Sue Guevara talks about Central Michigan's NCAA Tournament bid. Evan Petzold, Special to Detroit News
Central Michigan has done a fine job all season of tuning out what veteran women’s basketball coach Sue Guevara likes to cal the “white noise,” and focusing on the present.
But let’s be honest here — when President Obama picks you to pull off the upset in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, well, that’s mighty tough to tune out.
“That,” admitted senior Cassie Breen, “was pretty cool.”
Of course, it also was pretty cool in 2013, too.
“You know what, I have a great deal of respect for President Obama and his knowledge of basketball,” Guevara said. “But he picked us back in 2013, too, soooo ...
“I’d still vote for him, though.”
No. 11 seed Central Michigan opens its NCAA Tournament at 11 a.m. Saturday against No. 6 seed LSU in Columbus, Ohio.
And it’s not just Obama picking the upset. According to ESPN and its fancy, schmancy computers, Central Michigan, the regular-season and tournament champion of the Mid-American Conference, has a 25 percent chance not just to win its opening game, but to reach the Sweet 16. And those are the best odds of any double-digit seed.
That’s significant respect for the MAC — which was a double-bid team this year, with Buffalo making the field, too — and Central Michigan — which is looking for its first-ever NCAA Tournament victory. Its last trip, in 2013, ended with a 78-73 opening-round loss to Oklahoma in another 6-11 matchup.
The Chippewas (28-4) closed the season on an eight-game winning streak and has won 20 of their last 21, the only loss in that span coming at Buffalo on Feb. 14.
But it hasn’t always been a breeze. Central Michigan won its three MAC tournament games by 11 points, total — 67-64 over Eastern Michigan, 61-58 over Miami (Ohio) and 96-91 over Buffalo.
“That’s prepared us a lot,” said Breen, a guard from Woodhaven. “Obviously, in March, you don’t know what’s going to happen, but ... those games have prepared us a lot.
“The MAC is really a good conference, and I think a lot of people don’t realize that.”
LSU (19-9) out of the SEC reminds Central Michigan players and coaches of Eastern Michigan, in that the Tigers are very athletic and they attack the basket.
They also have good scorers good at pull-up jumpers, with two guards Guevara likens to EMU’s Danielle Minott.
The biggest comparison, though, is the pressure defense, which Central Michigan has struggled against all season. EMU forced CMU, which averages 14.6 turnovers a game, into a whopping 23 turnovers in the MAC quarterfinals. Fortunately for the Chippewas, the Eagles only turned those into 11 points.
Presley Hudson talks about Central Michigan's NCAA Tournament bid. Evan Petzold, Special to Detroit News
LSU is a pressing machine, too, forcing opponents into 18.1 turnovers a game. So the onus will be squarely on Central Michigan’s star guards, including junior point guard Presley Hudson (Wayland, Mich.), redshirt freshman Micaela Kelly (Detroit King) and Breen into taking care of the basketball.
“I think you go back all the way to the Bahamas (in November) and San Diego State is a lot like what we’re going to play against,” said Guevara, whose team practiced at Capital University in nearby Bexley, Ohio, on Thursday and will practice at Ohio State’s Schottenstein Center on Friday. “We won that game in overtime (85-76, despite 16 turnovers). That might’ve been the first game that prepared us for what we’re about to face right now.”
Guevara wants her players to attack the press, get the ball upcourt and avoid what she calls the “coffin corners,” as well as one-dribble pickups.
The Chippewas’ offense — sparked by MAC player of the year Tinara Moore, a senior forward from Southgate who averages a team 18.7 points — is dynamic, averaging 82.5 points a game, eighth-best in the nation. And LSU’s scoring defense is nothing special, ranked 84th in the nation.
So the press can be broken.
It’s just about keeping your composure, Guevara said — even if a former president is counting on you.
Central Michigan vs. LSU
Tip-off: 11 a.m. Saturday, Schottenstein Center, Columbus, Ohio
Records: Central Michigan 28-4, 17-7 Mid-American Conference; LSU 19-9, 11-5 SEC
Up next: Winner advances to meet the No. 3 Ohio State-No. 14 George Washington on Monday.
Outlook: LSU is led by junior guard Chloe Jackson (17.9 ppg) and senior guard Raigyne Louis (16.2 ppg).