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 (2:06 PM)
Hey, good afternoon everyone. Well, we're down to four, and neither of the teams I picked to be in the title game are even in Indy. Of course, I hate picking. I wish we didn't do it. But ... anyway, let's get started as we look ahead to Indy and the WNBA draft.
Bailey (Charleston WV)
In your opinion... which was the bigger shocker. The TN or Baylor upset?
Mechelle Voepel (2:08 PM)
I was more surprised by Tennessee losing, because I thought the Vols would be able to more effectively utilize their depth. But the team did not respond well in that last crunch-time game before the Final Four. Texas A&M, on the other hand, has a more experienced team, really, than Baylor. And the Aggies' veteran players really did believe they could beat the Bears on a fourth try. They were right.
Do you think it was wrong for Coach Summitt to offer her team absolutely no praise for their play over the course of the season and assume no responsibility after their loss to Notre Dame? I can understand being disappointed in her team, but I think it was a combination of both being outplayed AND outcoached. Thoughts?
Mechelle Voepel (2:17 PM)
Pat Summitt's won more than 1,000 games, so I'm not usually up for second-guessing most of what she does. But ... I agree with you about this. I think this team has not responded particularly well to her coaching style, and at some point, maybe she has to look at some different tactics. What's that old saying? If everyone in a class fails a test, doesn't that mean the teacher failed, too? In this case, I think "fail" is way to strong a word. They won the SEC regular-season and tournament titles. (And it's not Tenn's fault the SEC was so down this season.) They made it to the Elite Eight. But at Tennessee, everything is measured on a far grander scale, so to them, not making the Final Four is cause for great concern. In the end, I think Tennessee might need a staff adjustment, because there is some kind of disconnect with a lot of these players and Summitt that has been there the last three years. And I think that can happen to any coach at any program because it's hard to predict a team's personality until all the ingredients are on campus together. Sometimes, you can't force a group to have the personality you want. You have to deal with the one they have.
Matt (San Francisco, CA)
How do you think Stanford will try to control the Sydneys? Will it follow the gameplan it has used against UCLA, which is also a team that likes to force turnovers?
Mechelle Voepel (2:19 PM)
I think that's probably a pretty good analogy in terms of a comparable opponent that Stanford knows so well. You saw Tara VanDerveer go to the zone, which she doesn't like, against Gonzaga. But it really worked. And if A
kevin (macon ga)
Don't you think Tennessee should have pursued Geno Auriemma for their men's coaching job?
Mechelle Voepel (2:24 PM)
No. If Geno really wanted a men's job, he would need to pursue it and convince an athletics director that he was prepared to deal with the one-and-done aspect of major-college men's recruiting now. He would have to change an awful lot about how he approaches recruiting and teaching to coach at any kind of high level on the men's side. I'm not saying he couldn't coach men ... from an X's and O's standpoint, of course he could easily do it. But I don't know if he'd *want* to when you consider the other aspects of the differences between the men's and women's games. It would be incumbent upon him, though, to reach out to make such a move. I wouldn't not expect an AD to consider that an option without Geno reaching out first.
kevin (macon ga)
Virginia Tech wasted very little time hiring a men's assistant with no experience coaching women to be their WCBB head coach. Wisconsin seems to be looking in the same direction. Is this a good trend?
Mechelle Voepel (2:32 PM)
This hire concerned a lot of people, who point out that a major-conference school would never hire a women's assistant coach to run a men's program. I understand the concern. Different things have worked at different programs, so I suppose the judgment at Va. Tech will come based on how Dennis Wolff does. I don't know if this type of thing is going to be a "trend," but I'll say the same thing I have before: I really think most ADs are ill-prepared to make good women's basketball coaching hires because they don't follow the game closely enough to have a very good feel for who really knows what they're doing and who just makes a great sales pitch in an interview. Why hasn't a major program gone after Vic Schaefer, the architect of the Texas A&M defense? Gary Blair said it's because most ADs at so-called "major" schools won't hire a women's assistant coach to be a head coach. I don't know what the reason is, but it sure seems to me that there's still a lot of misconceptions and overall poor judgment when it comes to hiring and firing of women's basketball coaches.
Dianne (Raleigh, NC)
How is the relationship between Geno and Tara - is it strained like Geno and Pat or do they get along? Will the Stanford-UConn rivalry turn into a Tenn-UConn type rivalry?
Mechelle Voepel (2:35 PM)
Their relationship wasn't so good in the mid-1990s, but it definitely has improved. They respect each other for the way their teams play, and there is not the animosity to the rivalry that there is to UConn-Tenn. I think it would be difficult to approximate the same kind of emotion that Tenn-UConn has/had, but it will amp up the rivalry if Stanford were to beat UConn in the event both made the national championship game.
alfred leal (fresno, ca.)
I was thinking Stanford's Toni Kokenis might be an assest against A&M's backcourt quickness because of her speed, but I noticed she was hardly used against gonzaga? I heard she had an ankle injury? do you know if she is injured? or was not used for other reasons?
Mechelle Voepel (2:40 PM)
Her ankle did seem a bit problematic during the regional, and it turned out that they did not much need her against Gonzaga. I think it may have been Tara VanDerveer's decision to perhaps have her as healthy as possible for the Final Four.
Bob (College Station)
Mechelle, how about that atmosphere for the A&M-Baylor game in Dallas...they say regional finals are always some of the most tense games because it's win and you're into the Final Four...You agree?
Mechelle Voepel (2:47 PM)
I was trying to think if I've ever been at a regional final that was quite like that one in Dallas - where you had a big crowd with a lot of fans from *both* schools from the same state and the regional itself was in the very heart of that state. And considering how fun and passionate the rivalries are between all the Texas schools. And how many of the Baylor and TAMU players are from Texas. AND ... that Gary Blair is from Dallas. There was so much about that regional final that was hard to duplicate anywhere else. I feel lucky that I was there. And it was pretty emotional, actually watching the Baylor and TAMU players in the post-game handshake, because they respect each other. Particularly the way the TAMU players all hugged Baylor senior Melissa Jones ... that was a pretty moving scene. And yes, regional finals can be among the most pressure-packed and emotional games you'll ever witness.
kevin (macon ga)
lol Mechelle, I was just trying to make a joke from the idea of Geno and Pat trying to share a campus
Mechelle Voepel (2:49 PM)
I know, but you would be surprised how many times I've been asked about Geno going to the men's side. Or maybe you wouldn't be surprised.
Alex (College Station, Tx)
The Aggies seem to have some pretty great momentum going into the game vs Stanford, do you think that they will have enough toughness to pull out a win?
Mechelle Voepel (2:51 PM)
Enough toughness? Sure. They have that. Stanford has the edge in Final Four experience and the fact that their interior game is better than TAMU's. But we'll see if TAMU can knock off another No. 1 seed.
Jerod (Calais, ME)
As you have heard Cindy Blodgett was fired from UMaine and the new AD asked for her resignation, but instead she was fired. She said that four years was not long enough to turn a program around. Do you agree with that? Especially since she seemed to go backwards. PSShe is holding a press conference right now and pretty much bashing the athletic department and backing of the Women's program right now.
Mechelle Voepel (2:56 PM)
I think coaches tend to want it both ways. They want the salaries and perks similar to the coaches in the men's game, but not the quicker trigger that comes when you don't produce. I can't say I know the atmosphere inside the Maine athletic department, but I will say that we're at the point in the women's game where it is about winning games and going to the NCAA tournament. I would be pretty sure Maine does want to win, so I think that's what motivated this move. It can't have been easy for them since she's a famous alum of the program.
Alex (Chapel Hill, NC)
What can you tell us about Tara Vanderveer - she has been around a long time and has been very successful, but doesn't seem to get the respect or recognition of Geno or Pat. What has your insight into the women's game all these years taught you about Tara?
Mechelle Voepel (3:02 PM)
To me, this is pretty straightforward: I think "respect" means "attention." And you get the most attention if you win the national championship. Pat has eight NCAA titles, Geno has seven, Tara has two - the most recent of which was 19 years ago. I think, tactically, she's a phenomenal coach. For various reasons, she's gone a long time without a national title, and so other programs that have won them - mostly UConn and Tenn _ have gotten more attention. I think she's in a good place in her life and in her career. She has fought some battles at Stanford in getting support there in the past that most people may not realize she had to fight. She's got that support now, and she's happy. I really respect the way Tara has evolved as a coach and a person - it's been uplifting to watch her, seriously. If she wins the NCAA title this year, that is more attention, for sure. Does it hurt, still, to be on the West Coast rather than the East Coast for that kind of attention? Sure, it does a bit. But the tradeoff is she lives in a place she loves.
What do you think about Swoopes being hired by the Tulsa Shock? Is it wise to have two older players like Swoopes and Marion Jones on the roster? Would those spots be better filled by two younger players?
Mechelle Voepel (3:08 PM)
With 11-player rosters, I don't know how you can have space for both these players. Sheryl is 40, and she was not anywhere near WNBA shape when she competed in a charity game last October here in Kansas - which she herself readily admitted. So she's had five months to work on that. I think maybe if Tulsa was a team with all the pieces necessary to win a championship, and they wanted that one voice of experience ... maybe they bring her in. We know Tulsa is not anything like that. So maybe they think she can mentor these younger players as Tulsa tries to become a better team. I think Swoopes, at her best, was as good as anyone in the history of women's basketball. But how much of that is left and how it can be utilized by a franchise like Tulsa are big questions to me.
For the sixth straight year a Big Ten team has failed to qualify for a Final Four. Compared to rest of the major conferences, its teams look undertalented. Are we looking at permanent second-tier status for the league in WCBB?
Mechelle Voepel (3:10 PM)
I don't know that anything is "permanent." But the Big Ten consistently is not getting many of the very top-tier recruits, and hasn't for a long time. The league needs some coaching upgrades, because that's how better talent started coming to the Big 12 ... or at least the Big 12's southern schools.
Tony (Portland OR)
Why is Danielle Adams a First Team All-American? Was she selected over Nneka Ogwumike because the voters (who are whom, exactly?) didn't want to reward Stanford with two picks?
Mechelle Voepel (3:21 PM)
I think Danielle has a very good season and obviously has been an impact player in helping TAMU make its first Final Four. But she was not on my first-team ballot. The AP Americans were chosen by the 40 AP poll voters. I don't know what went into everyone's reasoning, but we were strongly encouraged to make the team include a center, two forwards, two guards. And NOT just the five "best" players. Which made it hard to include all the posts I thought may have been deserving of the first team. I don't mind making my vote public to be criticized, either. Because people have the right to critique it. You could definitely criticize me for leaving off Ta'Shia Phillips of Xavier, among other things. There are always going to be debates with these things. Below is how I voted. This was done March 13, by the way, before Selection Monday. I think I may vote a little differently now: First-team: Maya Moore (UConn), Brittney Griner (Baylor), Jantel Lavender (Ohio State), Jeanette Pohlen, (Stanford), Shenise Johnson (Miami) Second team: Amber Harris (Xavier), Nnemkadi, Ogwumike (Stanford), Danielle Adams (Texas AM), Danielle Robinson (Oklahoma), Jasmine Thomas (Duke) Third team: Tiffany Hayes (UConn), Courtney Vandersloot (Gonzaga), Jessica Breland (North Carolina), Kayla Pedersen (Stanford), Shekinna Stricklen (Tennessee)
UConn - Notre Dame for the fourth time. What should we look for in this game?
Mechelle Voepel (3:27 PM)
I think that Notre Dame wants to use a similar formula against UConn that the Irish did against Tennessee. They were so aggressive and confident, and Skylar Diggins knew she had to score against the Vols. As for the semifinal, I was all set to pick UConn, and then I thought, "Well, I picked all the No. 1's to make the Final Four, and that was wrong. Why not pick one upset now that we're in the Final Four?" And part of it was also just that I like the attitude I've seen from Notre Dame so far in this tournament. At least the Irish know UConn so well and maybe really will give the Huskies their very best shot.
kevin (macon ga)
I'm tired of submitting questions about the WNBA president search every week. When will I be able to stop?
Mechelle Voepel (3:28 PM)
Kevin, I am ready for you to be president. Would you be willing to take the job?
kevin (macon ga)
Liz Cambage says she doesn't want to play in Tulsa. Will the Shock draft her anyway?
Mechelle Voepel (3:34 PM)
We had a conference call this morning with some of the WNBA coaches, including Tulsa's Nolan Richardson. He was asked about Cambage's comments and essentially said that a team can't let a player dictate something like that. He said that Tulsa would make the decision they felt was best for the franchise regardless of what a player was saying in the media. He did say they've had some conversations with her agent. Frankly, I'm irritated with any player who publicly says things like this about one of the teams in the league. The money the people in Tulsa pay to watch women's basketball is as good as the money they pay anywhere else. If Tulsa is trying to support a team, the players who want to earn a living playing women's basketball need a little wake-up call if they think they can just disregard that. It's disrespectful and counterproductive to say things like this.
Geri (Santa Fe, NM)
The Aggies have been under the national radar all year. Even Adams who is pulling in awards does not get the attention that the other teams and players have received, not to mention the Sydneys. Why is that?
Mechelle Voepel (3:37 PM)
Probably because they were overshadowed by Baylor winning the Big 12. The Bears got more of the attention because they bested the Aggies ... until the Elite Eight.
Let's not forget Tara made the ultimate sacrifice for the 1996 Olympic team taking a year away from Stanford. Stanford's Final Four hiatus started then - I think the year away really hurt their recruiting - do you agree?
Mechelle Voepel (3:39 PM)
It did, and when she came back, that's when VanDerveer was doubting the support she really had in the athletic department. The next few years were "down" for sure by Stanford standards. But she was able to get back to very high-level recruiting, and that's shows with the results the Cardinal have had the last few years.
What do you expect out of the Skylar Diggins v. Bria Hartley/Lorin Dixon matchup?
Mechelle Voepel (3:42 PM)
I'm really excited about it, including for what it means potentially down the line in regard to the U.S. national team. Sue Bird can't be the point guard forever, and she needs some youngster(s) to mentor to try to be the next "her" in the decade after she retires. Diggins and Hartley certainly are in the group of people who could do that. And I like how Dixon has kept her chin up and contributed even though she's been through some low periods at UConn. She has a lot to be proud of in how she's stayed a competitor.
Willy (San Jose)
I am thinking ESPN should spring for some Dragon Speech Recognition software for you. One question every 5-8 minutes is unbelievable
Mechelle Voepel (3:44 PM)
I realize I don't answer questions as quickly as some people would like. Maybe I'm not the best in a chat format ... I may think too much before answering. :) But I try to stay on a long time to make up for that. I do appreciate all the questions.
Damian (Brooklyn N.Y.)
Do you think the Liberty need size in the draft this year?
Mechelle Voepel (3:46 PM)
Absolutely. And the Lib's coach/GM John Whisenant stressed that when he was on the teleconference this morning. He, Cheryl Reeve and Nolan Richardson all are pretty high on some of the post players who are available, though, and think there's a chance for them to be contributing players right away.
I always took Cambage's comments to mean she didn't want to play for Richardson, which given his handling of trades and rosters is understandable. Any chance that's what she means, afterall she's been tweeting that she's excited about coming.
Mechelle Voepel (3:52 PM)
I'm of the mindset that you should be happy to have a job playing pro women's basketball in a league that has regular paychecks, benefits, etc. If she were a multi-year veteran and didn't want to go a certain place, she could decide that, but even then why insult a city? But because if I lived in Tulsa, that's how I'd take it. I think for a draftee to announce, "I don't want to go to this place" is a little much. Sorry, but it wasn't all that long ago there was no WNBA. Maybe because she's in Australia and she's young she doesn't understand the reality of the league financially and historically. I'm not trying to be mean to the kid, but I think there needs to be some perspective on her part. Or she needs to think more about what she says to reporters. Always a good thing. :)
Mechelle--Skylar Diggins not even on your 3rd team All-American list? I find it hard to believe you would not include her. Your thoughts.
Mechelle Voepel (3:55 PM)
Maybe just a screw-up on my part. Not sure who I would take off, though, because I really believed all the players on my list deserved to be there. But ... like I said, there are always going to be questions about choices. I second-guess myself.
Craig (Salisbury, MD)
I must say that it was exciting to see what went on in the Dallas Region, but let's not forget that both of these teams were worthy of the Final Four and should not have played until then. I understand what the NCAA is trying to do, and in a sense it worked in Dallas. So will we see this more regularly now on the legs of this success?
Mechelle Voepel (4:00 PM)
Lots of questions about this, and the truth is that I'm not sure because the committee doesn't always stay consistent on things. You can look year to year and see where one season they seemed to ignore what I would call obvious attendance-boosters that would take some (but not too much) manipulation of the bracket. And other years, they seem to make the attempt to boost attendance more of a priority. You know, for all the criticism of the committee - and I've done a lot of it - it's hard to make all these things work at the same time: competitive balance, maximizing attendance possibilities and making coaches/fan bases happy.
Tom from Providence said that Coach Summitt gave absolutely no praise to the team over the course of the season! That is absolutely wrong; furthermore, Pat took all of the responsibility for the Notre Dame loss even though the team did not show up in the game. I am sure a coach with her tenure will make the adjustments. There are a lot of great women's teams that could win a tourny game at any given time and could also lose at any given time. The A game performance is a must and they didn't have that performance in the regional finals.
Mechelle Voepel (4:08 PM)
To me, this epitomizes how differently observers see things. To Tom, earlier, Coach Summitt was putting too much of the blame on her players. To Kay, the players "didn't show up" and Summitt took all the responsibility. I would imagine there is a raging debate about this among Tennessee followers, and I'd really rather go to the dentist for five root canals than get in the middle of that. However.. my perspective is this team, for the last three years, has not had the personality that Summitt wants. Several of those players return next season. Are they going to be very different? Or will Summitt find a different way to relate to them? I don't know. Like I said, she's won more than 1,000 games and eight titles. Does that mean she never, ever needs to re-evaluate? Or has she, and it still hasn't worked to her satisfaction? Or ... does Tennessee just have to accept that a season can't just be defined anymore on whether they make the Final Four? Everyone can form their own opinion about all of that. And they will, I'm sure.
Mechelle Voepel (4:11 PM)
Sorry to leave so many questions unanswered, but I appreciate all of them. At ESPN.com, we will be doing Cover It Live from the Final Four in Indy, so please log into that if you are at home watching the games and want to participate. Thanks again, and enjoy the Final Four!