The Michigan Wolverines returned to the Final Four in 2013 for the first time in a decade. Next year, can they make it two trips in a row to the season's final weekend? Michigan's run ended this year in Atlanta with a championship game loss to Louisville, and despite losing star Trey Burke, the Wolverines will return some key pieces in 2014.
For more on the story, visit Maize n Brew
Here's what you need to know about the 2014 Wolverines:
2013 Record: 31-8, 12-6 Big Ten
2013 Postseason: Lost to Louisville in National Championship game
Key Returnees: Glenn Robinson III, So., F, (11.0 ppg, 5.4 rpg), Mitch McGary, So. F, (7.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg), Nik Stauskas, So., G, (11.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg), Spike Albrecht, So., G, (2.2 ppg), Jordan Morgan, Sr., F, (4.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg), Jon Horford, Jr., F, (2.7 ppg, 2.2 rpg), Caris LeVert, So., G, (2.3 ppg, 1.1 rpg)
Key Losses: Trey Burke (18.6 ppg, 6.7 apg, 3.2 rpg), Tim Hardaway Jr. (14.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 2.4 apg)
Key Additions: Zak Irvin (F), Derrick Walton (G), Mark Donnal (F)
Take away two talents like Burke and Hardaway Jr., and it's easy to write a team off completely. But what the Michigan Wolverines will get back in 2013-14 is just as important as what they will lose. McGary and Robinson III both announced they will return for their sophomore seasons to try and lead the Wolverines back to the Final Four. Stauskas, who rose to fame with a 22-point Elite Eight performance against Florida and that astounding shooting video, will also return for the Wolverines.
So there's little doubt that talented pieces remain for Michigan to make a run next year. The only question is whether or not those pieces can come together and fill the void that Burke and Hardaway leave behind. Early on, it appears as if McGary will become that go-to presence the Wolverines will need to rely on. After an inconsistent start, McGary exploded in the NCAA Tournament to average over 14 points and 10 rebounds per game. That follows what was a meteoric rise up the recruiting charts a year ago to land at Michigan, so McGary is no stranger to quick improvement.
Robinson will also be asked to fill a larger role in 2014. He showed flashes of pure brilliance last year, but will need to bring his A game consistently for the Wolverines to match their 2013 success. A team led by McGary, Robinson and Stauskas will allow guys such as Morgan and Albrecht to play key supporting roles. Morgan struggled down the stretch, but still scored in double figures several times during the regular season and notched three double-doubles. Championship game first-half hero Spike Albrecht will also need to contribute a little more. It would be unreasonable to consistently expect the three-point shooting barrage he had an Atlanta, but the occasional spark could go a long way.
And that's not even mentioning the intimidating recruiting class Michigan has coming in. Coach John Beilein has secured commitments from three four-star prospects, including Irvin, an athletic 3 who can hit from long range. Walton and Donnal join Irvin. Both are not quite as well known, but Walton should be able to back up Stauskas with quality minutes while Donnal will look to do the same for Michigan's bigs.
It's hard to say exactly how much Michigan will suffer without Burke and Hardaway. Though the two became the team's backbone during their magical March run, the Wolverines have certain leadership heading into next year. We'll find out how far this group can go once January rolls around and teams such as Ohio State, Michigan State and Indiana show up on the schedule.