Mount Pleasant — For the second straight season, Central Michigan women’s basketball is going dancing.
The Chippewas (25-7, 15-3 Mid-American Conference) were announced as the No. 8 seed in the Chicago Region, and the team will open the women's NCAA Tournament against No. 9 Michigan State (20-11, 9-9 Big Ten) at 1 p.m. Saturday in South Bend, Ind.
“We’re just really happy to be in,” said Central coach Sue Guevara, who already has six videos on her computer to scout MSU. “Our nonconference (schedule) prepared us for this.”
While last year’s Selection Monday was open to the public at Hunter’s Ale House in Mount Pleasant, it was a private event in the women’s basketball locker room this time.
A first-round win over Suzy Merchant’s Michigan State squad would give Central Michigan an opportunity to play against either No. 1 Notre Dame or No. 16 Bethune-Cookman University on Monday.
When Guevara was the Michigan's coach in 2001, she took the No. 8 Wolverines to a second-round matchup against the No. 1 Fighting Irish. Michigan lost that contest, 88-54.
Central played Notre Dame on Nov. 11, 2016 and was throttled, 107-47.
Guevara has ties to Michigan State, as she was an assistant coach for the Spartans under Karen Langeland from 1986-96 before accepting the job at Michigan.
“That was so long ago, but I do tell people, I grew up at Michigan State,” Guevara said. “I spent 10 years there and absolutely loved it there. I was with really good people. We’re just very happy to be playing a really good basketball team.”
Merchant also has ties to Central Michigan; that's where she played collegiately.
Central Michigan and Michigan State played three of the same opponents in the 2018-19 season — Bowling Green, Virginia and Oakland. Each went 3-0.
Guevera, after her Chippewas lost in the MAC Tournament semifinals to Buffalo just three days ago, said Central “absolutely” deserved a bid to the NCAA Tournament, especially after beating No. 19 Miami and hanging tight with No. 5 Louisville until the final minute.
Central Michigan also beat MAC tournament champion Buffalo twice in the regular season. The Chippewas are ranked 32nd in the RPI, just seven spots behind the Bulls.
“There was no doubt in my mind we were going to get in,” said Guevara, “because of our RPI and strength of schedule.”
The Chippewas played in the 1983, 1984 and 2013 NCAA Tournaments before going back-to-back in 2018 and 2019 under Guevara.
In 2018 Central earned its first win in the Big Dance as the No. 11 seed in the Spokane Region against No. 6 LSU, 78-69. However, the Chippewas didn’t stop there, adding a 95-78 victory over No. 3 Ohio State before falling to No. 2 Oregon in the Sweet 16.
“It’s a new season,” senior guard Presley Hudson said. “It’s time to lock in. Our coaches will get us prepared and ready to go in practice.”
The MAC received two bids in the NCAA Tournament, as Buffalo earned an automatic bid and the No. 10 seed in the Albany Region. The Bulls will play No. 7 Rutgers.
MAC tournament runner-up Ohio did not earn an at-large bid despite some predictions to the contrary.
“That’s a shame,” Guevara said of Ohio not making it. “They did what they were supposed to do, and they won the (MAC) East. I really felt this was the year we were going to get three teams in because Ohio deserved to get in.”
No. 8 Central Michigan vs. No. 9 Michigan State
Tip-off: 1 Saturday, South Bend, Ind.
Records: Central Michigan 25-7; Michigan State 20-11
Evan Petzold is a freelance writer.