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ACC Roundup

UNC wins ugly against Kentucky, while Notre Dame gets back on course with a victory over IU.

Unable to play, UNC's PJ Hairston watches the action with some concern, but his Tar Heels still beat Kentucky
Unable to play, UNC's PJ Hairston watches the action with some concern, but his Tar Heels still beat Kentucky
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The UNC-Kentucky series has become one of the really compelling ones in college basketball and while Saturday's game may not have been one of the great ones in recent years, it made a number of things clear.

First, while UNC's struggles may not yet be over, the team is heading in the right direction.

And Kentucky, now by near-universal acclamation, is overrated. Just ask John Calipari.

"We're not a good team because everything, our emotion, is all based on our individual play instead of our team play. Like, 'We just got a great stop, let's all five chest each other and let's go nuts.' We're not close to that right now.

"Our stuff is all based on, 'Did I miss a free throw? Did I get beat on the dribble? Did I miss a shot? Did I turn it over?'"

Five chest? Did we miss something? Now that would be a post playing beast!

Anyway, he has a better feel for his team than anyone else could, but John Clay of the Lexington paper agrees, saying that

"...[T]he Cats boast the type of individual talent that makes the recruiting analysts go ga-ga, that makes agents see dollar signs, that makes the pro scouts drool.

"But what this young Kentucky team has in talent, it lacks in the understanding of what it takes to play with focus and intensity, of what it takes to be a team.

"And while Saturday was UK's first true road test this season, it's also true that this is not a great North Carolina team, nor one that played a great game Saturday."

That's pretty close to spot-on. But while the Lexington paper (not Clay though) focused on fouls as a reason for the loss, the reason is much simpler.

UNC is missing a lot. It's a team without its best player, with a valuable senior marksman benched as well, a point guard (Paige) out of position because PJ Hairston is sitting out, a forward in James Michael McAdoo who has essentially played out of position his entire career, two centers who are both for various reasons incomplete players, JP Tokoto who while improving fast is still more athlete than basketball player, and the star freshman recruit barely getting off the bench.

Did we mention the acting point guard is a freshman?

UNC is playing far better than the sum of its parts because, at least right now, the Heels are showing tremendous heart.

Is their erratic play behind them? We'll see. The next five games are all interesting. Texas is playing reasonably well and Rick Barnes has no love for UNC. Davidson is always dangerous and capable of catching a team napping during the holidays. Northern Kentucky - well, we take it back. This one should be a cakewalk.

And then UNC-W, where not only does Buzz Peterson know the UNC program inside out, but he also has giant slayer Eddie Biedenbach on staff.

And after that, UNC gets a vastly improved Wake Forest at Wake to start the ACC season.

Now the question for UNC is this: assuming the Heels get Hairston back, how will he fit in? Obviously he's the best player, but everyone's minutes and roles will change. As Kentucky can tell you now, chemistry is absolutely critical.

Clearly, this is not last year's Indiana team. No matter for Notre Dame. This was a really big win, coming as it does after some very poor outings lately.

It may not be season-turning but it does punch the button to stop the elevator to the bottom the Irish appeared to be riding. It helps with confidence as well.

Jerian Grant had 23 points and nine assists, while Pat Connaughton had 14 in the second half.

Playing in Indy rather than Assembly Hall, Notre Dame had to really earn this one, and they did. That's nothing but good news for Mike Brey's team.

But what the hell happened in College Park? Maryland flirted with disaster in letting FAU hang around until the last minute. Here's how close it was: Maryland was up 62-59 when FAU's Marquan Botley missed a layup with just 1:11 to go.

Mark Turgeon was worried about a trap game, fine.  Consider this: the Terps beat an apparently awful BC team by just eight, lost to GW, lost badly to Ohio State and barely beat Providence. The Terps are 7-4, with losses to Oregon State and GW. ACC play will not be easy. Where do the wins come from? This is a team which needs some serious improvement. Bear in mind that FAU is just 3-8 when you see this:

Maryland shot just 39.7%, with almost a third of 63 shots taken taken from three point range due to FAU's zone. Of the 25 shots hit - with nine of them threes - 18 came with assists.

That's pretty poor considering that nine of the assists came from outside.

The Terps shot just 12 free throws. They won the rebounding war 40-24 and had eight blocks.

We didn't see the game, but the stats tend to suggest a passive effort, perhaps due to a quick turnaround after BC.

State had its annual Heritage Game in Reynolds and barely won, but win they did, sending Detroit back to the Motor City with an 82-79 loss.

Starting for the Titans and born just a couple of months before the Fab Five lost the title to Duke in 1992: Juwan Howard, Jr., who led Detroit with 24 points.

TJ Warren continued his stellar early season play, scoring 29 on 9-14 from the floor and 10-14 from the line. Warren is averaging 22.6 ppg and 7.1 rpg. Warren's shooting is considerably off from last year, down from 62.2% to 54%, but that is likely because he's shooting more and now the focal point of the offense. His free throw shooting however, is way up, from 54.2% to 78.8%.

If Pitt, Maryland and Clemson all played weak opponents, then how do you explain Clemson's holding Furman to just 35 points?

Furman made just 13 baskets and was held to 30.3%. Worth mentioning: Clemson is now starting KJ McDaniels, who may be as good as anyone in the ACC, Rod Hall and Jordan Roper at the guards, and Ibrahim Djambo and Landry Nnoko, both 6-10, both from Africa, down low.

Djambo weighs 215 but Nnoko weighs 250 and in his bio picture on Clemson's site it looks as if he may go Bruce Banner and shred his suit at any moment. The guy is just huge.

Neither is hugely productive offensively. Nnoko is averaging 4 ppg and 6.6 rpg while Djambo is scoring 2.8 ppg and 3 rpg.

But they're imposing and on defense that must make a difference. We remember watching Nnoko last year and thinking, man is that guy huge. If he ever learns how to play...

He's no Hakeem, but he's improving.

Interestingly, Clemson also is developing another African big man, Sidy Djitte, who is a 6-10, 240 native of Senegal. We're not sure if fellow frosh Austin Ajukwa is an immigrant or a son of immigrants, but Clemson has at least three, possibly four African natives on the roster, which is the most we can recall in the ACC.

It also may suggest a way for Brad Brownell to get around some of the difficulties in recruiting at Clemson, and will probably also help the team's GPA, as African kids who come to the US for college usually work like hell to take advantage of the opportunity.

Anyway, keep an eye on the Tiger(s). Clemson appears poised to exceed expectations. And by the way, the Tigers now have the nation's top-rated defense.

Pitt demands respect for a 10-0 record, and indeed the Panthers did wash Youngstown out of town 91-73, but respect comes with quality wins and Pitt has precious few of those. Until they do: who cares?

On Sunday, Syracuse, keeping a Big East rivalry alive, takes on an improved St. John's while BC plays Philadelphia, apparently a D-II school. You'd hope they would win that one.