COLUMN: Same old success for women's basketball
Three close losses to top-tier opponents are the only aspect of the Central Michigan women's basketball season that separates it from an undefeated nonconference record.
What else is new?
A season ago, the Chippewas led by coach Sue Guevara, also had three losses at the end of nonconference play. The end result was a run to the 2018 NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen.
And to be honest, this campaign, not much is different – other than CMU loading up the nonconference with more powerhouse programs than ever before.
The Chippewas have the No. 1 strength of schedule in the Mid-American Conference and the third-highest rating percentage index (RPI). The reason for the impressive numbers is due to playing against South Dakota State, Western Kentucky, Virginia, Quinnipiac, Louisville and Miami (FL), of which all participated in the 2018 NCAA Tournament.
"We have the players I feel can compete and want to compete," Guevara said before the season. "Our nonconference, regardless of how we come out, doesn't matter. This schedule gets us ready for January, February and March.
"It's all about March."
CMU's only losses are to South Dakota State (80-71), No. 3 Louisville (72-68) and Tulane (68-57).
Replacing the post presence of star forward Tinara Moore, who departed due to graduation, has not been easy. Even Guevara will admit that.
However, the 12th-year leader of CMU has used a combination of sophomore forward Kyra Bussell and starting center Jahari Smith to fill her role. Surprisingly enough, it's worked well. Together, the duo averages 14.3 points and 9.3 rebounds per game.
The other difficulty was finding a replacement for Cassie Breen, who also graduated following the 2017-18 season. Her corner 3-point threat was lethal for the Chippewas a season ago. Like with Moore's departure, Guevara found an answer in sophomore guard Maddy Watters.
Watters has tossed in 7.3 points per contest, and she has made 22-of-54 3-pointers, good for a 40.7 percent mark. Breen's 3-point percentage last season was 38.8 percent.
Near the finish of CMU's 108-90 victory against Western Kentucky in Watters' second start on Nov. 17, senior guard Presley Hudson said she heard someone yell from the stands, "It looks like Cassie Breen out there, but that's Maddy Watters."
The same old, same old mentality lies within the "big three," as Guevara calls them – Hudson, senior forward Reyna Frost and sophomore guard Micaela Kelly.
Hudson paces the group with 21.1 points, 3.8 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game this season. Frost averages a double-double, pouring in an average of 16.9 points and 11.2 rebounds. Kelly is a dark horse, logging 14.8 points and shooting an impressive 45.6 percent from downtown.
In the MAC Championship game in the 2017-18 season, Kelly was 5-of-6 from 3-point range to help produce a career-high 26 points. After the game, she said she was a box that has yet to be opened.
Kelly is currently a star in the shadows of Hudson and Frost, but the philosophy of flying under the radar works for the Chippewas.
Guevara is well aware of that, as well.
“Presley gets so much attention that they don’t look at (Micaela),” Guevara said. “If you ever come to practice when she and Presley are on opposite teams, it’s a 3-point battle war.”