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Friday, December 6, 2013
Expect an unpredictable season

By Dick Vitale
ESPN.com

Here we are in early December and college basketball has already displayed how unpredictable it can be.

For example, look at the Tar Heels of North Carolina. Seven games into their season, it has already been a roller-coaster ride for coach Roy Williams & Co.

The Tar Heels struggled against Holy Cross at home and lost to Belmont at the Dean Dome. Then they knocked off the defending national champion Louisville Cardinals on a neutral court, snapping coach Rick Pitino's 21-game win streak with an impressive win.

A week later, the Tar Heels struggled to put the ball in the basket and lost at UAB. So it's no wonder North Carolina was a prohibitive underdog heading into its next game, at No. 1 Michigan State. You know the Spartans are tough, well-coached and motivated by the loud crowd at the Izzone.

When it was all said and done, the Tar Heels showed a balanced attack, turned 14 MSU turnovers into 19 points, and cruised to a 79-65 victory.

That is the kind of the season it has been across college basketball. Expect the unexpected.

Look at some of the close calls. Who would have thought Vermont would be in position to stun Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium? That game went to the wire, but the Blue Devils won 91-90 on a late free throw. The Catamounts were 1-5 coming in.

Columbia of the Ivy League had Michigan State on the ropes in East Lansing until the last few minutes. Syracuse got a scare from St. Francis of Brooklyn. Drexel had a 19-point lead on Arizona before the Wildcats stormed back. The hits just keep on coming, baby!

What's the reason for all these Shock City results and close calls across the nation?

There are so many factors that determine winning basketball. You need balance, 3-point shooting and the ability to work together as a unit within the team concept. But you also need to understand the strengths and weaknesses of your talent. You need to have rhythm and play as a team.

That's not always easy. A lot of teams have returning veterans on their roster. But some have veterans learning to play with talented newcomers. Others have lost their best players early to the NBA draft and are rebuilding.

In North Carolina's case, some are pointing to the absence of P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald as a reason for the Tar Heels' inconsistency. But they managed to beat Louisville and Michigan State without those two players. Imagine how good they could be if they build some consistency and get one or both of them back.

I recently spoke to Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, and I think he put it best. Coach K said his team is not cohesive yet, but he thinks they can get there later in the season with experience. He added that many teams won't truly play together as a unit until league play rolls around in January.

Of course, there are exceptions. Arizona has a mix of returning players and newcomers, but the Wildcats have been cohesive with T.J. McConnell and Nick Johnson in the backcourt and Aaron Gordon leading the way in the frontcourt. The Wildcats impress me because they understand the role of each player and come through with exceptional team defense.

Put it all together and you have a special sport and the makings of an unpredictable season. I am celebrating my 35th season calling games and I love it.