Maryland-Notre Dame preview: Terps desperate for home win

Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

Notre Dame brings a lot of experience to the table, but can Maryland capitalize on the loss of Jerian Grant?

Maryland looks to recover from two straight blowout losses as they host brief ACC foe Notre Dame, in their only game ever against the Irish in conference play. The Terps are 2-2 in ACC competition, putting them at seventh in the conference, while the Irish are 1-2 after a win over Duke and losses to North Carolina State and Georgia Tech (the ACC is weird this year). The Irish lost leading scorer Jerian Grant due to an academic issue and will likely be without reserve big man Tom Knight (injury), so they'll be looking elsewhere for their points in College Park. The game will tip-off Wednesday, January 15 at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

Players to watch

Garrick Sherman, 6'11", senior. Sherman is a very difficult matchup for the Terps, as a big man who can shoot. He's taken over much of the scoring load since Grant's departure, and is also a presence on the boards and in the lane as a shot-blocker. Maryland's big men have a tendency to foul when faced with a tough matchup inside, but that won't work against Sherman -- he's shooting 76.9% from the free throw line this season.

Eric Atkins, 6'2", senior. The team's point guard, Atkins plays far more minutes than anyone else on the team (he actually ranks 11th nationally in percentage of minutes played). He's a fine shooter with good ball control who almost never gets called for fouls. Grant was actually the team's primary assist man (as well as scorer), so Atkins has been attempting to fill that void in recent games, notably with a double-double (19 points, 11 assists) in the win over Duke.

Pat Connaughton, 6'5", junior. Like Atkins, Connaughton almost never causes fouls, meaning Maryland will have to look elsewhere if they'll want to go to the line. He also plays a ton and has been their most effective offensive player (after Grant), shooting lights out from three (42.5%) and extremely well from two (53.3%). Connaughton is also an adept shot blocker, rebounds well defensively and rarely turns the ball over -- he's nearly the complete package as a player. The only weakness in his game would be a lack of consistent driving to the hoop (he doesn't draw many fouls), but he certainly doesn't need to as one of the best shooters in the nation.

Demetrius Jackson, 6'1", freshman. Another plus shooter, Jackson is 41.7% from three-point range this season and gets to the line quite a bit, making 78% of his attempts there. Although he's smaller than point guard Atkins, he plays off the ball quite a bit when the two are on the floor together -- partly because of his tendency for turning the ball over.

Zach Auguste, 6'10", sophomore. McGee's backup at center, Auguste is a solid rebounder who has been quite a force on the offensive end in limited action this season. Even though he plays less than a third of the team's minutes, the Irish like to feed him the ball inside, and it's been working -- he's shooting 51.3% from the floor and draws a good amount of fouls.

Steve Vasturia, 6'6", freshman. Vasturia is another solid offensive option for the Irish who has seen limited use off the bench. He's shooting 40% from three, but is quite raw and turns the ball over with frequency.

Austin Burgett, 6'9", sophomore. One of the Irish's more frequently used players, Burgett has also been one of their least effective offensive weapons this year. He rebounds poorly for a 6'9" player, especially on the offensive end, turns the ball over more than anyone on the team and has made just three of 20 three-point attempts this season. Expect him to score at least 30 against Maryland.

Strengths

Experience. Notre Dame has three very good players in Sherman, Atkins and Connaughton, and they're all upperclassmen. What comes with that? A team that doesn't turn the ball over, has extremely good shot selection and does not foul often.

The Irish are one of the best offensive teams in the country -- without two of their main weapons, it's a bit more difficult, but they have plenty of other capable options.

Weaknesses

Depth. With Grant and Knight out, Notre Dame has had to significantly shuffle their rotations. They were able to beat Duke, but the issues showed in their last two losses, including one to a Georgia Tech team Maryland had no problem with. Only four players (Atkins, Sherman, Connaughton and Jackson) have played more than 40% of the team's minutes, so the success of some of the reserve players will be tested with more playing time.

Notre Dame's worst statistic is actually opponent free throw percentage, which is a bad sign for Maryland, as that's something that's completely luck based and not preventable by the Irish. Defense in general has been an issue for Notre Dame, as their other notable problems include causing turnovers and giving up threes.

Prediction

KenPom prediction: Maryland, 77-72. Terps given a 68% chance of winning (and it's ranked as the fifth-best matchup of the day!).

Our prediction: Notre Dame, 78-64.

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