Well, folks, the college football season is coming to a close, with the Irish’s regular season officially completed and the only games left to play being conference championships, bowls/CFP games, and the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy game between Army and Navy.
Furthermore, as college football gave us a fantastic Thanksgiving weekend of zany games, college basketball kicked it up a notch as well with various early-season tournaments that gave us a bunch of big-time match-ups and exciting performances.
So, it’s not a big surprise that the Notre Dame Fighting Irish men’s basketball team has its biggest game of the non-conference season this week, as they travel to the east coast to take on the #3 Maryland Terrapins as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge.
Statistically, the Terps haven’t been all that more impressive than the Irish so far this season, although they’ve got a few solid wins and a tournament title to their name, whereas the Irish lost to the one Power 5 conference team they’ve faced to date (the North Carolina Tar Heels).
With that said, check out the comparison below of the two teams, as there are some clear advantages for Maryland, but also not as much separating the two teams — at least in terms of raw statistics — as you would think:
- Scoring Offense: Maryland (48th, 80.6 ppg) vs. ND (T-118th, 75.4 ppg)
- FG%: Maryland (T-137th, 44.8%) vs. ND (T-261st, 41.7%)
- 3P%: Maryland (T-253rd, 31.1%) vs. ND (T-234th, 31.6%)
- Turnovers Committed per Game: Maryland (T-78th, 12.3) vs. ND (T-3rd, 9.4)
- Scoring Defense: Maryland (T-68th, 62.3 ppg) vs. ND (43rd, 60.9 ppg)
- FG% Allowed: Maryland (31st, 37.3%) vs. ND (42nd, 37.7%)
- 3P% Allowed: Maryland (196th, 33%) vs. ND (114th, 30.2%)
- Turnovers Forced per Game: Maryland (T-116th, 15.4) vs. ND (T-128th, 15.3)
Maryland appears to be the better offensive team for sure, with a substantially better scoring output and shooting percentage. However, both teams struggle from long range, meaning Maryland will be using lots of athleticism and length to attack the hoop against what has been the best Mike Brey defense in YEARS.
Notre Dame is actually holding opponents to lower scores than Maryland (which could certainly be a product of an easier schedule to-date) and is a few percentage points better in defending the three. Both teams are pretty strong overall, and essentially even, in field goal percentage allowed and in forcing turnovers.
Considering Notre Dame is significantly better at taking care of the ball, I’d say overall the gist of this match-up is that Maryland is clearly superior offensively, but the teams are pretty even defensively and the Irish may be able to make up for some of their offensive shortcomings by forcing Maryland to commit turnovers while they keep things clean on their own end.
With that said, Maryland has a ton of length and some really talented guys and will be playing at home, so it will be a tall task for the Irish to pull the upset. Let’s dive into more of the details below to understand this match-up, the Maryland team, and what I think the result of this game will be.
- This is the 21st meeting between these two programs, with Notre Dame leading the all-time series 11-9 (per Alan Wasielewski, Associate Athletics Communication Director)
- The series is an even 6-6 since 1986 and 2-2 in the Mike Brey era (per Alan Wasielewski)
- Maryland is currently #8 overall in the KenPom.com rankings, with the #7 offense and #24 defense; the Irish, meanwhile, are #50, rating 67th on offense and 45th on defense
- Notre Dame senior forward John Mooney is currently 3rd in the country in rebounds per game with 13.0; only Cletrell Pope of the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats (13.4 rpg) and Kevin Marfo of the Quinnipiac Bobcats (13.2) have more (per Alan Wasielewski)
- Mooney is also one of just seven major conference players to currently average a double-double, and is the only one of that group to average 14+ points and 13+ rebounds (per Alan Wasielewski)
- With 24 assists and just 7 turnovers in the victory over Fairleigh Dickinson, Notre Dame is #1 in the nation in team assist-turnover ratio at 1.82. The Iowa State Cyclones (1.65) and Virginia Tech Hokies (1.64) are 2nd and 3rd in the country, respectively (per Alan Wasielewski)
- The last time ND faced a top-10 Maryland team was December 2002, when the Terps were defending champs and ranked 9th. Unranked ND won that game 79-67 in the semi-finals of the BB&T Classic, and then proceeded to topple the #2 Texas Longhorns in the finals — that Irish squad would later that season give Mike Brey his first Sweet Sixteen appearance
- To take the previous bullet one step further, ND has beaten Maryland the last 4 times that they’ve played a Top-10 Terps team, emerging victorious in 2002, 1984, 1981, and 1976 (per Alan Wasielewski)
Where: Xfinity Center — College Park, Maryland
When: Wednesday, December 4th at 7:30 PM ET
How to Watch:
- TV — ESPN with Dave Pasch (play-by-play) and Jimmy Dykes (analyst)
- Radio — Notre Dame Radio Network with Jack Nolan (play-by-play) and Zach Hillesland (analyst); also available locally on WSBT AM/FM and worldwide on und.com
#3 Maryland Terrapins (8-0)
The Terrapins have largely been untested so far this season, but make no mistake — there’s a reason Maryland is ranked #3 in the country. Led by Anthony Cowan Jr. and Jalen Smith, Mark Turgeon’s squad is 8-0 on the year and fresh off an Orlando Invitational title.
The Terps blew the doors off the Marquette Golden Eagles in the final game of that tourney, winning 84-63 in a game where their defensive abilities were on full display. Star Marquette guard Markus Howard was fresh off of 40-point and 51-point performances in his two prior Orlando Invitational games, but was held to just 6 points on 1-of-12 shooting (0-of-6 from three), most of the time by guard Darryl Morsell, a former Notre Dame recruiting target who came down to Maryland and ND in his final two choices.
Besides Marquette, though, Maryland hasn’t faced a whole lot of stiff competition. They’ve beaten the Temple Owls and Harvard Crimson by 7 points each, but otherwise haven’t seen many potential tournament teams in this young season.
Of course, it’s not yet clear if the Irish will be a contender for the big dance or not, and they themselves have essentially just faced North Carolina and the Toledo Rockets in terms of quality competition. However, ND certainly represents a nice little non-conference test for Turgeon’s team before they finish up non-conference play and dive into Big Ten games in January.
To be any sort of test for Maryland, the Irish will have to focus on stopping the two aforementioned Terrapin stars, Cowan Jr. and Smith. Cowan Jr. is a 6’0” senior guard from Bowie, Maryland who averages 16.4 points, 4.6 assists, 2.9 rebounds, and 1.1 steals per game. He’s a fantastic shooter, knocking down 45% of his shots from long range and 46% of his shots overall, and will be a tough test for Prentiss Hubb and T.J. Gibbs tonight.
Smith is a 6’10” sophomore forward from Baltimore who has been excellent down low in his first two seasons in College Park, and he brings a current average of 14.1 points and 9.4 rebounds to this match-up. John Mooney, Nate Laszewski, and Juwan Durham will definitely need to bring their A-games to contain the 51.5% shooter, and will also need to work hard to get buckets of their own in the paint, considering Smith averages nearly 2 blocks per game.
Apart from Cowan Jr. and Smith, the Irish will need to deal with some long, athletic wings Maryland likes to trot out there, including Eric Ayala (6’5”), Aaron Wiggins (6’6”), and Morsell (6’5”).
Ayala and Wiggins both average double figures in scoring with 11.1 and 10.1 points per game, respectively, and Morsell chips in 7.9 points per game himself. The trio also accounts for about 13 rebounds and 6 assists per game, and Wiggins and Morsell are both strong defenders with a penchant for creating turnovers. This group does NOT shoot the ball well from long range, though, as none of them are making more than 30% of their shot attempts from deep.
The size and length do not end with Smith and that trio of wings, though, as the Terps also have a heap of young forwards who can throw their bodies around down low, grab some rebounds, score some points, and defend the Irish’s big men.
Forward Donta Scott is a 6’7” freshman averaging 5.1 points and 3.6 rebounds in 16 minutes per game, and he also shoots the ball decently from the outside, making 35% of his threes. Ricky Lindo Jr., meanwhile, is a 6’8” sophomore who chips in 4.1 points and 3.1 rebounds per game and is pretty efficient in his limited scoring opportunities, making 75% of his shots from the field. Forward Makhi Mitchell only averages about 9 minutes per game, but the 6’10” frosh scores 4.3 points, reels in 2.9 rebounds, and blocks 1 shot per game.
On the Notre Dame side of things, the Irish will be led by forward John Mooney, who’s averaging 14 points and 13 rebounds per game to go along with a couple assists and a steal each contest. Mooney and his big man teammates Juwan Durham (8 ppg, 7 rpg, 2.4 bpg, 54.1% FG) and Nate Laszewski (8.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg) will be tasked with taking on Jalen Smith down low, but Mooney will also need to have a strong scoring performance to keep the offensively-challenged Irish in the game.
It would particularly behoove ND if he could shoot better than the current 27% he’s shooting from long range. Mooney getting hot from deep, especially early on, could give Notre Dame some much-needed momentum and confidence.
To go along with Mooney, Gibbs and Hubb will need to do a good job of attacking the hoop and also hitting some deep balls. Gibbs has been decent offensively after a rough junior season, scoring 12 points per game and shooting 39% from deep while also chipping in 3.6 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 1.6 steals per contest. However, he is still struggling in terms of efficient shooting, making only about 35% of his shots overall.
Hubb, meanwhile, has improved for sure since last year, currently averaging 9.9 points, 2.3 rebounds, and a team-leading 4.4 assists while running point and playing very solid defense on the perimeter. He’s even improved his shooting a great deal from 2018, increasing his overall shooting percentage from 32% to 41% and his 3-point shooting from 26% to 32%.
Aside from Mooney, Gibbs, and Hubb, the Irish will need at least one more player to step up offensively and help keep the Irish in it. That firepower will likely need to come from either Laszewski (if he can knock down some threes) or Dane Goodwin, who has been another greatly improved player so far in 2019 — he’s averaging 10.9 points, 2.7 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 51% shooting, and 48% 3-point shooting this season after averaging 6.4 points, 3.2 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 38% shooting, and 34% 3-point shooting in 2018.
Look for Rex Pflueger to mainly focus on shutting down Maryland players on the defensive end and snagging rebounds — as the 5th-year senior has looked excellent defensively in coming back from his torn ACL in 2018. He may even be able to chip in some help on offense, considering he’s scoring 7.3 points and dishing out 3.4 assists per contest this year.
It’d be nice for the Irish to get some quality minutes from Robby Carmody as well, as the sophomore wing has been a great energy guy off the bench in 2019, averaging 5.5 points, 1.5 rebounds, and 0.8 steals in just 13.8 minutes per game.
Also, one last quick note related to ND men’s hoops: sophomore forward Chris Doherty, once considered a 5-year-plan player who had to burn his freshman year due to injuries and depth issues in 2018, will be transferring out of South Bend at the end of this semester.
#NotreDame coach Mike Brey announces PF Chris Doherty will transfer...leaving school at semester— Tom Noie (@tnoieNDI) December 3, 2019
Tom Noie published an article detailing a little more about the situation, as it sounds like a mix of homesickness and playing time frustration are the main reasons for the transfer that brings the total of players who’ve left Mike Brey’s program over the last 2.5 years to 4 (Matt Ryan, Elijah Burns, D.J. Harvey).
This will leave the 2019-2020 Fighting Irish with 9 scholarship players before they get an influx of guys next year with transfer Cormac Ryan and incoming freshmen Matt Zona and Elijah Taylor (but will also lose John Mooney, T.J. Gibbs, and Rex Pflueger to graduation).
Terrapin to Watch
Jalen Smith, Forward, Sophomore
The Irish have a number of guys they can toss at Anthony Cowan Jr. to try to slow him down on the perimeter, whether it’s Prentiss Hubb or T.J. Gibbs or even Rex Pflueger if Cowan is physically dominating the smaller guys. But Smith is a monster down low and the Irish don’t necessarily have great post defenders who will be able to stop him, so he’s likely due for a very strong day.
Mooney is super experienced and tough, but also has to help carry the offensive load, and Nate Laszewski plays strong at times but can still be bullied by stronger opponents due to his thin frame. Juwan Durham will be especially important in this regard — as a rim protector and shot-blocker, he will need to bring his A-game in those arenas while also showing some real strength and toughness as Smith backs him down on the block.
How dominant Smith is able to be around the rim — both offensively and defensively — will likely determine if the Terps blow the Irish out of the water, or if ND hangs around and has a chance to pull off the upset down the stretch.
Nate Laszewski, Forward, Sophomore
Even forgetting the help he will need to provide down low in dealing with Jalen Smith and co., Laszewski needs to start consistently hitting his long-range shots to give the Irish an offensive boost and a very tough match-up for opposing big men.
If Laszewski can stretch the floor a bit and take Maryland big men away from the hoop, it will go a long way in opening things up on the block for John Mooney and at the rim for any Irish players slashing to the basket. Lasz needs to knock down some shots and play tough, smart defense down low if the Irish want to have a chance at the upset.
I think Notre Dame will hang around in this one similar to the North Carolina game, keeping it close until the final 10 minutes thanks to their defense and some key buckets from guys like Gibbs and Goodwin and Laszewski, plus the typical 15-and-10 from Mooney.
However, Maryland is too long and athletic and talented for the Irish to be able to keep up the entire time, and I think the Terps pull away down the stretch as Anthony Cowan Jr. and Jalen Smith simply wear down the guys guarding them.
Maryland wins this one 78-66.