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Grand Central's Ben Raven believes Central Michigan has what it takes to upset Oklahoma this Saturday.
Central’s Crystal Bradford advances the ball up court against Ball State on February 28. (Brittni Hengesbach | GCMag)
Central Michigan’s women’s basketball team is headed to the NCAA tournament after nearly a 30-year absence, the last time coming in 1984.
After winning the Mid-American Conference tournament over Akron 86-68, Central Michigan had to sit back and wait until the brackets were announced on Selection Monday. They were awarded a No. 11 seed and were the only team selected to the tournament from the MAC.
Oklahoma’s women are making their 14th straight appearance in the Big Dance. Not only have the Sooners been in the tournament for 14 straight years, they have advanced past the first round seven times in a row.
Despite being the higher-seeded team, Central Michigan gets a game much closer to home than their opponents; the game will be played in Columbus, Ohio on Saturday, March 23 at 11:10 a.m.
Oklahoma finished the year with a 22-10 record and went 11-7 in the Big 12 conference this season. The Sooners are led by junior guard Aaryn Ellenberg.
Ellenberg is averaging 18.5 points per game on the season and is unquestionably the team’s best player and leader. In her career so far, she has been named to the All-Big 12 First Team (2012) and Honorable Mention as a freshman (2011).
For Central Michigan to upset Oklahoma, it all starts with slowing down Ellenberg. When Oklahoma has lost this season, she has struggled to score. That task is easier said than done, though.
As far as the Chippewas are concerned, they seem to be adjusting to the idea of playing without starting point guard Jessica Green, who tore her ACL on Feb. 20. Crystal Bradford has stepped up and been an absolute force for Central Michigan this season, as she is averaging 15.5 points with 9.8 rebounds per game. As a result of her play during the conference tournament, Bradford was named the MAC tournament Most Valuable Player.
The thing that is going to help Central Michigan the most in their quest to make a run in the tournament is the overall quality of the schedule it played this season. The Chippewas gave No. 1 seed Notre Dame a run for their money earlier in the season, losing 72-63, after trailing by only one point at halftime. Other notable games include playing at No. 14 Purdue and beating No. 20 Texas.
The MAC was no slouch this season either, as Toledo finished the season 27-3 and Akron also had an extremely successful season going 23-9 and winning the MAC East division.
If Central Michigan does defeat Oklahoma they will either face No. 3 UCLA or No.14 Stetson, with national powerhouse second-seeded Tennessee looming in the Sweet 16.
For the season to continue, Central Michigan will need Bradford and company to continue their great play. Inconsistency has plagued this team down the stretch; the motivation should be there to not take a moment for granted.
For my prediction, I feel that Central Michigan has the right ingredients to pull off the upset on Saturday. With a bona fide star in Bradford and a workhorse-type player in Taylor Johnson, this team has a little bit of everything to drive the Sooners crazy. This will be by no means an easy task but the Chippewas have proven time and time again this season that they have the ability to play with anyone.
Having a Big 12 conference win (Texas) under its belt should also boost Central Michigan’s confidence heading into this one. I’m not alone in my selection of Central Michigan over Oklahoma as President Barack Obama also selected the No. 11 seed to pull the upset.
When it comes to facing UCLA, Central Michigan will need to pull out all of the stops, and then some. UCLA finished the season at 25-7 and have played against 10 Top 25 ranked teams on the season, going 4-6 in the process.
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