P.J. Hairston, right, will be one of several key pieces behind another potentially deep NCAA tournament run for …From now until Saturday evening, the college basketball spotlight will glare almost entirely on four programs — Those fortunate enough to advance to the Final Four in New Orleans.
But there were four other programs which came so tantalizingly close, getting right to the doorstep of the game's biggest stage, but now have to live with that until the 2012-13 season tips off.
North Carolina. Baylor. Syracuse. Florida. They might have longer offseasons ahead than anyone.
Here's a look at how they might look a bit different come next October, and what they'll need to do to bust through the regional final door next March.
Would a healthy Kendall Marshall have gotten North Carolina over the hump against Kansas on Sunday in St. Louis? Maybe. We'll never know.
In the end, it was simply the last in a long line of brutal injuries that the Tar Heels had to absorb along the way, with this one being too big to overcome, despite freshman Stilman White playing decent ball in two games in Marshall's place.
Now, what happens with the UNC roster?
John Henson, Harrison Barnes and Marshall all have stay-or-go decisions to make over the next week, and losing Tyler Zeller to graduation is a huge blow to the frontcourt, but with mass defections, Roy Williams' club will still be set up for big success.
The biggest take here is that the Heels are not dropping off on the recruiting trail, which will keep the talent level strong. The key for Carolina next season might simply be avoiding the injury bug, which was unusually cruel to Roy Williams' program this season.
Had it not shown up, UNC is probably still playing. But that's basketball.
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Two years ago, Baylor had a tough time maintaining the steam from an Elite Eight run that was fueled by a lottery pick in Ekpe Udoh and several key senior pieces.
Despite an overall underwhelming NCAA tournament showing, sophomore wing Perry Jones III will likely be a lottery pick, too, this June, star freshman Quincy Miller might head that way, too, and Baylor also loses an emotional lynchpin in senior forward Quincy Acy.
Scott Drew is starting to clean up annually in terms of landing elite-level recruiting classes, and his 2012 crop is no different. He'll get some point guard depth with L.J. Rose, and another long, athletic, big man in Isaiah Austin, among others.
The key now for Baylor is finding some consistency, as it is sort of becoming the Kentucky of middle America. John Calipari finds a way to get his young teams with plenty of roster turnover to come together and win big year-in and year-out. Can Drew discover the same formula?
Next year's Baylor squad will have no excuses, even if both Miller and PJ3 bolt.
Two straight Elite Eight exits for the Gators, but they seem like a strong candidate to at least be on the Final Four's doorstep yet again next March.
Losing senior point guard Erving Walker will be big, and a lot depends on who is behind him through the door — most notably his wingmen. Freshman gunner Bradley Beal could turn out to be a one-and-down, while junior Kenny Boynton has a decision to make, too.
If all three are gone, by some chance, the Gators have to replace three of their top four 3-point threats.
But, with Billy Donovan's incoming class, Florida will still have a wealth of options in the backcourt. What happens in the frontcourt is going to be far more interesting.
Rapidly improving Patric Young will be back as a junior, and sophomore Will Yeguete is slated to come back from a season-ending knee injury. Also, 6-foot-10 Erik Murphy will be around still, too. But Donovan and his staff are still wanting to add one more elite big man. They tried hard to land Pitt transfer and former McDonald's All-American Khem Birch back in December before he ultimately chose UNLV, and now the top target is another Canadian in 6-foot-7 powerhouse Anthony Bennett.
Either way, Florida will be fine.
Syracuse probably has the most questions lingering of any of the Elite Eight teams headed home early.
Losing Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph to graduation means a ton both in terms of production and leadership. The Orange also loses a key young star in sophomore guard Dion Waiters, who is bound for the NBA draft.
Also, what happens with Fab Melo this offseason? His untimely suspension due to eligibility issues before the NCAA tournament dealt a major blow to Syracuse's vaunted 2-3 zone, which wasn't nearly as strong as it had been all year in the middle.
If he doesn't come back, it means that returners Baye Keita and Rakeem Christmas will have plenty of work ahead of them to fill those shoes.
Along with those two, Michael Carter-Williams will also be under the microscope as a sophomore, expected to pick up plenty of slack in the backcourt alongside senior-to-be Brandon Triche.
On the bright side, Syracuse likely won't have nearly as many off-court distractions to work past next season as it did this year, when the Orange still went 34-3 despite it all.