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UNC, Syracuse, and the 800 lb. NCAA Gorilla

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Hey, did you know North Carolina and Syracuse have had recent NCAA troubles? Because if you didn't, plenty of national sportswriters were happy to let you in on it.

The clock in Philadelphia hadn't even reached three zeroes when USA Today's Dan Wolken kicked things off with this tweet:

Shortly after the game ended, Fox Sports' Stewart Mandel joined the chorus:

Not to be outdone, Yahoo's Pat Forde offered up this:

Forde then doubled down and went this route:

Forde's article, rather than focusing on Syracuse's amazing comeback and UNC's offensive show, spent 750 words of a 1,000-word piece playing the scandal angle and laying down innuendo and playing loose with the facts that even Dan Kane would say "well, I wouldn't go that far."

As the possibility of a Carolina-Syracuse national semifinal became a reality, the chances that the NCAA storyline would be dominant went through the roof. And let's be completely fair, it is a legitimate story. How can it not be? Two Hall of Fame coaches, two national title-winning programs, one who just completed an NCAA infractions journey and one whose journey through the process seems interminable. No doubt it's a thing.

It should be no surprise that Wolken, Mandel, and Forde immediately went for the low-hanging fruit. UNC fans would certainly point out that none of those three would be confused for the Tar Heel-friendly media that ABC rivals complain about. But both Syracuse and UNC have compelling stories regarding their NCAA enforcement process experiences that are more deep and more nuanced than having the Committee on Infractions do the opening tip.

For the Orange in particular, their guilt by association with UNC has to be particularly frustrating. Syracuse self-imposed a post-season ban in 2015, holding a potential (though certainly not guaranteed) NCAA tournament team out of playoff consideration. Coach Jim Boeheim received a 9-game suspension during this season, when the team went 4-5 in his absence and suffered its worst losses of the season that might have kept them out of this year's tournament (Ironically Boeheim's first game back from suspension was vs. Carolina). In other words, Syracuse did the crime and did the time, both last season and this season. This amazing run to the Final Four could have been a story of redemption but because UNC not only also made the semifinals but will play the Orange, they will get lumped in with UNC's unresolved issues.

As for Carolina, of course the NCAA troubles are a worthy story. But they are no more a story in late March than they were in late October at the beginning of the season as the NCAA has made no movement towards resolution. There is not a single new thing to report about UNC's NCAA status that has changed over the course of the season, but there are fresh angles to write about how the NCAA investigation has changed the course of UNC's program. For instance, how the NCAA uncertainty led Brandon Ingram away from Chapel Hill is a more interesting - and more factually accurate - storyline than Forde's unfounded assertion that Carolina somehow manipulated the NCAA process in August to protect this season. Likewise, the frustration for UNC having to play Syracuse is that the NCAA troubles are now front and center, whereas they probably would have been but a footnote had the Heels played Virginia this coming Saturday night.

So UNC fans and Syracuse fans can both relish this Final Four trip but should also be prepared as the media hype machine goes into great detail about the 800-lb. gorilla in the room. Syracuse will take a ton of infractions jokes though the main part of their punishment has been served. Carolina will continue to get fake classes and academic swipes even though A) the last of the AFAM issues were over 4 years ago and basketball had disengaged from it even earlier and B) the face of the program, Marcus Paige, is a multiple-time academic All-American who is the furthest thing from an academic liability you will find in college athletics.

Both Syracuse and North Carolina had troubles with the NCAA. Syracuse has paid its price with the NCAA, while the Tar Heels have not yet had their judgment passed, though they have also paid a price. The takes will be hot over the next six days but none of this should take away from what the Orange have accomplished in this tournament and what Carolina has accomplished this entire season. If only that were allowed to be the case.