Top five Badgers to watch this spring

Freshman forward Nic Kerdiles is one of a handful of Badgers to keep an eye out for this spring.

Image By: Shoaib Altaf

George Marshall: Men's Basketball

After the departure of All-American guard Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin faced the difficult task of replacing one of the most successful guards in program history and one of the most efficient players in the nation. Having spent last season giving Taylor fits in practice, redshirt freshman guard George Marshall was pegged as the man for the job.

Once junior guard Josh Gasser went down for the season with an ACL tear in October, Marshall was given the starting point guard spot having yet to set foot on the court in a regular season contest. As could be expected, the Chicago native found himself suffering some growing pains early on, ultimately losing his spot in the starting lineup to sophomore guard Traevon Jackson.

Though Jackson’s improved play during the early part of conference play left Marshall somewhat on the outside looking in, the freshman’s 20-point second half in Saturday’s 70-66 loss to Iowa served to tell anyone watching that he was still very much in the mix.

Marshall’s breakout effort in Iowa City was due in large part to the difficult circumstances facing UW. The Badgers had put themselves in a deep first half hole, and, facing foul trouble, could not afford to keep the freshman guard on his normally short leash. Given the chance to finally see extended time on the court, Marshall made aggressive plays on the offensive end that he had previously seemed too hesitant to attempt.

“Consistently there for a stretch of time he showed some things that we had seen for the past year,” Wisconsin associate head coach Greg Gard said. “Just aggressiveness, playing like he belonged. In the past it seemed like he was playing not to make a mistake.”

While the circumstances may have helped allow Marshall the opportunity for a breakout performance, it does appear that he has finally begun to turn a corner.

The Badgers are going to need Marshall to be aggressive in order to contend for a Big Ten title in a crowded conference race.

—Max Sternberg

Alex Rigsby: Women's Hockey

The Delafield, Wis., native has had a solid year so far in net, turning in a save percentage of .940 and allowing an average of 1.54 goals per contest. She has also pitched four shutouts. As a result of her impressive statistics, she has earned WCHA defensive player of the week twice.

After having a great first half, Rigsby picked up where she left off to start 2013, allowing a mere total of two goals in the Ohio State series Jan. 11 and 12. However, the North Dakota offense gave her trouble this past weekend as she gave up four goals in a series split.

The remaining schedule plays to Rigsby’s advantage, but her lone challenge—a mighty one—will be against the Gophers this weekend. While she only allowed 6 total goals in the team’s previous series, the Minnesota offense got the best of Rigsby in the first game as she allowed 4 unanswered goals.

The series against Minnesota-Duluth Feb. 16 and 17 will be a revenge matchup for Rigsby, as the first time they met was the start of the program’s first three-game losing streak.

Her success went hand in hand with the team’s success, and the second half will have to follow suit if the Badgers want to make a push for the conference title and more. Moreover, Rigsby grew more and more confident in net as Wisconsin caught fire offensively in the first half and started putting together a string of consecutive victories. The type of confidence she possessed throughout the first half allowed her to be a dynamic goaltender and should be garnered later in the year as remaining opposing offenses—excluding Minnesota—are not strong. In fact, against St. Cloud State, Minnesota-Duluth and Bemidji State, Rigsby had a save percentage of .927.

All in all, fans can expect Rigsby to continue being the anchor of the defense as Wisconsin will look to finish the season strong heading into postseason play.

—Rex Sheild

Nic Kerdiles: Men's Hockey

After stumbling out of the gate with a 1-7-2 overall record and 1-5-2 WCHA record this season, the Wisconsin men’s hockey team turned its season around over winter break thanks in large part to the emergence of freshman forward Nic Kerdiles.

The 36th overall pick of the Anaheim Ducks in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, Kerdiles brings a high-powered offensive skill set that the Badgers have lacked in recent years.

The Irvine, Calif., native was suspended by the NCAA for the first 10 games of the 2012-’13 season, delaying his debut until Nov. 30 against Denver. Since then, UW has been red hot, putting together an 8-1-3 streak that includes a seven-game win streak and an 11-game unbeaten streak.

In his 12 games, Kerdiles has racked up two goals and five assists while playing on a line with junior center Mark Zengerle and junior winger Tyler Barnes.

Against Denver Dec. 1, the freshman forward recorded two assists, his first career points as a Badger, as Wisconsin upset the then-No. 5 Pioneers on the road in Colorado.

Kerdiles will be counted on to continue producing similar offensive firepower down the stretch for the Badgers as they enter the last third of the regular season. He will also need to help improve UW’s woeful power play attack, which has scored just six goals on 66 attempts and is ranked No. 57 in the nation.

If Wisconsin wants to make a deep run in the conferenc playoffs or make it to the Frozen Four this March, Kerdiles will have to step up and remain a major contributor.

—Matt Masterson

Madison Packer: Women's Hockey

The 5-foot-9 junior forward will need to be an integral part of the offensive productivity as the second half of the season gets underway for Wisconsin. Thus far, she is second on the team—behind senior forward Brianna Decker—in both goals and total points. She has also registered a plus-minus of plus-13.

Decker receives most of the opponent’s attention, which will open the door for secondary players like Packer to step up and provide a spark offensively. In fact, the aforementioned situation proved to be effective against North Dakota, as Packer’s goal late in the third period sealed a 2-1 victory for the Badgers and earned the team a successful series split.

The key for Packer individually in the second half is for her to be a more disciplined and controlled skater, as she has registered a whopping 21 minor penalties, putting the Badgers’ penalty kill in difficult situations far too often. Decker is a distant second with 15.

With the absence of junior forward Brittany Ammerman, Packer has picked up the slack and rose to the occasion. In fact, in the team’s 15 victories combined with their two ties, she has registered 101 shots on goal—an average of 6 per contest—and tallied 22 points (14 goals and eight assists). However in the team’s seven defeats, she has only registered 30 shots on goals—an average of 4 per contest—and tallied a mere one point (zero goals and one assist). Moving forward, she will have to be a more consistent factor offensively if the team is going to have success.

 If Packer continues to step up opposite of Decker and stays out of the penalty box, the productivity of the offense will flourish and provide tough matchup problems for ensuing defenses. It might even be enough to give Wisconsin a shot at returning to the Frozen Four.

—Rex Sheild

Ryan Evans: Men's Basketball

At the team’s media day in October, Wisconsin men’s basketball head coach Bo Ryan was asked questions about the Badgers’ newcomers. Simply put, it wasn’t your standard group of first-year players.

 A reporter eventually asked a question about Wisconsin’s senior forwards Ryan Evans, Jared Berggren and Mike Bruesewitz, and Ryan appeared surprised it had taken so long to hear a question about his three seniors.

“Oh yeah, their names haven’t been mentioned,” Ryan said. “I forgot all about them.”

Ryan said he was kidding, and then he talked about how each of the three stepped up as juniors last season when opponents paid more attention to former guard Jordan Taylor. With Taylor gone, Ryan said, these upperclassmen needed to step up once again this season.

 Of the three, I think Evans is the player to watch this semester. He leads the team in rebounding (7.6 per game) and is UW’s second leading scorer (11.2). Getting more efficient minutes from the Phoenix, Ariz., native is crucial for Wisconsin to compete for a Big Ten championship.

It isn’t necessarily on the offensive end where Evans needs to make the biggest impact (although an improvement upon his 39 percent mark from the free throw line wouldn’t hurt). After all, Ryan’s program has had success because the teams have blended together well and had enough scoring threats that opponents couldn’t zero in on just one or two players.

A stellar performance from Evans’ on the defensive end of the floor would pay huge dividends for this UW team, especially if sophomore forward Frank Kaminsky’s eye injury keeps him out for an extended period of time. Ryan has used a smaller frontcourt at times this season when Berggren rests, and if the 6-foot-6 Evans can bang down low with some of the bigger Big Ten forwards, look for the Badgers to be in the thick of the Big Ten race in early March.

—Vince Huth

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