Who: Maryland (10-7, 2-2 ACC) vs. Notre Dame (10-6, 1-2)
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Comcast Center
DMV radio: 105.7 FM, 1300 AM, 980 AM.
Coaches: Terps — Mark Turgeon (third season, 52-35). Fighting Irish – Mike Brey (14th season, 295-151).
Another day, another game. Maryland looks to put the past two blowout losses behind them as the Terps host the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the first and last ACC matchup between these two teams. Maryland will debut new jerseys against the Irish, hoping the new jerseys give them a new identity.
After riding a three-game hot streak, Maryland is riding a two-game freezing streak. In these two games, Maryland showed yet again that failed at playing the full 40-minutes. Finally back at Comcast, Maryland looks to right the ship and earn back a winning ACC record en route to a season turnaround.
On December 23, it was announced that forward Jerian Grant was no longer enrolled and was ineligible for the remainder of the season. Almost two weeks later, the Irish stunned the Blue Devils as Notre Dame went on to win their first ACC game 79-77. Despite the loss of his most talented player, Mike Brey has found a way to lead his team and not flop.
With Grant, Notre Dame was expected to finish in the upper half of the ACC. Now with a signature win against Duke but disappointing losses to NC State and Georgia Tech, not many know what to expect from the Irish. Question their identity? Sure. Question their talent? As Lee Corso would say, not so fast my friend.
Three Things to Know About the Fighting Irish
- Eric Atkins is the new leader
Atkins has sat for two minutes in the last four games, proving just how essential he is to this offense. Since Grant’s departure, Atkins is averaging just under 21 points per game and 7 assists. There’s no denying that Atkins has picked up the slack in an effort to save the season. Although he is not the only focus of the team, he is certainly the main focus. Atkins can do it all, as he has a decent jump shot and has the weapons to dish the ball to when needed be. Turgeon understands that in order to slow down Notre Dame, Maryland must slow down Atkins.
- There are other scoring options
Garrick Sherman and Pat Connaughton are both averaging double-digit points per game. As big-men play have been a huge issue this season, Sherman is the post player that can cause problems all night, shooting 50.3% on the season while averaging 12 rebounds in his last four games. On the wing, Connaughton is a streaky shooter who has the potential to get hot at any moment. Against Duke, Connaughton shot 66.7% in the win, but against Georgia Tech shot 36.4% in the loss. Connaughton certainly is not the key to victory for the Irish, but given the comments from a FSU player saying Maryland did not guard the three-point line well, he should not become an after thought.
- Notre Ame, because they don’t play defense
As potent as the Irish offense may seem, their defense is quite the opposite. Notre Dame ranks 202nd in the NCAA as they allow 71.3 points per game. To put that in perspective, Maryland is tied with Boston University (ironic) for 137th in the nation with 68.7 points per game. Three points may not seem like a lot but Jerian Grant helped keep that number a little higher.
There really is no such thing as a must-win game in January, but if Maryland wants any chance in making the NCAA tournament, then this game is a must-win. The Terrapins have put a lot of pressure on themselves after beating all but one inferior opponents, excluding Boston University, and losing to the equal or superior opponents.
Notre Dame is not the most intimidating team Maryland will face, but the Irish have the ability to make a run to tilt the scoreboard in their favor. After the past two games, there is no doubt Turgeon is reinforcing defense as the philosophy here. If Maryland can play tighter defense, they will at least have the ability to remain competitive tonight.
A point not discussed? Jake Layman. The slumping sophomore started the season hot, looking like the complimentary piece to Dez Wells. Then he really hit the ground hard, as he has averaged just eight points per game on 29.4% shooting in his last five games. It’s not a matter of talent for the young stud, but confidence. We forget he is just a sophomore, and some easy buckets or slam dunks will help him get back in his groove. Maryland has other options on the perimeter, such as Nick Faust and Evan Smotrycz. Getting the outside game going will naturally give the big men more space to work with.
Maryland should feed off of the crowd in tonight’s tight contest. Dez Wells will lead the way, score over 15 points on 50% shooting and Maryland will come out victorious 85-80. Maryland will show that their problems are not fixed, but that the fight is in them and questioning their character and coaching was premature. And they will look good showing it.