Throughout the basketball season, Testudo Times is corresponding with Terps opponents' beat writers and bloggers as they come up on the schedule. We wrote today with "alstein," who covers Notre Dame for One Foot Down, SB Nation's Irish destination.
TT: The ACC is talented, but it's less physical than the Big East that Notre Dame inhabited for all those years. Have the Irish adjusted well to their new conference?
OFD: Well, they shot out of the gates nicely with the home win against Duke, but the last two games against a couple of supposed bottom-feeding teams (NC State, Georgia Tech) have nearly doomed Notre Dame’s chances of competing in the ACC or for an at-large tourney bid.
It’s probably too soon to tell, but the Irish appear more than happy to fit into the less-physical play of the ACC, which is fine, but the lack of consistent scoring without Jerian Grant is troubling, especially without a defense that provides a lot of pressure. However, to get more energy and athleticism on the defensive end, Mike Brey needs to play some younger guys who are struggling to score. There is a clear tradeoff on this roster between energy defenders and reliable scorers, and Brey hasn’t been able to manage that tradeoff yet. He needs to sooner rather than later to salvage this season.
TT: Notre Dame has lost perhaps its best player, Grant, to academic issues. How have the Irish filled that void in their backcourt?
OFD: They haven’t. Eric Atkins has done his best to step up and single-handedly fill the void, but he can’t do that by himself. Freshman phenom Demetrius Jackson has Grant’s spot in the starting lineup and most of the minutes, but he has yet to find his way within the offense. Another freshman, Steve Vasturia, is getting more minutes as well and contributed nicely but not enough to really replace Grant.
It’s a struggle replacing an all-ACC talent, but the whole roster needs to contribute, from those freshmen to sophomore forwards Zach Auguste and Austin Burgett to upperclassmen like Atkins, Pat Connaughton, and Garrick Sherman. I think the key for the Irish to sneak back into the tournament conversation is getting Jackson to take more control and ownership over the offense, because that kid has the raw skills and athleticism to match anyone in the conference, just not the attitude yet.
TT: Sherman, the 6-foot-11 center, has posted excellent point and rebound rates. How do the Irish use him?
OFD: Early and often. I can’t think of a single game this season when the Irish haven’t made it a point to allow Sherman to isolate himself in the post and go to work. He works very hard on the offensive end and will sometimes absolutely dazzle with his array of post moves. He’s not much of a defender and still turns it over too often, but when Sherman gets going offensively, he is really something else to watch. That said, he had a brutal 0-8 start against Georgia Tech that might be too much for the Irish to overcome against Maryland, so if he can get his double-double without needing 18 shots to get there, that would be helpful.
TT: What needs to happen for Notre Dame to get a road win at Comcast Center?
OFD: They’ll get some good production out of Atkins, Connaughton, and Sherman. Where the rest comes from is a total mystery. But someone really has to take the pressure off Atkins, because I don’t think him more or less carrying the offense for 40 minutes is a recipe for success. I think that needs to come from one of the two backcourt freshmen. If one or both of Jackson and Vasturia can have a big (double-digit) scoring game and maybe even carry the team for a few minutes at a time, then I think they will get the taken-for-granted production from Atkins, Connaughton, and Sherman, giving the Irish a decent shot. Without another impact performer in the backcourt, I think it’s just too much to put on Atkins’ shoulders and I can’t envision a consistent 40 minutes of smooth, mistake-free offense that Notre Dame will need.
TT: Your prediction on tonight's result?
OFD: Mike Brey has found a way to get this team into the NCAA tournament somehow, someway in 6 of the last 7 seasons. In order to do that, Notre Dame has constantly won games like this, games where its back is up against the wall, and the Irish just need to turn things around. They just did it against Duke not even two weeks ago. For whatever reason, Brey’s squads just respond when everyone is counting them out.
Well, after back-to-back bad losses against NC State and Georgia Tech, it’s hard not to count Notre Dame out. In fact, I wrote as much in my recap of the latter game. So while the Irish have a good track record in this exact situation the past few years, I’ll believe it when I see it for this squad. I’m going with the home court plus slight KenPom advantage. Maryland 74, Notre Dame 70.