Who: Maryland (10-7, 2-2 ACC) vs. Notre Dame (10-6, 1-2)
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Comcast Center
TV: ESPN2 (Bob Wischusen, play-by-play; LaPhonsho Ellis, analyst)
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).
Kenpom rating: Maryland 70th, Notre Dame 77th.
Here comes the Maryland men’s basketball team, limping home after losing to Florida State by 24 points, again attempting to decipher how things have come so far off the rails. Is it the low-post scoring, because four front-court players have scored 11 total points over the past two games, both double-digit losses? Is it the point guard play, over which Coach Mark Turgeon lamented during media availability on Tuesday? Or how about the perimeter defense, which allowed 16 Florida State three-pointers, or the offense that failed to keep pace and again seems entirely too stagnant to be dubbed “motion?” Turgeon stopped short of calling Notre Dame a must-win game on Tuesday, but perhaps he just didn’t want to say it. At this stage in the season, one loss away from dropping below .500 in ACC play, every game seems like a crossroads for the Terrapins. Win at home, and maybe things turn around in an unpredictable conference. Lose, and it’s more disappointment for a team that’s already experienced its fair share midway through January.
1) Respond to adversity? The Terps didn’t quite roll over against Florida State like they did in the second half of their previous game against Pittsburgh, but that early first-half barrage of three-pointers sent them tumbling into an unclimbable pit. Yes, they continued fighting and kept huddling, but they never quite mounted any serious threat, not even to trim the deficit to less than 15 points. On a more macro level, Maryland again reaches a critical juncture in its season, desperate to avoid three straight losses. The preseason expectations have been thrown out the window, replaced by fans calling for Turgeon’s job and individual players struggling on a game-by-game basis. The Terps haven’t faced adversity quite like this, so how they respond Wednesday night could dictate whether they actually make meaning of this season or whether the calls will get louder.
“We just need to play well for 40 minutes,” Turgeon said.
2) Can the Terps defend inside? Notre Dame center Garrick Sherman is a handful at 6 feet 11, averaging 14.8 points and 8.6 rebounds this season. He’s the only player on either team who is utilized on more than 28 percent of possessions, and it’s for good reason, too. The senior shoots 50.3 percent from the field, grabs nearly one-quarter of available defensive rebounds and very recently dropped 21 and 18 in a loss to North Carolina State. Terps center Shaq Cleare is at his best against big-bodied animals like Sherman, and they will need him to stay out of foul trouble, particularly because Sherman draws nearly five fouls every 40 minutes.
“The big kid in the middle is something else,” Turgeon said. “He’s fortunate because he’s got shooters all around him. A lot of times he’s one-on-one down there.”
3) Will Layman be aggressive? Among the most vexing issues in January has been Jake Layman’s slump. The sophomore forward is averaging just eight points over his past five games and hasn’t made more than three field goals on any given night in that span. His three-point percentage this season has slipped below 40 percent as teams have figured out that simply face-guarding Layman should suffice, because the Terps don’t do much to spring him free. That said, Layman needs to be more aggressive driving to the rim; his only double-digit scoring games since Tulsa have come when he has reached the free throw line at least three times.
“I have to work harder to get open and get better looks from me, just be more aggressive like I was trying to be in the second half at Florida State, getting to the hoop and drawing fouls,” Layman said. “I think I’m just learning that I have to work harder for the ball, and when I get the ball I have to drive to the basket and shoot more pull-up jumpers instead of shooting threes all the time.”
0: Times before this season Turgeon had lost consecutive games by 20 points.
38.1: Opponents’ three-point shooting percentage against Maryland, which ranks 305th nationally and is the worst mark of Turgeon’s career since 2004.
11: Rebounds for Dez Wells while playing for Xavier against Notre Dame on March 17, 2012, during the third round of the NCAA tournament. Wells also scored 14 points and the Musketeers advanced with a 67-63 win.
“I hate it, man. As soon as the game was over, I wanted to play the next game. Especially when you lose like that, you just want to correct every mistake you made and come out and play better. I’m sure guys will be ready to go tomorrow. I know I will.” – forward Evan Smotrycz.
“I told the team afterwards, I wouldn’t change our defensive game plan we had against [Florida State]. They just got hot. Pittsburgh seems so long ago I can’t really remember. I don’t think it’s a trend. Have we guarded well this year? No. But for us to be any good we have to guard.” – Turgeon.
THE TERPS TUNE OF TODAY
“Not Another Day” by Atmosphere.