3. Contain Storr & Klesmit without fouling
There have been numerous reasons for Wisconsin's hot 6-1 start in the league, but at it's core has been a breakout season from veteran guard Max Klesmit and the spark provided by St. John's transfer A.J. Storr. Klesmit has evolved from a complementary piece into a top offensive option having a wonderful January, while Storr has made the sophomore jump many Badger fans were hoping for, currently leading the team in scoring at 15.3 PPG.
Finding a way to contain those two is going to be a challenge for many opponents remaining on Wisconsin's schedule, and is a particularly tough challenge for Minnesota. Hawkins and Mitchell have helped this backcourt improve tremendously on offense, but both have had pronounced struggles on the defensive end. Then there's guards Braeden Carrington and Cam Christie, both of whom are still working out concerns of their own. For Carrington, it looks like he's still looking to shake off rust after missing several games due to a leave of absence from the team, while the freshman Christie is still picking up the pace of the Big Ten and learning to play without fouling.
There's certainly no playbook to stopping Storr and Klesmit - teams have struggled to do all season long. Against Storr, the best path to success seems to be matching his physicality and trying to force him out to the perimeter. Easier said than done, and not without risk, as Storr knows how to make defenses pay at the free throw line. As for Klesmit, you have to hope his hot shooting will cool at some point, but the savvy guard knows how to impact the game in more ways than one. He seems just fine capturing the attention of defenses and finding open teammates for easy buckets.
The good news for Minnesota is that the defense will have the chance to feed off the energy of the home crowd, with "The Barn" set to be rocking. The Gophers have to hope that gives them the boost they need to stay in front of Klesmit and Storr for the entire 40 minutes, and do just enough to put them in position to come out on top.
It's no surprise the Badgers enter this one as road favorites, being one of the hottest teams anywhere in college basketball. But despite having clear advantages over the Gophers, I don't think they are going to walk into the Twin Cities and come away with an easy win. Minnesota will offer plenty of fight, and even after the frustrations of the last three games, this has been a team that's been able to compete with the best of the conference. It's still an uphill battle, but the path to victory remains clear if Johnson and company can make the necessary adjustments to succeed.