Chat with Graham Hays
Welcome to SportsNation! On Monday, ESPN.com women's college basketball writer Graham Hays will be here to chat about the women's season.
Hays contributes to ESPN.com's women's basketball, softball and soccer coverage. He began with ESPN in 1999.
Send your questions now and join Hays Monday at 4 p.m. ET!
Graham Hays (4:02 PM)
Welcome to another season of college basketball. I'm not sure I'm empowered to extend that welcome, but what the heck, I'll do it anyway. Four more days until the games tip; what's on your mind?
Bill H. (New Haven, CT)
As a total UConn fan, I appreciate the respect shown UConn with a nbr 1 ranking before things get started, but realistically, that seems grossly overly optimistic. With only 9 players, 5 of whom are freshmen, and only 2 returning starters, I think that a top 10 ranking is extremely generous and may cause under-appreciation of what success they do have. This is a classic rebuilding and transition year. Maya is a great player, but in keys ways she is no Taurasi, at least not yet. I would be happy this year if they made the NCAA sweet 16.
Graham Hays (4:05 PM)
I promise this won't be an all UConn chat, but this seems like an obvious place to start. I felt sort of the same way as you, Bill, especially after Caroline Doty went out with the knee injury. But the two things I keep coming back to in ranking them No. 1 are 1) Maya Moore. I'd agree she hasn't proven to be the unifying force Taurasi was in her last title season, but she hasn't been asked to with Tina Charles and Renee Montgomery and Kalana Greene. She's shown an ability to do everything else on a basketball court. And 2) Until the Stanford final, they beat everybody by a LOT of points last season. That's a big margin of error to work with. I do think Connecticut will lose this season, and I'm not at all sure they will win the title. But thinking about those two things, I don't see enough not to rank them No. 1 to start.
Im predicting Stanford vs Oklahoma in the finals this year. Do you think these teams can make it? Love the talent on both squads.
Graham Hays (4:08 PM)
A fair number of people seem to be high on Oklahoma. I'm not not high on them, to be doubly negative, but that's one of those teams I want to see play a couple of times before I develop an opinion. If you're going to give me Danielle Robinson as a cornerstone, I'm going to be fairly easily convinced, but it seems there are a lot of new parts to fit together. So I wouldn't say championship, but I'm open to being convinced otherwise. Stanford I'm totally on board with.
You've always been good at highlighting players from Mid-Majors that often don't make the radar screens of the media. Who do you like this season in that category?
Graham Hays (4:12 PM)
Pavlov's dogs have nothing on me when you mention mid-majors. Thanks for putting it on a tee, Howard. Courtney Vandersloot tops the list for me, but she's probably firmly on the radar at this point (as is Amber Harris, depending on your definition of Xavier as a mid-major). Lesser known names I would happily pay to watch include Missouri State's Casey Garrison, Wisconsin Green Bay's trio of Kayla Tetschlag, Celeste Hoewisch and Julie Wojta, Toledo point guard Naama Shafir, Bowling Green's Lauren Prochaska, Marist's Erica Allenspach and Corielle Yarde. Wyoming's Aubrey Vandiver. I could go on all afternoon.
Matt (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
Who do you think misses their All-American center the most this year: UConn and Charles or Stanford and Appel?
Graham Hays (4:15 PM)
Definitely Connecticut, which is no slight at all against Appel, but did you see the lineup they put out there for the exhibition game? Even without Neka, they had Jeanette Pohlen (a big point guard, as it is) and four people between 6'3 and 6'5. The Cardinal are huge, so they should be able to get by without Appel (who raved about Sarah Boothe when I talked to her at the WNBA All-Star Game). UConn needs Stefanie Dolson and Heather Buck to provide minutes in the post, but it's hard to say you can ink them in as guaranteed contributors right now.
Carol Anne (Seattle)
Kelli Griffin just quit the Baylor Lady Bears team. Do you know why? For a senior startter to leave so abruptly at the start of the season seems strange. I hope Kelli is okay.
Graham Hays (4:18 PM)
I wish I had a better answer, but I don't know anything more than has been reported elsewhere. It's a strange situation. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but the language of the release struck me as really, really odd. How often do you read that a player is "quitting" the program? They always say something like "leaving" ... this one just doesn't feel like a decision where everyone was on the same page. But it's all speculation at this point.
Hi Graham, I was wondering how far you believe Xavier can go this year. With both Amber Harris and Tashia Phillips back plus Special Jennings, Katie Rutan, and a whole group of new players, I believe this could be a special team. What do you think? Could they be the dark horse of the top 10?
Graham Hays (4:22 PM)
I don't know if they qualify as a dark horse. I think a lot of people are projecting them as a Final Four team, or at worst, in the top five or six. Getting over the manner in which last season ended is an issue, but it's hard to see Kevin McGuff letting that linger. And as you say, they already have a great foundation in place with the hope that they've added some more parts. This isn't a one-person team, but you've got to look at Harris. Is she going to come every day and play like she's the best player on the court (which she usually is)? If so, they're right with that top group in my mind.
Eileen (Washington, DC)
ESPN.com's panel has 3 ACC teams in their top 10 and just the 1 from the Big East. Where's all this ACC luv coming from?
Graham Hays (4:24 PM)
Speaking for myself, I can honestly say I didn't think about the conferences involved at all. West Virginia, North Carolina, Florida State, Notre Dame; they're all right there in the same mix. For me, I just came out with UNC and FSU on the right side of an arbitrary cutoff at No. 10.
Joe (Las Vegas)
As an UNM fan, I want the women's team to do as well as the men's. Even though the fan support is good, it seems like there is a wall whenever we get into tourneys. Any suggestions on climbing this wall?
Graham Hays (4:28 PM)
You're seeing the start of it with the schedule. Going to Tempe to possibly face ASU in a tournament, going to Oklahoma and UTEP. The Pit is a great advantage for the Lobos, but it seems like they've been a bit too happy to just stay there in the nonconference in recent season. We're not talking about Syracuse, which treats the New York border like the players treated the edge of the field in "Field of Dreams" but it's tough for a program like New Mexico to compete in the postseason without testing itself on the road. I'd add Sarah Sarah Halasz to that list of players to watch, by the way. Really think she could have a breakout season.
I dont think you have stated your opinion on Pat Summit calling out Geno and UCONN for recruiting violations as the reason they dont play. What is your reaction/opinion to it?
Graham Hays (4:31 PM)
I don't have much of an opinion. I'm tired of the whole thing on both sides of the debate. The one thing that I don't get, and it's not a judgment, just confusion, is why someone like Summitt, who is as much of a competitor as anyone in the history of college sports, wouldn't want to play, regardless of what she thinks Auriemma has done? Wouldn't the best answer be to beat him on the court doing it your way? But all in all, I'd rather think about any other basketball topic.
Graham Hays (4:32 PM)
Quick break-in for the NCAA women's soccer bracket. Stanford is the No. 1 seed. No surprise there.
Graham Hays (4:32 PM)
Selection show airing now on ESPNU, by the way.
If there were no Maya Moore in the picture, who would you pk as the probable favorite for POY?
Graham Hays (4:34 PM)
Probably Griner. I don't know how close she is to being a dominant offensive player, but she could win POY on rebounding and defense alone (and I think she'll be much more of a threat on offense regardless). Neka Ogwumike or Kayla Pedersen could be right in the discussion, but how do you decide between the two?
Shades (Baton Rouge)
Why isn't LSU getting any respect this year?
Graham Hays (4:36 PM)
I was surprised they didn't crack the top 25, but to see it from the other side, you're talking about a 21-10 team that lost its leading scorer. Still, I really like LaSondra Barrett as a SEC POY candidate. I'd put them in that 20-25 range to start, but I don't think it's "disrespect" at play.
Who will be drafted first 6 months from now, Maya Moore or the big kid from Australia (not Jackson)?
Graham Hays (4:38 PM)
I think Lauren Jackson vs. Maya Moore would be an interesting choice. Short of that, I don't see how anyone can pass on Moore. Forget the talent; you're talking about a college kid with near universal name recognition.
Bill (San Francisco)
Tennessee has all 5 starters back, plus Vickie Baugh. They are a Final Four team yet U Conn, Stanford & Baylar are ahead of them at the 4 spot. Did Geno vs Summitt have something to do with that?
Graham Hays (4:39 PM)
UConn, Stanford and Baylor were Final Four teams. Tenenssee wasn't (but absolutely could be this time around). I think that's why those teams are in that order to start the season.
Jay (Valpo, In )
Thoughts on the biggest comebacks from teams that may have bad season or two?
Graham Hays (4:43 PM)
I find myself more bullish (have to be careful tying that one) on North Carolina than some people. A lot depends on Breland, of course, but I still really like that backcourt. It hasn't necessarily lived up to the hype that accompanied it, but I don't think the Tar Heels are too far off the pace when it comes to the pack chasing Connecticut, Stanford and Baylor.
Would you agree that Stanford will be better than Baylor this coming year? Aside from Griner, they have no one else. Besides, their starting point guard just left the team. Stanford is more balanced. However, Stanford doesn't have a true point guard.
Graham Hays (4:45 PM)
Without Griffin, yes, I put Stanford ahead of Baylor. I think you're selling some of Baylor's other pieces short to say they have no one else, but Stanford is loaded. For the offense they run, Pohlen gets it done. She might be a more natural shooting guard, but she takes fantastic care of the ball and gets it to the people in the post, an underrated skill.
MJB (San Diego, Calif.)
Mr. Moonlight!! Yes or No: Will we see the WNT in the 2011 World Cup?? How worried should we be?
Graham Hays (4:46 PM)
Considerably more worried than we were Friday afternoon. But I say, yes. Abby Wambach won't fail. You can count on people from Rochester.
Casey (Fort Worth)
Speaking of the new players at Baylor. What impact do you think Simms, Pope and Williams will have on allowing Griner to be more effective in the post?
Graham Hays (4:49 PM)
Good question. Going back to the point about Pohlen, that's what I really worry about in losing Griffin. I haven't seen Sims enough to know if she can be that distributor right from the outset. To me, it's sort of like changing the offensive coordinator on a quarterback. Does changing the person primarily responsible for getting her the ball, or getting the team in the sets to get her the ball, slow Griner's development?
Can you tell the world how good the CAA is and will be this year? And what are your thoughts on Hofstra heading into the season?
Graham Hays (4:53 PM)
Interested to see Hofstra. They went from a team with a lot of size for the CAA at the beginning of last season to a team now that's sort of small on paper. But Shante Evans is another mid-major player to watch. Not sure she's in the same league yet as Marginean was at Drexel, but she could step up to keep it a star trio in the CAA, along with Dawn Evans at JMU and Elena Delle Donne at Delaware.
Matt (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
Nebraska should have a big fall from last year's dream season. What other teams do you expect to take big steps back this year?
Graham Hays (4:56 PM)
I could see Virginia going backward. I'm not counting out Beth Burns, but San Diego State has a tough task ahead of it with its losses. I'm probably too optimistic right now. With the season starting, I'm more inclined to see the ways teams like Iowa State, Vanderbilt, Gonzaga and Dayton will stay up, despite losing key pieces.
Will we see a surprising team this year, like Nebraska last year?
Graham Hays (4:58 PM)
Why thank you for letting me plug a feature coming out tomorrow. I think Iowa is that team this year. Kachine Alexander is just a phenomenal player, someone who can lift a program for a season, and I think the Hawkeyes have the right mix of pieces around her. I'm a little worried about their depth after some injuries, but I see Iowa as a team with Elite Eight potential if things break right.
Jimmy (New Haven, CT)
What do you think Geno's strategy will be when his team faces Baylor in November? Let Griner score 40 and keep other Baylor players under 10 points?
Graham Hays (5:00 PM)
Without Griffin, I suspect pressure, pressure and more pressure. They're not going to wear out Griner with their big bodies, so try and wear her out going end to end.
Linsey Pawl (Sterling Heights MI)
Outlook on Michigan State? How will they do this year without Madison? And are they a darkhorse to make the Final Four this year?
Graham Hays (5:04 PM)
Madison Williams is a big loss to overcome. I really like that coaching staff, so I think you're always looking at a team that is going to get more out of what it has than other teams. And getting Schiffauer back from the injury last season helps. I don't see them as Final Four contenders, and I'd put Ohio State and Iowa ahead of them in the Big Ten, but Sweet 16 if they avoid injuries and Merchant has a full season to work with them? I could see that. The Big Ten in general feels better to me this season than it has been recently. But it might still be top heavy.
Graham Hays (5:05 PM)
All right, sorry, I've got to go make sense of the soccer bracket. Thanks to everyone for all the questions; they're always appreciated. I think we'll try and do this regularly this season. Enjoy the first weekend of games!