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Andy Katz | NCAA.com Correspondent | August 1, 2018

14 questions facing the A-10 conference this season

The college basketball season will be here faster than you know it. And it's never too early to be thinking about your March Madness bracket. To help you out, we are going to break down each conference with storylines to know, predictions and power rankings ahead of the upcoming season. 

Here is our preview of the A-10 conference:

14 storylines to watch this season:

1.What are the chances Kellan Grady becomes an all-American? Grady is the most talented player at Davidson since Steph Curry. He looks up to Curry. But he knows he’s nowhere near the talent level of Curry right now. All he needs to be is the best player on Davidson and preferably the top player in the A-10. He has the potential to do just that and has a coach in Bob McKillop who can feature him appropriately. Grady is embracing the role and the responsibility. If he meets these expectations then the Wildcats will be an A-10 champ during the regular season, rather than having to wait until the A-10 tournament like they did last March.

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2. How soon will Saint Joseph’s mesh? The Hawks haven’t been this healthy and/or ready to challenge for a league title since 2016. Injuries have stunted this team’s growth the past few seasons. Saint Jospeh’s coach Phil Martelli needs to see how Charlie Brown and Lamarr Kimble blend with Taylor Funk, Anthony Longpre and Pierfrancesco Oliva. Brown missed all last season with a fractured left wrist while Kimble was out for all but one game with a foot injury. If the pair comes back to their potential and mesh with the returnees then the Hawks can fly again near the top of the league.

3.What are the chances Saint Louis is ready for prime time? The Billikens finished 9-9 in the A-10 and one game over .500 overall. The expectations are high. Saint Louis has a potential all-league player in Jordan Goodwin. The key will be how the transfers blend in: Dion Wiley (Maryland), Tramaine Isabell Jr. (Drexel) and Luis Santos (South Florida). The talent is in place for Saint Louis to make a huge jump and be a team that can make an NCAA tournament run. But this team may be more primed to win the A-10 tournament once it has months to get together and in sync.

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4. How will Fatts Russell handle being a consistent scorer for Rhode Island? Russell was one of the more exciting players in the league last season. But he came off the bench. Jeff Dowtin could be the all-league player for URI. But Russell needs to be an anchor with Dowtin. The Rams had Jared Terrell and E.C. Matthews to bail them out of any possessions gone awry. New coach David Cox, a former assistant to Dan Hurley, loves Russell’s energy and enthusiasm. He can change the narrative of the game by his presence. But he will need to ensure he’s productive too for the Rams to be back in the mix for a bid.

5. How soon before VCU causes havoc again? This is Mike Rhoades’ gig now. He had a decent first season with the Rams, but didn’t get them into the postseason. Getting Rhoades to come back to VCU from Rice was a huge coup for the Rams. Will Wade went to LSU following two NCAA tournament seasons with the Rams, leaving the program in need of a lift. Unfortunately for Rhoades the expectations are exceedingly high for the Rams on a regular basis. He can get them over the hump. He just needs time. Losing Justin Tillman off last season’s team means there will be a transition in the go-to role.

6. What are the chances Luwane Pipkins can deliver an NCAA tournament bid for the Minutemen? Pipkins is no joke. He averaged 21 points a game last season. But he can go off. He went for 44 in an overtime win against La Salle, 38 in a loss against VCU and closed the season with 31 points against George Mason in the A-10 tournament. Pipkins could end up being the A-10 player of the year if he can lead the league in scoring and challenge Grady and Davidson for the title. That’s asking a lot from him but nothing is out of reach. Pipkins could receive plenty of help if the transfers all work out: Jonathan Laurent (Rutgers), Kieran Hayward (LSU) and Keon Clergeot (Memphis).

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7. How soon into the season will Richmond find consistency? The Spiders have two potential all-league players in Jacob Gilyard and Grant Golden. The Spiders started the season 1-8 and were in free fall before a course correction. Richmond turned its season around with some surprising road results, winning at VCU, Duquesne and then Davidson. The Spiders have no business starting the season like that again. If Richmond wants to be in contention (the Spiders finished 9-9 in the A-10) then the onus will be on Gilyard and Golden to lead this team early.

8. How could the Bonnies possibly be back in the postseason mix without Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley? Well, have you paid attention to a Mark Schmidt-coached team? Schmidt continues to maximize his talent. The next in line to shine for the Bonnies is likely the third option last season — Courtney Stockard. He averaged 13 points a game. Could he average near 20? Maybe. Nothing would shock me with the Bonnies. And if there is a minor dip, that’s OK, too. The Bonnies don’t fade away under Schmidt.

9. How close is George Mason to a breakthrough season? Very. Dave Paulsen has the squad he needs to make a run up the A-10 standings. He’s got an A-10 player of the year candidate in Otis Livingston II. He was second team all-league last season but should be a lock for first. Add in Virginia transfer Jarred Reuter and the Patriots may have the necessary experience to move up in the conference. The Patriots closed out well, winning three of its final six games by three or fewer points. If the Patriots can keep that momentum going then they may be this season’s Davidson — a team that continues to get better and better.

10. How soon before Anthony Grant has Dayton competing for the A-10 title? It may not be next season. But Grant has the goods in his skill set to get the Flyers back in contention atop the league and secure a NCAA tournament berth. The Flyers have a stud in Josh Cunningham, who could be a 20-point scorer. The Flyers need to get some roster stability that will come sooner rather than later. The Dayton fans are some of the best in the country. They believe in Grant. And the resurgence will/should occur within the next few seasons.

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11. How close is Duquesne from being consistency relevant? I think the Dukes are there now under Keith Dambrot. He was a winner at Akron. He is/will continue to be at Duquesne. The Dukes were one of the surprise teams last season a third of the way. Duquesne was 12-4 and 3-0 in the A-10. But then the wall hit and the Dukes skidded down the stretch, finishing 16-16 overall, 7-11 in the A-10. The unknown is how soon the transfers — Frankie Hughes (Missouri), Marcus Weathers (Miami of Ohio), Michael Hughes (Akron), Tavian Dunn-Martin (Akron) and Craig Randall II (Memphis) — make an impact.

12. When will Fordham find its stride? This is the great unknown. The Rams pulled off a mid-season stunner when they beat Duquesne in Pittsburgh. This is a Fordham team in flux that needs to find an offensive identity after averaging only 62.3 points a game. Finishing last at 4-14 and 9-22 overall puts a low bar for the Rams.

13. Who is George Washington’s go-to player? Yet again, an unknown at this point in the summer. The Colonials are in transition and new coach Mo Joseph is putting his stamp on the program. He made a quality decision in the hiring of Greg Paulus as an assistant. Joseph is easy to root for because of his infectious personality. And it would be good for the game for Joseph, 32, to succeed. Giving younger coaches a chance to lead programs like GW is needed.

14. How much will La Salle look like Villanova? New coach Ashley Howard was on the bench for the national champion Wildcats. Mimicking the Wildcat way is not a bad idea. There’s also always been enough talent to go around the Big Five to keep everyone competitive. La Salle is always a tough gig, no matter who is the head coach. Finding a niche at La Salle has been the way to go. And if it means being Nova light that may be the right call.

Early predictions:

NCAA bound: Davidson

On the bubble: Saint Joseph’s, Saint Louis, URI, George Mason, UMass.

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Here's our summer A-10 power rankings:

  1. Davidson
  2. Saint Joseph’s
  3. Saint Louis
  4. Rhode Island
  5. VCU
  6. UMass
  7. Richmond
  8. St. Bonaventure
  9. George Mason
  10. Dayton
  11. Duquesne
  12. Fordham
  13. George Washington
  14. La Salle

 

Here's our list for the First Team:

Kellan Grady, Davidson

Jeff Dowtin, Rhode Island

Otis Livingston II, George Mason

Jordan Goodwin, Saint Louis

Luwane Pipkins, UMass