Best Shot

Notre Dame has lost to two clearly superior non-conference foes while splitting a pair vs. relative, early season peers. Relevant pre-conference win No. 2 is a necessity today at the BB&T classic in Washington, D.C.

The Particulars…

Opponent: Maryland (3-3)
Setting: 4:45 PM (ET) at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.
Television: Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN)/Versus with Jim Hunter (play-by-play), John Feinstein (analyst), and Byron Kerr (sideline)
Point Spread: Notre Dame -1

Series History: Today's game marks the 19th meeting between Notre Dame and Maryland with the Irish leading the series, 10-8. Notre Dame defeated #8 Maryland, 79-67, in the 2002 BB&T classic, later winning the title with a victory over #2 Texas. The Irish also beat the #19 Terrapins, 81-74, in the 2006 BB&T classic.

Of Note: Irish sophomore guards Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins are Washington, D.C. area residents. Grant is from Bowie, MD and played at DeMatha High School, the alma mater of Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey and assistant coach Rod Balanis. Brey also served as an assistant coach at DeMatha, which is located in nearby Hyattsville, MD from 1982-87 under legendary head coach Morgan Wootten. Atkins is from Columbia, MD

At Stake: To be blunt, the 5-3 Irish need to win more for their own confidence level than to make a national statement or bank a quality win, as its unlikely (not impossible) a victory over struggling Maryland will carry much weight at season's end. Today's contest, a relative road game, is thus close to must-win status for an Irish team that has made almost no noise in its quest for NCAA bubble status.

Irish at a Glance

Eric Atkins: As he goes, so will the Irish – at least in every game played outside South Bend this season…Sophomore struggles at times with dedicated ball pressure but Atkins is a crafty half-court player who's found a way to lead the team in scoring to date…Will hit the open shot, but with the growing 2011-12 crew, he might be forced to take too many of them…Unquestionably the player Irish fans want at the charity stripe if the game is on the line.

Jerian Grant: Has a bright future as a scorer, both knocking down the open J and creating foul shots with his under control yet aggressive drives from the wins…An excellent half-court passer and will have to be a secondary ball-handler for the next two seasons (and beyond)…Appears to possess the hard-to-define "clutch gene" few predecessors have displayed over the last couple decades…Like the rest of the young Irish, needs work on his perimeter defense against the big boys, but has the quick hands and feet necessary to improve greatly in that regard.

Scott Martin: Still searching for a role that can help the Irish get over the hump vs. quality competition in his final season…A necessary facilitator in the half-court offense and presence on the defensive backboard, but Notre Dame could use a few deadeye shooting nights in search of upset wins this fall…Solid weak side defender and a smart player with athleticism, but injuries might have tapped some of the explosion he was purported to have upon his arrival in South Bend three years ago.

Jack Cooley: His inconsistent scoring to date was expected but rebounding totals must remain in the 7+ range for the undersized Irish to have a chance…Minutes and production are all over the map and he hasn't hit a free throw in four games, attempting only four in 71 minutes during that span…Defensive presence is essential as the Irish approach league play.

Joey Brooks: Irish need his versatile defensive skills and small forward body on the backboard. Any baseline jump shots he knocks down will help open up his right hand-heavy drive game, but finishing at the foul line will determine Brooks' junior performance and his current 50 percent clip can't continue…Has scored 13 points in two different games this season (a career-high) – Irish would settle for 7-9 per game instead as long as he can average five rebounds through the rest of the season.

Pat Connaughton: The team's best athlete will experience severe growing pains at times this season…Ranks fifth in minutes played at nearly 25 per game and could probably use a few more as the Irish enter league play and the competition ramps up and appears back above the rim…Like Grant, should be a quality perimeter defender later in his career…Is the best leaper at the program since Ryan Humphrey and its not a wasted skill: Connaughton is a tremendous prospect and fearless weak side rebounder…Excellent elevation on his outside shot.

Alex Dragicevich: Miscast as a backup point guard, the Irish desperately need Drago to hit open jump shots, then augment that skill set with a few bounces toward the hole…At nearly 6'8" with long arms could develop into a solid top zone defender but footwork needs improvement…

Tom Knight and Mike Broghammer: Knight's minutes must include solid defense, fouls, defensive glasswork, and a consistency in making foes pay for leaving him open within 12-feet of the basket; Broghammer's physical style is a necessity on a team with two too many small forwards in its rotation – he'll give the effort, but bad knees have hampered his quick-twitch movements (Broghammer was much quicker off the floor as a true freshman in 2009-10.

Terrapins to Watch

With four games in excess of 20 points, sophomore Terrance Stoglin leads the ACC with 21.0 points per game. He Stoglin poured in a career-best 32 against Colorado in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. The 6'1" guard has struggled to find his range at times, shooting just over 40 percent from the field including a 10-32 effort from long range. Stoglin was an All-ACC freshman selection last season.

Forward James Padgett has started each of the last two games for the Terrapins and pumped in a career-high 16 points in a recent loss to Illinois. Padgett will attack the offensive glass (4.3 per game) and has proven an economical scorer, hitting 59 percent of his first 37 field goal attempts this season though he struggles at the free throw line (11 of 22 to date).

The Terrapins have struggled mightily from the floor (as evidenced by a 13-49 shooting effort in a blowout loss to Alabama) and included among their work-in-progress unit is forward Nick Faust, who hit for a career-high 15 in a win over Colorado last week. The 6'6" freshman swingman has averaged 30 minutes per night at the outset of his career.

Rounding out the three-guard lineup is senior Sean Mosely, a four-year contributor who's buried 10 of his first 22 three-point offerings after hitting just 28 of 88 over the last two seasons. Mosely was a bright spot (21 points) in a shocking 26-point loss to Iona in mid-November. 6'9" 220-pound freshman Ashton Pankey gives the Terrapins a post presence, averaging 5.3 points and a team-high 7.0 boards in 26 minutes per game.

Prediction

Maryland is one of the worst-shooting teams the Irish will face, hitting under 43 percent from the field, less than 30 percent from long range, and an abhorrent 59 percent from the charity stripe.

First-year Terrapins coach Mark Turgeon has hit early bumps in his tenure, including wondering about the desire of his players after the aforementioned hammering at the hands of Iona. And while the Terp's could be classified as The Gang that Can't Shoot Straight, that's not their only early-season lament.

"Our rebounding is a joke," Turgeon said this week.

The Irish are due for a solid outing after road/neutral tests vs. Missouri, Georgia, and Gonzaga proved disappointing.

Look for the local pair of Atkins and Grant to take out some early-season frustrations on a poor Maryland team today at the Verizon Center.

Notre Dame 70 Maryland 62


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