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The Central Michigan women's basketball team will raise a banner before Thursday night's opener against Oakland. It will celebrate the program's historic march to last season's Sweet 16.

And then, it's officially time to move on.

"Then, everything is laid to rest," said Sue Guevara, entering her 12th season as the Chippewas' head coach. "It's go time. Team 51, here we go."

The expectations are sky-high again for the Chippewas, who are starting barely outside the preseason top 25 Associated Press poll, receiving more votes than any other women's team in the state.

That's because while they lost a lot of talent, they still return a pretty potent big three, led by senior point guard Presley Hudson, along with senior forward Reyna Frost and sophomore guard Micaela Kelly.

Each will be called on to do a little bit extra this season, to help replace graduated stars in forward Tinara Moore and guard Cassie Breen.

"That's 32 points and 12 rebounds; let's get exact there," Guevara said. "I was saying this the other day, two people are not going to make up 32 points. That's not going to happen. It's gotta be a combination of people.

"I've asked the big three for six more points (each) than what they gave us last year."

Hudson has long been the team's engine, and leader — a skill set that recently earned her the school's prestigious Dick Enberg scholar athlete of the year award. She averaged 13.9 points as a freshman, then 16.8, then 18.3.

Frost has averaged more than 11 rebounds a year the past two seasons, and last season she got into double-digits in scoring. She's among 20 to make the Katrina McClain Award watch list; the award goes to the game's best power forward.

Kelly's debut season, after the Detroit native transferred from DePaul, was a good one, averaging 11.5 points and 3.5 assists.

"Our backcourt is back. We have one of the best backcourts in the MAC," said Guevara, whose team has won the West Division of the Mid-American Conference four of the last five seasons, and last year won the MAC tournament to make the NCAAs. "Twin (Kelly) and Pres are able to create.

"And Reyna, she had 18 rebounds the other day (in an exhibition win over Northwood). That just gives us extra possessions. Reyna keeps games live for us because of the extra possessions."

So, yes, Guevara believes she can get 18 more points, combined, from the three of them, even though that's a tall order.

And that still would leave the Chippewas searching for more.

Among those being counted on to chip in — freshman center Jahari Smith, a 6-footer from Illinois; and junior forward Gabrielle Bird, from South Lyon who averaged about five minutes a game a season ago. The first two off the bench are the same as last year, sophomore guard Maddy Waters and sophomore forward Kyra Bussell. Those two combined to average about 20 minutes last season; more will be expected this year.

"Last year, quite frankly, we really only played five kids, really," said Guevara, who this offseason signed a new, five-year contract that pays her $290,000 a year, before bonuses, which trails only Michigan State's Suzy Merchant and Michigan's Kim Barnes Arico among Division I women's basketball coaches in the state. "I talked to the team about going eight, nine deep this year."

It's a new year for Central Michigan, after last year's magical run to the program's first Sweet 16. And much is expected again, with the Chippewas the overwhelming favorite to win the MAC, at least according to the preseason poll. Central Michigan received all 12 of the first-place votes to win the MAC West, nine of 12 to win the MAC regular season, and eight of 12 to win the MAC tournament.

Guevara knows that means the Chippewas will have a target on their backs, just like they did much of last season.

They'll get geared up with a pretty daunting nonconference schedule, which includes six teams that made last season's NCAA Tournament: South Dakota State, Western Kentucky, Virginia, Quinnipiac, Louisville and Miami (Fla.). Louisville, a Final Four participant last season, actually is making the trip to Mount Pleasant on Dec. 20. Another NCAA team, Michigan, recently scrimmaged against Central Michigan.

"Every year, and I'm gonna sound like a broken record, the expectations are, hey, we just want to do better than what we did last year, whatever that means," Guevara said. "That could mean statistics. Can we be a better defensive team, can we push up our 3-point percentage, our rebounding margin. You know, we were picked to win it, and the same thing happened to us last year. But we never got caught up in looking at that stuff. We were focusing on what we need to do, and let the end result be what it may.

"You can't get caught up looking ahead."

Or, in this case, looking back.

2018-19 DETROIT NEWS MEN'S BASKETBALL PREVIEWS

2018-19 team previews

CENTRAL MICHIGAN

Coach: Sue Guevara, 12th season at CMU, 19th overall (204-148 at CMU, 326-230 overall)

2017-18 record: 30-5, 17-1 MAC; won the MAC tournament, advanced to the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16

Key returners: G Presley Hudson, F Reyna Frost, G Micaela Kelly

Key newcomer: C Jahari Smith

Predicted MAC West finish: First

MICHIGAN

Coach: Kim Barnes Arico, seventh season at UM, 23rd overall (134-73 at UM, 404-279 overall)

2017-18 record: 23-10, 10-6 Big Ten; advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament

Key returners: C Hallie Thome, G Deja Church, G Nicole Munger, F Kayla Robbins

Key newcomer: G Amy Dilk

Predicted Big Ten finish: Third

More: Michigan hands the reins to freshman Amy Dilk

MICHIGAN STATE

Coach: Suzy Merchant, 12th season at MSU, 24th overall (244-120 at MSU, 445-240 overall)

2017-18 record: 19-13, 7-9 Big Ten; advanced to the third round of the WNIT

Key returners: G Shay Colley, G Taryn McCutcheon, F Sidney Cooks, C Jenna Allen

Key newcomer: G Nia Clouden

Predicted Big Ten finish: Fifth

EASTERN MICHIGAN

Coach: Fred Castro, third season at EMU (17-45)

2017-18 record: 11-20, 6-12 MAC

Key returners: G Danielle Minott, G Courtnie Lewis, F Emoni Jackson

Key newcomer: G Toyosi Abiola

Predicted MAC West finish: Third

WESTERN MICHIGAN

Coach: Shane Clipfell, seventh season at WMU, eighth overall (98-94 at WMU, 111-106 overall)

2017-18 record: 18-15, 9-9 MAC

Key returners: F Breanna Mobley, G Deja Wimby, F Jasmyn Walker

Key newcomer: G Maddie Watters

Predicted MAC West finish: Sixth

DETROIT MERCY

Coach: Bernard Scott, fourth season at UDM (35-57)

2017-18 record: 2-28, 2-16 Horizon

Key returners: F Lexey Tobel, G Brittney Jackson, F Ashley Miller

Key newcomer: F Paige Bellman

Predicted Horizon League finish: Ninth

OAKLAND

Coach: Jeff Tungate, sixth season at OU (73-78 at OU, 174-117 overall)

2017-18 record: 15-16, 7-11 Horizon

Key returners: G Taylor Jones, F Nikita Telesford, G Chloe Guingrich

Key newcomer: G Kahlaijah Dean

Predicted Horizon League finish: Seventh

WAYNE STATE

Coach: Carrie Lohr, eighth season at Wayne State (119-81 at Wayne State, 285-187 overall)

2017-18 record: 19-8, 14-6 GLIAC

Key returners: G Nastassja Chambers, G Ja'Nae Williams,

Key newcomer: F Sam Cherney

Predicted GLIAC South finish: Third

Key dates

Dec 20: Louisville at Central Michigan

Jan. 12: Michigan at Maryland

Jan. 20: Ohio State at Michigan

Jan. 27: Michigan State at Michigan

Feb. 2: Buffalo at Central Michigan

Feb. 16: Central Michigan at Buffalo

Feb. 24: Michigan at Michigan State

March 5-12: Horizon League tournament; quarterfinals at campus sites; semifinals and final at Little Caesars Arena, Detroit

March 6-10: Big Ten tournament, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis

March 11-16: MAC tournament; first round at campus sites; quarterfinals, semifinals and final at Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984

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