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UNC Basketball: What if the NCAA investigation never happened?

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Roy Williams won the 2017 national title regardless of all the junk, but could he have won even more?

NCAA Basketball: Final Four-Practice Day Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

In case you haven’t picked up on the theme yet, this is “What if?” week. During this time we will discuss the various timelines in Carolina basketball history aside from the ones that we lived through, and in the process we may even figure out if we lived through the darkest timeline or the best one. This topic may be one that many of you saw coming, as it may be the most disruptive external event to ever rock the basketball program. That’s right, I’m talking about the NCAA Investigation.

For a quick history lesson: the NCAA Investigation was surrounding paper classes that were offered through the African-American Studies department that were deemed “fake” or “fraudulent” by, well, everyone that had something against UNC. The classes were said to be offered to athletes to help them pass their courses so that they could stay eligible, but take note of what I said in the previous sentence: the classes were available to the entire student body. Aside from that, recommending easy courses to any student is so far out of the NCAA’s reach that the investigation was laughable at best. Regardless, a lot of damage was done because of that investigation, whether it was reputation, recruiting issues, or just aging Roy Williams a few more years extra than he would’ve liked. The result? The NCAA couldn’t punish the program (though boy did they try), Carolina won the 2017 national championship, and later other schools got slammed by the FBI for a federal crime. It’s almost like the focus on UNC was completely misplaced. Imagine that.

So, how would this event never taking place have re-shaped Carolina history? Let’s take a look at a few bigger things that could’ve played out very different, and at the end I will let you the readers decide if we lived out one of the happier timelines.

The Brandon Ingram Saga

There was no bigger punishment delivered to Roy Williams and his staff than the NCAA dragging out the investigation process to unreasonable lengths. The investigation was so drawn out that recruits felt like the hammer to drop on the program and they wouldn’t be able to participate in the NCAA Tournament, so they steered clear of UNC altogether and played for other schools. The most notable of the bunch? Brandon Ingram.

Brandon Ingram was the third-best player in the country coming out of high school, and admitted to the fact that had it not been for the NCAA investigation he would’ve committed to the Tar Heels.

Considering that he was in the 2016 class, he would’ve been a lethal addition to what ended up being a Final Four UNC team that was one dadgum missed shot away from taking Villanova to overtime in the national championship game. Had the Heels had Ingram, one would like to think that this team would’ve had the last extra bit they needed to win the title.

However, maybe it’s not that simple? Brice Johnson became the main focal point of that particular team, and what I have been trying to figure out for the last four years is if Ingram’s presence would’ve disrupted everything that the Heels did well. One would like to think he’d be nothing but a positive addition, but it’s also hard to have such an elite high school player join a roster and not want more of the spotlight shined on him. We’ll never know how it really would’ve gone, but I’d like to think Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson would’ve left campus as champions.

The Story of Luke Maye

When Brandon Ingram opted to play for Duke, Roy Williams was left with two commits: Luke Maye and Kenny Williams. Williams was a four-star prospect, while Luke Maye joined the Tar Heels as a walk-on. Considering his walk-on status, it’s a reasonable bet that Maye would’ve still ended up in Chapel Hill had the NCAA investigation never transpired, but it’s extremely difficult to know for sure. Though, even if he did, does he get the playing time his freshman and sophomore seasons to become the player he eventually became?

I’d like to think there were two possible outcomes if Roy Williams’ recruiting process wasn’t handicapped: Maye would’ve either spent more time on the bench during both Final Four seasons, or maybe Williams doesn’t give Maye much attention at all on the recruiting trail. Either way, considering the fact that he is now one of Kentucky’s Most Wanted for hitting the game-winning shot in the 2017 Elite Eight game, it could be that the investigation never happening means that the 2017 title never happens. I don’t know if I’d want to live in a world that doesn’t make Wildcats fans salty hearing the “LUUUUKE” cry.

ABC Hostility

Man oh man, did the ABCers have a field day when the Weinstein Report released. I can’t even begin to discuss my amazement of how invested fans of other teams became in UNC’s suffering, and somehow it felt like their investment got even worse when the NCAA didn’t punish the program. I kid you not, I’ve muted the terms “UNCheat”, “fake classes”, and every other variation of the two on my Twitter because it got just that ridiculous, and it makes me wonder: would the trash talk be any better from ABCers if the NCAA never conducted an investigation?

I’m not just saying this because I’m a UNC fan, but I can’t even begin to think of what fans would even say about the team. Roy Williams is too old? Carolina blue is ugly? LeBron James is better than Michael Jordan? Seriously, if you have any idea what we’d be hearing right now, let us know in the comments below. It’s extremely hard for me to imagine such a timeline considering how out of control everyone got calling UNC cheaters. Any universe where this doesn’t exist is a happy one in my eyes, especially considering the fact that NC State fans would’ve had to resort to “Well, uh, yo mama!” rhetoric. By the way, they totally paid Dennis Smith Jr., which once again is bribery aka a federal crime. Just wanted to share that reminder.

In short, the NCAA investigation did a number on Carolina in a few different ways, but it’s actually a little tough to decide if things would be better if it didn’t happen at all. In some ways things would definitely be better, but the fact that a championship in the 2010s potentially could’ve never happened is what makes me wonder if things worked out exactly how they were meant to.

What do you think? Are you happy with how things turned out even though Roy Williams had to go through hell and back? Or would you be happy with the investigation never taking place? let us know in the comments below.