"This time of year, anything can happen,” Michigan State women’s basketball head coach Suzy Merchant said after the NCAA Women’s Tournament bracket was leaked on March 18. It revealed the Spartans’ first round matchup would be against Central Michigan University.
“That’s my alma mater,” Merchant said. “I played there, so (it’s) even stranger.”
Merchant, a four-year starter and three-year captain for CMU (1988-91), held the school’s record for assists until senior guard Presley Hudson broke it this past season.
“Obviously Presley Hudson’s a great player for them. They space the floor well, they have good inside game, they attack the boards, they do what they do, they know who they are,” Merchant said after scouting the in-state rival this season. “I remember seeing them and obviously I keep up a little because (of) being an alum.”
“I think it’s great, especially for the state of Michigan, to have two great teams get into the NCAA Tournament and play each other,” senior center Jenna Allen said.
In kind, CMU head coach Sue Guevara has ties to MSU. Guevara served as an assistant coach for nine seasons (1986-95) under coach Karen Langeland and was promoted to associate head coach for her tenth season with the Spartans.
“When you’re in a profession long enough, people move around and recycle, especially in coaching ranks. She’s done a great job there, no question,” Merchant said of Guevara. “They’re a very good team.”
CMU finished the season with a 25-7 record and had a notable win against No. 24 Miami. They were the regular season champions in the Mid-American Conference.
“(They) have proven themselves last year too, and a lot of those kids are back so they know the drill and in a lot of ways they’re more experienced than we are.” Merchant said.
Many of Merchant’s players have yet to experience the pressure of a the tournament atmosphere.
“I feel like with that mentality, one-and-done, I feel like everyone’s going to play their best basketball,” Allen, the lone senior on the team, said. “We have Central Michigan, an in-state school. They’re going to be pumped up to play us and us the same.”
The Spartans finished the 2018-19 season ninth in the country in assists per game with 18. They built their postseason-worthy resume with wins over No. 3 Oregon, No. 16 Iowa and No. 9 Maryland.
“I think we’re a very unselfish team … I feel good about our offense, I feel good about our kids,” Merchant said.
Merchant thinks MSU has had an advantage all season because of the depth of the bench.
“You have to play and turn around pretty quickly,” Merchant said. “It’s a Saturday-Monday … so you have a day to prepare. That depth does end up helping you. Certainly we have players who play significant minutes, but it’s nice knowing you can go onto your bench and reach down there and get kids to relieve kids if we get in foul trouble.”
Merchant had one last thing to say about the month of March.
“We’ve got great chemistry, it’s just a matter of putting it together this time of year,” she said. “The team that does it gets moving in the right direction and anything can happen.”
The first-round match will take place at 1 p.m. at the Joyce Center in South Bend, Indiana March 23.