Chat with Mechelle Voepel
Welcome to SportsNation! On Thursday, women's basketball writer Mechelle Voepel will stop by to chat about the women's college hoops season.
Voepel is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage.
Send your questions now and join Voepel Thursday at 2 p.m. ET!
Mechelle Voepel (2:01 PM)
Good afternoon, especially to those of you who are snowed in. Well, we can finally talk about Dan Hughes taking over as Silver Stars coach again. Let's get started.
I'm curious about how Dan Hughes' return to coaching San Antonio should be superior to Brondello's work.....any reason to think that will be the case?
Mechelle Voepel (2:08 PM)
There were a lot of different things said about the coaching situation in San Antonio last season. Some players said they were not always sure who was "in charge," but not everyone had that complaint. It's very hard sometimes to pick through the wreckage of a situation and really know what went wrong. Maybe because it's rarely just one thing. I really don't think Dan Hughes had any strong desire to coach again. He liked his role as GM and wanted to see Brondello grow into her head-coaching role. But from what I can tell, that is not what San Antonio's upper-management wanted. So Hughes is back - as expected - and he's a pro, so he'll approach the job with a good attitude. Now, will that translate into more wins for SASS? That's harder to say, especially until we get closer to the season and everyone's moves are finished and rosters are squared away.
kevin (macon ga)
Tangela Smith makes an already veteran Fever roster even older. Can they make another run without adding some youth?
Mechelle Voepel (2:14 PM)
I've thought about that, too, and it was a concern raised about the Fever last year as well. But it's not as if there is no youth on the team, and if young players such as January and Zellous continue to develop as pros, they help balance that. Plus, the clock hasn't run out on the veterans. Tangela Smith has stayed in great shape and been extremely reliable and durable in her career. She'll be 34 in April, and I think she's still a solid contributor. I liked this move both for her sake - being closer to her hometown in Chicago - and the Fever's.
Barry (Phoenix, AZ)
So what is your assessment of the Duke-UConn game, as far as what both teams need to do going forward?
Mechelle Voepel (2:23 PM)
The Huskies have done pretty much what we've come to expect from that program: They are hit with adversity (injury, graduation, transfer) and everyone else comes together and plays with even more of a sense of responsibility and cohesiveness. When your best player is the kind of leader Maya Moore has been, everybody follows her. Duke, in my opinion, went into that game not acknowledging its real importance in terms of perception of the program. Joanne P. McCallie's philosophy of recruiting and defense-first will win Duke a lot of games. I don't think it will win a national championship. Duke has and will continue to get a lot of talent. These are talented athletes and smart kids; they can execute a multi-dimensional offense if it's implemented and taught by the staff. That's Duke's challenge. Don't know that it can happen this season, but it certainly can be done. I don't think you can beat a team like UConn unless you can execute close to as well as the Huskies can. There's a reason why Stanford's been the only team to beat UConn since April 2008; the Cardinal has a staff that watches a ton of film, teaches concepts and demands offensive execution.
Duke looked horrible against UCONN, but still are only a one loss team. Are they still the 4th number one seed after Baylor, UCONN and Stanford?
Mechelle Voepel (2:30 PM)
Indeed, Duke is NOT a bad team. They are just frustrating to watch because they have far too much talent to look that hapless against UConn. I am not writing off Duke's ability to learn from this, not by any means. That said, I like what I'm seeing of Tennessee, especially on offense. I chatted with Dan Fleser, the longtime beat writer for the Knoxville paper, on Sunday at the Tenn-Arkansas game, and he thinks this is the most confident offensive group he's seen there in a while. He thinks defense is where they now have to be pushed harder by the coaching staff, but that's coming along, too. I think as long as Tennessee doesn't have any further big injuries and everyone who's been hobbled continues to come along, they are the other No. 1 seed.
Both you and Kara Lawson really took Duke to task Monday night for their lack of offense. They are 20-1, does Coach McCallie deserve credit for at least getting them that far?
Mechelle Voepel (2:41 PM)
Sure, but when you see the No. 3 team looking that inept against the No. 2 team, you are going to be harsh. Not because we have anything against Duke or McCallie ... simply because for the good of women's basketball, you don't want to see a 2-3 nationally televised game that people all over the country are just turning off with disgust or disinterest. Admittedly, it is hard as heck to beat UConn anywhere, but especially at Storrs. I really didn't think Duke could win this game, but was more looking to see if the Blue Devils could execute at all against the Huskies' defense. And they couldn't. These are NOT sub-par athletes at Duke, either. Part of the reason the Blue Devils' defense broke down to the extreme it did is that they were working hard but getting nothing on the offensive end. The point of all this is not Duke-bashing or McCallie-bashing. I just want to see talented teams execute better offensively. To me, that's the next stage of the game's growth. And it's not easy to make that happen. Some people have to change their philosophies and learn more themselves. To acknowledge that, in my view, is a sign of strength.
From a basketball standpoint, does it make much sense for Ebony Hoffman to join the Sparks? With Parker, Thompson and Milton-Jones on board, and the possibility of the team adding a center in the draft, won't minutes be hard to come by?
Mechelle Voepel (2:46 PM)
It seems like one of the things the Sparks were looking for was more strength and bulk inside, and Ebony Hoffman can provide that. It may also be that the Sparks are seeking people who really *want* to be in LA, and as a native and USC grad, Hoffman is at home there. I'm not saying she didn't fit in at Indiana, but you could tell talking to her that it wasn't personally always the *best* fit because it was so different a place to live. I think there are still obviously some questions about the Sparks' roster, no doubt. But this move may work out well for both the Sparks and Hoffman.
Does Northwestern's Amy Jaeschke have a realistic shot at the WNBA draft and a roster slot? I've never seen her play.
Mechelle Voepel (2:51 PM)
She's big (6-5) and strong and versatile. I think because of her size, she has more of a chance than, say, a guard or wing player who is similarly under-the-radar in college. I always remember Cathrine Kraayeveld, who I didn't think was going to last in the WNBA after she got drafted. But she's played for six seasons. A lot of it is finding the right fit with a team, but then also having the perseverance to make it as a pro. It's a mindset you have to have, not just the physical talent.
Of what you've seen, who is the most impressive freshman this far? Sims, Hartley, Simmons, Ellenberg? Someone else?
Mechelle Voepel (2:55 PM)
They are all really good, and overall, this is an impressive freshman class nationwide. If I had to pick a so-called freshman of the year, right now I would go with Baylor's Odyssey Sims because of how consistent she's been both offensively and defensively in such a big role on that team.
Geno Auriemma's program at Connecticut presents a lot of pressure for women's basketball players, game in and game out. And it seems like some of the recruits that come in to his program can't handle that. Do you think that is a bad thing for women's basketball as a whole?
Mechelle Voepel (3:00 PM)
No, it's not bad at all. Yes, there have been some high-profile recruits that have left, but I still think family/personal situations with them were as much a part of what really impacted their decision to go as "pressure." And look at all the players who *do* make it at UConn, and have very successful college and pro careers. UConn sets a standard for expectation that I'd love to see many more programs try to meet. Who doesn't want to see more of their kind of basketball? They are great to watch.
Is it possible that the WAC gets two teams in the NCAA Tourney this year? Is La Tech strong enough to get an At-large bid?
Mechelle Voepel (3:03 PM)
I think the answer to both is "yes." And we should keep an eye out Saturday on the big WAC matchup: Louisiana Tech vs. Fresno State in Ruston, La.
Do you see Andrea Riley claiming a permanent spot on Tulsa's roster, post-baby?
Mechelle Voepel (3:08 PM)
That's hard to say, because not everyone responds to that challenge the same way. There are, obviously, physical and emotional things for an athlete to overcome after pregnancy. Then there's the exhaustion factor of raising a baby. Ask any WNBA player who's done it. Plus, this is a young woman still learning how to be a professional ballplayer. Adding "mother" to that is a lot to deal with. It may help that she's returning to familiar territory in Oklahoma, and I think having Teresa Edwards - even though she's not a coach - around as a potential mentor also could help.
kevin (macon ga)
Which was more surprising: UConn decimating Duke (game over before the first media timeout) or Baylor humiliating Oklahoma (up 40 before Mulkey called off the dogs)?
Mechelle Voepel (3:15 PM)
I really don't know that either was surprising. I felt like Duke was going to get exposed at UConn for a lot of reasons that I already mentioned. I wrote a story before that game saying it was kind of weird that we had a season where an undefeated team was No. 3. But I didn't write the column very well at all. I didn't intend for it to be taken like I thought Duke was under-appreciated, but that's how it was taken. Just poor writing on my part. I thought the Blue Devils were not emotionally geared up to face UConn, nor were they strategically prepared to win. I don't have the same expectations right now of Oklahoma that I do of Duke. I say that because OU is a younger team that is overachieving to a degree, and I don't expect them to travel to Waco and go toe-to-toe with Baylor. But I also think Baylor is well-aware that the Feb. 27 game at Oklahoma could be very different.
UConn Steve (TX)
NCAA potential Semi-Finals : UConn-Tennessee and Baylor-Stanford or UConn-Stanford and Baylor-Tennessee ? I hope the first potential pairing occurrs to guarantee in theory Huskies-Lady Vols and Lady Bears-Cardinal. Many games between now and April of course. Injuries and Referees always affect the course of history. Still below 20 with Ice in Dallas.
Mechelle Voepel (3:20 PM)
If those are indeed the top four seeds, I will be surprised if it's not Tennessee and UConn on one side of the bracket and Baylor and Stanford on the other. I'm sure most people think the same thing: There's a big desire to see Tennessee and UConn face off, and not allow for the possibility that either might not make the championship game. Plus, of course, these would be the match-ups that haven't happened during the regular season.
UConn Steve (TX)
Ohio State continues to falter. Are the coaches to blame for failing to motivate and improve their players? Do some players not like the coaches? Do some players have an attitude problem? Are some players overrated? Do some players have work ethic issues? Do the Buckeyes want to enter the NCAA tournament as underdogs?
Mechelle Voepel (3:30 PM)
I can't answer all those questions. My theory on Ohio State's trouble is that Jim Foster's teams have always tended to focus more on what they do well (or believe they do well) than on making a lot of tactical moves specific to opponents. I don't think that's even rare, though; you hear a lot of coaches say, "We focus on us." Which is fine to a point ... but I think that can also get you exposed when teams more successfully game-plan against you and have the athletes to execute that. Also, let's face it: I'm not trying to be mean to Sam Prahalis, but she's been a high-maintenance player. And it's tough to have that in a point guard. The starting PG kind of needs to one of the lowest-maintenance people on your team. I know she's really tried to work on that, but it's not something I would expect she could change completely right away. Add in that the Big Ten really is a balanced league; some teams that were at the bottom for a long time have gotten some teeth. I think all of those things are contributing to the Buckeyes being 13-8.
Sue (Durham, NC)
Mechelle, your tweet during the UConn beatdown on Duke has ignited a discussion among Duke fans. Specifically you advised the Duke coaching staff must have a change in offensive philosophy to reach the upper echelon of wcbb. Has any coach actually done this and become successful? I've been preaching this exact thing since McCallie arrived at Duke and took a lot of grief from rah rah Duke fans for doing so. With you and others saying it now, they're starting to take it seriously, though they also take a few pot shots at you (maybe she should take a shot at coaching rather than telling others how to do it.)
Mechelle Voepel (3:39 PM)
I think it's totally normal for fans to be defensive about their coach, and any journalist should expect that if they criticize something about coaching/strategy, that many fans would say, "Oh, then why don't you do it, Ms./Mr. Know-it-all." But I'm not saying, "Gee, I could coach Duke." Are you kidding? I couldn't coach anybody to do anything. By pointing out things I see or sense about a team or coaching strategy, I'm just throwing out an opinion as an outsider who wants to see good games in women's basketball. That's all. It's a tough job to be a coach, because your work is critiqued by everyone and it's public. You win or lose. But that's just the nature of that job. And I don't think it's fair to just say, "Oh, the players didn't play hard enough." If a team struggles like that, everybody - players and coaches - has to say, "We're all accountable, what did we learn?" Not just at Duke - everywhere.
A few Big 12 questions: Charlie C is speculating that the Big 12 may only get four into the tournament. Do you agree? Is the Big 12 really that "off" or are they just beating up on themselves? Can A&M beat Baylor in Waco?
Mechelle Voepel (3:49 PM)
I don't happen to agree with this based on seeing a lot of these teams play. But sometimes it happens that some leagues present the committee really difficult challenges in terms of how to separate their various teams. Meaning they are so closely bunched together, several end up getting bids because you can't take one without taking the other. And that may happen more with other leagues than with the Big 12 this year. I know the committee will say they don't take conference "affiliation" into their thinking, which I think is just semantics. The bulk of the evaluation process is on teams playing games in their conference, so it's impossible not to judge a conference's strength along with each individual team's strength in that conference. But here's the thing: The Big 12 has gotten the benefit of the doubt from the committee most years, in my opinion. The league usually has not had anything to really gripe about, with a few exceptions. So they may get the benefit of the doubt again.
Mechelle Voepel (3:50 PM)
Oh, and as for AM winning at Baylor - that game is Feb. 14 - as close as the game at College Station was on Sunday, there's reason to believe the Aggies could make it close again. But I just don't think Baylor is going to lose in the Big 12.
Will the Big 10 race be any clearer before the last regular season game?
Mechelle Voepel (3:54 PM)
I really don't think so. It is a very parity-filled league. Now, if Penn State wins its next two games on the road - tonight at Michigan and Sunday at Iowa - I'd say the Lions have more an inside track to the conference regular-season title. But even so, they could still stumble down the stretch.
Carol Anne (Seattle)
Oklahoma's poor showing last night in Waco was partly due to their extremely late departure from Norman (snow). The Sooners arrived at the Ferrell Center about two hours before the game.
Mechelle Voepel (3:57 PM)
I think that's important to point out, too. A lot of teams have gone through some laborious travel in the past few days all over the country, and no matter what coaches say, it's bound to affect them. Still, Baylor is just a great team, and the Ferrell Center has become one of the big home-court advantages in women's hoops.
kevin (macon ga)
Heard any names associated with the WNBA president search?
Mechelle Voepel (4:04 PM)
I was supposed to talk to someone high in command about the WNBA president search this week. That interview got bumped back to "later." Not by me, of course. I really want to know what the league values most in potential candidates. I've talked to various coaches/GMs about it, and it doesn't seem to me that THEY know what the league wants most from its president. The league needs active, vocal leadership now. I hope they are not going to wait much longer.
Mechelle Voepel (4:07 PM)
Thanks for all the questions. Sorry there are some I did not get to today. Again, hope everyone is staying safe and warm ... and if you're someplace where there is *no* snow, revel in your good fortune. Chat with you next week!