The Central Michigan Chippewas are looking to return to the NCAA tournament after making the Sweet 16 a season ago. A challenging non-conference schedule gave the Chippewas a perfect chance to put themselves in position for an at-large bid come selection time. They stumbled early against South Dakota State and then again yesterday against Tulane. In their final non-conference contest, the Chippewas had to face the number 24th ranked team in the country, the Miami Hurricanes, on their home floor. This was Central Michigan’s last chance to knock off a ranked major program and give themselves a shining star on their NCAA tournament resume’.
Miami built a lead early, but then the Chippewas started hitting their jumpers to build a double digit lead. Right before half, Miami hit a big bucket to keep it under 10. The second half went much like the first, with the home team coming out strong, but Central Michigan kept the lead before eventually ending the contest with free throws down the stretch. For much of the game, the Chippewas looked like the better team, with Miami trying to hang on at home.
There were quite a few things to take away from this game and the Chippewas non-conference schedule.
Central Michigan really misses Tinara Moore on both ends of the floor. Her presence inside on the offensive end was a steadying force. On the defensive end, the Chippewas struggle to keep the bigs off the glass up close. especially against the bigger schools with the better recruits. They must figure that out if they want to compete on the biggest stage. When the Chippewas looked their most impressive in this contest, they were running as a way to negate that lack of inside play.
There is a fine line between pushing the tempo and playing reckless. At times the Chippewas crossed that line, with Presley Hudson chucking up a trio of 28 footers. Micaela Kelly also was too aggressive at times. However, both players are absolute dynamos, and have swagger for days. Possibly the most important, and challenging, job of coach Sue Guevara’s career will be steering these two stars into better decisions, without taking away their attitude.
The Tulane loss could have been devastating to the Chippewas resume’, had they also dropped the Miami game. However there was a silver lining in that loss. Virtually the entire team struggled putting the ball into the basket against the Green Wave, with the exception of Kyra Bussell. She went 9 of 15 for 19 points and grabbed 8 rebounds. Bussell didn’t see much time last season, but did get a couple key minutes in Columbus as the Chippewas were making their Sweet 16 run, subbing in for a banged up Tinara Moore. Going into this season, there was a little more confidence in her game. Hopefully that performance will help her contribute more going forward. Bussell hit a couple of big threes in the Miami game, but she has only shot 14 on the season. Maddy Waters also had a big game for the Chippewas, scoring 14.
Central Michigan has their eyes on a bigger prize than just the MAC championship. They will need more than Kelly, Hudson, and Reyna Frost (who combined for 66 points in this game) and Bussell, Waters, and Jahari Smith are all around that 7 points per game mark. All three will need to contribute in an NCAA tournament run.
Overall, the Chippewas have been impressive this non-conference slate. They have also shown that they have the potential to get even better, which could lead to a run similar to last season.