For most of the season, Michigan seemed like the most unlikely of the 2013 Final Four teams to get back to the national semifinal. Wichita State was a No. 1 seed, Louisville entered the NCAA Tournament as one of the favorites, and Syracuse was undefeated for the first three-plus months of the season.
But John Beilein did an unbelievable job with the Wolverines, guiding them to a Big Ten regular-season championship – and to the doorstep of the Final Four, falling just short when Kentucky's Aaron Harrison buried a contested 3-pointer in the final seconds of the Elite Eight.
Compared to this season, getting next season's Michigan team back to this spot is a walk in the park. Beilein had to replace Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. from last season's national finalist, and there is only one departing senior on this year's team, big man Jordan Morgan.
In reality, of course, it won't be easy. There will be tense times in the coming weeks for Michigan fans.
Unfortunately for Michigan, the potential loss of Nik Stauskas looms large. Stauskas entered the season as a role player who needed to step up – and all he did was become an All-American and one of the most dangerous scorers in the country. While doing that, Stauskas also played himself into the first round of the NBA draft, and could land in the late lottery if things fall his way. He hasn't officially announced one way or the other, but Stauskas' stock is certainly high enough for him to leave.
Mitch McGary is the second decision that could shape the 2014-15 Wolverines. He was a likely first-round pick after last season, but returned for his sophomore campaign and saw his stock take a dip. More importantly, he injured his back and hasn't played since December. Because of that, there is a chance McGary could return for his third season in Ann Arbor.
And what about Glenn Robinson III? The sophomore forward considered leaving after last season, but returned with McGary. And like McGary, he got off to a tough start – but Robinson played extremely well down the stretch. His athleticism and ability to finish in transition are attractive, but the ability to get his own shot remains a question mark.
Michigan could survive the departure of Stauskas and still be in position to compete for another Big Ten title. But losing Stauskas and McGary would be tough, and that could be the likely scenario.
Derrick Walton will return at the point guard spot, and he will be improved with a year under his belt. Caris LeVert emerged as a potential go-to-guy on the perimeter as a sophomore, while freshman Zak Irvin showed the ability to be a consistent wing scorer off the bench. If Stauskas leaves, Irvin could be the guy who benefits the most. Spike Albrecht is also back as a reserve.
There will also be more wing help on the way, in the form of small forward Kameron Chatman, a 6-foot-7 prospect from the state of Oregon. He chose the Wolverines over Arizona, and his ability to rebound at both ends will be a major asset. He could play in the Glenn Robinson III role, attacking the glass with his athleticism and length.
Up front is obviously where McGary's potential departure would hurt. Jordan Morgan has done an admirable job replacing him on the inside, but Morgan is gone too. Jon Horford returns, but that's obviously not the same. Incoming freshmen D.J. Wilson and Ricky Doyle aren't ready to be starters from day one.
A tandem of Robinson and McGary would be among the best frontcourt duos in the Big Ten. Robinson seemed to adept to his position and role more as the season progressed, but he will need a legitimate big man next to him up front. Can Horford be that guy?
If Stauskas leaves, it won't be easy for Michigan – as he went this season, the Wolverines went. If Stauskas and McGary both leave, things get even more difficult. But given what Beilein did after Burke and Hardaway Jr. left, there should always be optimism in Ann Arbor.