although his frame and defensive ability could help him push for minutes early on to prove himself.

But, with emerging talents in the backcourt, as well as several transfers, the former Wake Forest guard may not be able to carve out a significant role on this team, which could relegate him to primarily spot-up duty as the season prolongs.

Isaac Lindsey

Lindsey is another player whose career has been hampered by injuries recently, as he was sidelined for the entirety of his freshman campaign with a hip injury at UNLV, while playing just 13 minutes for the Badgers last year.

In addition, the 6’4, 185-pound guard missed the Red-White scrimmage due to injury.

With other players emerging as potential role players for Badgers in 2022, it’ll be hard for Lindsey to carve out a role without a strong start to the season.

Stay tuned for the preview of Wisconsin’s frontcourt tomorrow!