UNC a Popular Pick for 2016 NCAA Championship Despite Sanctions

Steven Suarez

Friday, June 19, 2015 12:05 PM GMT

A lot is still uncertain with regards to the academic fraud & sanctions the UNC Tar Heels will face, but we can still take a look at how this might affect the team's college basketball odds.

Some troubling accusations have come out about North Carolina, involving academic fraud at a rampant and damning level. The NCAA is reportedly still investigating and we've still got a ways to go before a final resolution is handed out, but it's clear that the Tar Heels are going to be hampered by whatever punishment they receive. They already have been hampered.

Of course, we'll continue to see more and more speculation, and it's only going to get uglier until we hear the final word from the NCAA. Whatever the case, it's not going to end well for North Carolina, and we can look to Jim Boeheim and the Syracuse Orange, who were who were handed severe punishments for similar infractions.

Are these looming sanctions having a big effect on the program already?

The short answer? Most definitely. There have already been recruits that have turned down offers from UNC, as they don't want to take on a chance knowing that there's a legitimate possibility the program will be bogged down with sanctions shortly after joining. 

Take Brandon Ingram for instance, who chose rival Duke over UNC, despite publically stating his big-time interest in joining up the Tar Heels early on in the process. Considering Ingram is one of the top overall recruits in the country, it has to be an increasingly frustrating situation for North Carolina, not knowing what's to come and losing out on top-notch talent in the process.

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2015 Season: What's To Come
Despite all of the commotion going on, coach Roy Williams will still have a talented group to lead for the new season, this after the team finished 26-12 and wound up in the Sweet Sixteen, where they lost to Wisconsin.

Various outlets have priced out North Carolina as one of the biggest favorites to win it all in 2015, with oddsmakers, with the Tar Heels priced evenly with none other than Kentucky at roughly +800 on the college basketball odds. They're ahead of the likes of Maryland, Duke, Kansas, Gonzaga, Michigan State and Iowa State among a host of others. 

So, as you can see, there's still reason for optimism for Tar Heels fans heading into the season. 

Why is UNC in such a good spot? A huge chunk of talent is returning, with J.P. Tokoto really the only notable player whose absence will be felt at the school. 

It all starts with point guard Marcus Paige, who should finally be back to full strength and ready to close out his college career in style. He dealt with a lot of pain in his junior season, but he should be good to go for his senior year, and we've seen how much of an impact he can have on the basketball court. 

The likes of Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks and Justin Jackson will all be back too, and including Paige, that's UNC's four highest scorers from the 2014 season. Johnson and Meeks contributed offensively and also on the glass, both averaging at least 7.3 rebounds each, and Jackson showcased his smooth offensive game as just a freshman. The 6-8 Jackson will undoubtedly get stronger (just 190 pounds) and should have a big-time impact as a sophomore. Theo Pinson also figures to get involved more, especially now that Tokoto, a player in a similar mold, is no longer around.

It's a good thing Williams has a great nucleus returning, as the incoming recruiting class is lackluster at best; the school failed to grab any five-star recruits, a troubling sign of what could be to come.

Nonetheless, the immediate future isn't so dark for the Tar Heels with such a talented group set to challenge for the title. That being said, the implications of the punishments they could face could have a damaging long-term effect on the top sports programs at the university.

Only time will tell just how severe the sanctions will be.