No one certainly wanted the coronavirus pandemic to shut down last season's NCAA Tournament. The Richmond Spiders in particular did not want it to occur during the time frame that it did.
Richmond was entering March and the Atlantic 10 Tournament as winners of nine of their last 10 contests. Momentum and the national conversation had them as a team earning a rare at-large bid to the Big Dance and a team with few weaknesses. Richmond was going to be a team that no major conference team would want to face in the first or second round.
Alas, that was all taken away and what should have been an important offseason was definitely hindered too. Every single one of the players who played significant minutes for the Spiders last season returns. All five starters and the top-two bench stars are back to finish where they left off in March 2020. There are very few schools that can claim the experience and retention rate they do.
An injury to Nick Sherod does put a break in their sails. He provided a huge offensive load to the team, but there are more than enough stars that can fill in his gap.
Richmond sets up to be the favorite in the Atlantic 10 and one of the top mid-major programs in the country.
Here are the questions the Spiders have entering the season with much of their makeup
Can the Spiders take advantage of their experience?
So much excitement surrounding the Richmond program is due to the experience they are bringing back to the floor. Before Nick Sherod's injury, they were set to bring back their top-seven contributors (in terms of points and minutes) for the 2020-21 season.
In college basketball that is an incredible amount of consistency that is rarely seen year-over-year. Just because they bring everyone back, though, doesn't always mean that will carry over to the same type of success this upcoming season. Last year's Missouri squad is a prime example of that. On the flipside, Virginia turned a historic first-round exit into a national championship by having their whole roster return.
But in the Atlantic 10, Richmond cannot afford any trip-up losses. The Spiders will have a competitive nonconference schedule with their highlight contests against Kentucky and West Virginia. If they lose, there would be no shame in doing so. But then they are in the precarious spot where there aren't many places where they can afford another loss if they are seeking an at-large bid.
A handful of losses in the Atlantic 10 conference could also bump them out of the NCAA Tournament.
Of all years, this is the one that coaches will want to bring experience into the season. Teams without it will need weeks, perhaps months to get to mid-season form. The best way to take care of that is a hot start in the nonconference season and league play.
Will they overcome the loss of Nick Sherod?
The second official day of practice delivered a significant blow for the Spiders. Starting guard Nick Sherod will miss the entire 2020-21 season after suffering a torn right ACL.
Not only was he the team's top 3-point threat a year ago, but he was also the best long-range shooter in the Atlantic 10 shooting 43.8% from distance. That mark ranked 10th in the NCAA. He averaged 12.7 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.5 threes a game.
And while the team will miss his 3-point shooting, the biggest loss will be his consistency. The two full seasons he played with the Spiders, Sherod consistently brought home 10-plus points a night in nearly every contest. Of his 63 starts in 2017-18 and 2019-20, he reached double-figures in 42 of them. He also had a knack for hitting big shots -- especially when his teammates were struggling from the floor -- and was the second-best rebounder on the team.
Waiting in the wings will be junior Andre Gustavson, who was the primary guard off the bench last year. He averaged 4.4 points in nearly 20 minutes a game. That will be a big drop-off from Sherod's production, but there will be more than enough stars in the lineup to make up for that.
Losing Sherod shouldn't take the Spiders out of A-10 contention. It will possibly further open the door for St. Louis or Dayton to make a run at the league title. They will still win a lot of games and be in contention for the at-large bid.
If anything, his absence will be most notable at the end of games where defenses will have one less knock-down shooter to worry about.
Can Grant Golden establish himself as the best player in the league?
Point forward Grant Golden should be one of the favorites to win the Atlantic 10 Player of the Year honor this upcoming season. He's a unique talent that really isn't seen in the conference. He can handle the ball and direct the offense, but is a big man when he enters the paint.
His sophomore season was phenomenal, averaging 17.2 points, 7.1 rebounds and 3.5 assists a game. Golden was the marquee talent with an assortment of guards around him. For an assortment of reasons, better scouting from opponents, fewer minutes and letting other teammates produce, his averages were slightly down this past season.
The most surprising was his reduction in 3-point attempts -- from 54 (1.6 per game) to 19 (0.7). It didn't affect the team. In fact, him taking fewer threes actually improved the flow of the offense. In doing so, Golden isn't able to showcase his full talents.
With Richmond, presumably, being such a dominant team with several stars, Golden might not be able to do enough to separate himself from the other all-league contenders. Bringing back that 3-point game, which might be head coach Chris Mooney's doing -- may be possible with the loss of Sherod. It may be the ultimate difference in turning him into the Player of the Year and perhaps a NBA Draft prospect.