COLUMN: Women's basketball has serious questions to answer before next season
Sue Guevara has had it so, so good for the last four years.
Reyna Frost, Presley Hudson, Tinara Moore, Cassie Breen and many other top talents.
Back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances (2018-19) were produced for the first time since 1983-84, and the Central Michigan women's basketball team has become a national entity.
Now, there's a roadblock in the way, and Guevara needs to figure out how to get around it while continuing down the path of success.
Even without Moore and Breen due to their graduation, the Chippewas marched on to another NCAA Tournament, but they were unable to make a run this time.
Frost and Hudson, the heart and soul of the program, will never put on the maroon and gold jersey again. Their days walking into McGuirk Arena for a game are over. Hudson finished her career with all-time program records for points (2,309) and assists (643), while Frost obtains the rebounding record with 1,526.
Someone needs to fill those ginormous shoes. Or maybe, just maybe, a group of players will be enough.
Evaluating CMU's current roster, the 2019-20 starting lineup could be junior Micaela Kelly at point guard, junior Maddy Watters at shooting guard, senior Gabrielle Bird at small forward, junior Kyra Bussell at power forward and sophomore Jahari Smith at center.
There's still star power, as Kelly has shown her ability to take over the game at any given moment. Watters, when confident, shoots the ball better than anyone on the roster. Bussell is a true stretch four, able to knock down 3-pointers and back down defenders. Smith averaged 6.1 points and 4.4 rebounds as a 33-game starter, so she should be poised for a breakout sophomore season.
But none of those players can single-handedly replace Frost's 22.2 points and 13.3 rebounds per game average. Nobody can just recreate the 20.4 points and 5.9 rebounds Hudson delivered, let alone her leadership.
There's no way two players are going to emerge into the next Hudson or Frost in a matter of six months. It's not happening, and that's perfectly fine.
For the last two years, Guevara's rarely been called upon to use her bench. The Chippewas consistently used just five players in 2017-18. The following season, it was six.
Guevara developed players like Watters and Bussell into reliable pieces this past campaign, but who will step up next? In order to build on success without Hudson and Frost, there needs to be four players with the ability to step up off the bench at any given moment.
Expecting Kelly, Watters, Bird, Bussell and Smith to start, a few players that could arise are forward Samantha Robinson, guard Anika Weekes and forward Emari Bell.
The Chippewas also have newcomers entering the program in 5-foot-7 guard Molly Davis, 6-foot forward Shine Strickland-Gills and 5-foot-8 guard Kate McArthur.
Realistically, the chances of all three making an instant impact are slim, but Davis is someone Guevara has praised for her Hudson look-a-like type of play. Meanwhile, Strickland-Gills seems to be a long term replacement for Frost. Just like the Reese star, Strickland-Gills possesses the ability to rebound and score at will.
The four players Guevara could find herself bringing off the bench are Robinson, Weekes, Bell, Davis and Strickland-Gills. But, in order to do so, she is going to have to see the "dog" in them, Guevara's true measurement of being able to play Division I basketball.
Next season will be Guevara's 13th at the helm of Central Michigan, and there's no reason to doubt her.
Bench play will be key for the Chippewas in the 2019-20 season. It's Guevara's chance to get back to the drawing board and deliver once again.