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NCAAW Season Recap: Central Michigan had lofty goals two years after Sweet Sixteen bid

Micaela Kelly’s breakout junior season propelled the Central Michigan Chippewas to national recognition and could have led them an at-large bid.

NCAA BASKETBALL: MAR 23 Div I Women’s Championship - First Round - Central Michigan v Michigan State
Micaela Kelly (with ball) sprints up the court during a 2019 NCAA Tournament game against the Michigan State Spartans.
Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The NCAA isn’t releasing a bracket this year but at Swish Appeal we’ve decided to make one anyway, based on this formula created by our Zack Ward. Here’s a recap of one of the 64 teams who made the cut according to the Swish Appeal bracket:

No. 46 Central Michigan Chippewas

The Chippewas (23-7, 16-2 MAC) won their conference a comfortable three games ahead of the Ball State Cardinals (21-10, 13-5 MAC) but were upset by the lowly Toledo Rockets (14-17, 7-11 MAC) in the conference tournament’s quarterfinals on March 11.

The COVID-19 pandemic prevented the MAC Tournament from going any further, so Central Michigan made our bracket due to the regular-season title. But the Chippewas may have been on their way to an at-large bid before falling to Toledo so early. They received votes from Feb. 10 through the end of the season.

Central Michigan landed on the 12-seed line and is the 15th-best overall seed out of the 32 mid-major teams that made the hypothetical Big Dance.

The Chippewas began the season 0-3 and finished by losing three of their last four games, including the tournament loss to a Toledo team that split with them in the regular season.

But the middle stretch of Central Michigan’s season was stellar. MAC Player of the Year Micaela Kelly led the way with 21.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game. Solid non-conference wins came against the Dayton Flyers (Nov. 21), Marist Red Foxes (Nov. 30), South Dakota State Jackrabbits (Dec. 14) and Bethune-Cookman Wildcats (Dec. 28) before a 13-game winning streak to begin league play.

The Chippewas would have made it to the tournament for the third year in a row, with aspirations to return to the Sweet Sixteen, which they reached in 2018.

Kelly, a junior guard, made the MAC All-Defensive Team, while head coach Heather Oesterle won MAC Coach of the Year. Freshman guard Molly Davis (All-MAC Second Team and All-MAC Freshman Team) and junior forward Kyra Bussell (All-MAC Third Team) each averaged north of 14 points per game.

The Chippewas’ success can be attributed to their 45-percent shooting from the field, which includes 35.6 percent from downtown. Central Michigan’s 9.8 threes per game ranks sixth in the nation.

With Kelly, Davis and Bussell returning in 2020-21, look for the Chippewas to make noise again next year.