NCAA Tournament First Round: Chippewas, Spartans duke it out for first time since 2005

Central Michigan coach Sue Guevara watches as her team practices on March 22 at the Joyce Center in South Bend for the NCAA Tournament.

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Of Sue Guevara's 11 games against Michigan State, all came when she was the coach at Michigan from 1996-2003.

Guevara has won six times in her career against the Spartans, but now she aims to nab a victory with Central Michigan in the NCAA Tournament.

No. 8 Central Michigan (25-7) and No. 9 Michigan State (20-11) face off for the first time in the Guevara era at 1 p.m. March 23 at the Joyce Center in South Bend, Indiana. 

The pair of programs, separated by 65 miles, last took the court back in December 2005 when  Eileen Kleinfelter was in charge of the Chippewas. The Spartans won, 75-50.

Kleinfelter is long gone, and this is Guevara's team now.

A lot has changed in 14 years.

"We're here to compete, we're here to win," Guevara said. "We're ready to play."

Throughout the 2018-19 season, the Chippewas took on six teams that are now playing in the NCAA Tournament: Louisville, Miami, South Dakota State, Quinnipiac, UCF and Buffalo.

One thing that each program has in common is talented guard play. Michigan State has much of the same in Shay Colley and Taryn McCutcheon, but the Spartans also have a special player in 6-foot-4 center Jenna Allen.

Stopping the stretch five star

To go with her ability to back down defenders and score inside, Allen is the second best 3-point shooter for Michigan State, converting 38.1 percent of the time. She averages 12.6 points and 6.6 rebounds per game.

In order to stop Allen, Guevara said the Chippewas need to keep a close eye on her in transition. Against a normal center, post players like senior forward Reyna Frost or freshman center Jahari Smith have the luxury of being able to wait for the opposition in the paint.

It doesn't work like that with Allen due to her ability to shoot the 3-point jumper.

"She gets them going," Guevara said. "She takes that ball out, if you are defending in transition, you can't go in the middle of the paint and wait for her to come down there because she isn't coming. You better get to the top of the 3-point arc, and as she comes, you better pick her up."

Central Michigan guard Micaela Kelly gets ready to shoot at practice on March 22 at the Joyce Center, home of the NCAA Tournament first and second round.

If there's a situation where a guard like senior Presley Hudson, sophomore Micaela Kelly or sophomore Maddy Watters has to pick up Allen on the outside, Guevara expects Michigan State's star to back down whoever is defending her.

Once that happens, Guevara stressed the need for help defense.

"If we have a guard up there and she starts backing her down, you know we better get some help," Guevara said.

Of Michigan State's 31 games, Allen scored in double figures on 21 occasions, including a 27-point performance in an upset win over Oregon on Dec. 9. In that game, she was 11-of-14 from the field and 3-of-4 from downtown. 

Guevara has also focused in on Colley, a redshirt junior, and McCutcheon, a junior, at the guard positions. Colley averages 14.5 points per game and features the ability to steam-roll through defenders en route to the basket. Meanwhile, McCutcheon has made 75-of-194 shots from the 3-point line, serving as the Spartans' main outside threat.

Kelly is CMU's guard most often called upon to take on the toughest defensive challenge. Going up against Colley and McCutcheon, she's ready to turn defense into offense.

"Once you get stops, it turns into fast offense, so scoring becomes easy," Kelly said. "If you can lock down mentally and move your feet, it becomes fun." 

Hudson hopes the defensive presence provided by her and Kelly can keep Michigan State's guards out of the paint.

"They are quick and can drive, but they can also shoot," Hudson said. "Making them take tough shots is important."

Central Michigan forward Reyna Frost scores a layup at practice on March 22 at the Joyce Center, home of the NCAA Tournament first and second round.

Merchant speaks highly of Chippewas

When Merchant found out she'd be taking on Central Michigan, she had a half-smile on her face. The Chippewas are her alma mater, as the former guard played in Mount Pleasant from  1987-91.

After her half smile, she thought to herself, "Uh oh."

"I don't think they shy away from anyone," Merchant said of CMU. "They're prepared for the postseason and moments like this."

Merchant is tasked with taking Central Michigan down, and it's seldom teams are able to get that job done. Toppling the Chippewas starts with containing Frost and Hudson.

"She's a million times the player I ever was," Merchant said of Hudson. "She blew my assist record out of the water, and she's a 2,000-point scorer. I couldn't even make a layup, and this kid is shooting it from the parking lot."

Hudson, described as a crafty player with special talent by Merchant, averages 20.4 points per game and shoots 38.2 percent from the parking lot. She holds the all-time program record for points (2,289) and assists (638).

Right alongside Hudson is Frost, who holds Central Michigan's all-time record for rebounds with 1,519. She averages a double-double with 21.8 points and 13.5 rebounds per contest. To put it in perspective, Allen's only recorded three double-doubles throughout her entire four-year career for the Spartans.

"They're a tremendous program," Merchant said. "They are very skilled kids and score a lot of points."

Game Information

No. 8 Central Michigan vs. No. 9 Michigan State

Tip-off: 1 p.m. Saturday, South Bend, Indiana


Records: Central Michigan 25-7; Michigan State 20-11