Chat with Mechelle Voepel
Welcome to SportsNation! On Tuesday, women's basketball writer Mechelle Voepel stops by to chat about the women's NCAA tournament and tonight's games to send teams to the Sweet 16.
Voepel is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage.
Send your questions now and join Voepel Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET!
Mechelle Voepel (4:03 PM)
Hey, good afternoon! We'll have the rest of the Sweet 16 decided tonight. Let's get started.
PMacHub (Green Bay, WI)
What do you think about the MSU/GB matchup? Will GB be distracted by their coach who is the center of attention for the Wisconsin job opening?
Mechelle Voepel (4:06 PM)
It seems like a very even matchup between two teams with a lot of experience. I am not going to be a bit surprised to see either win. As for the situation with Bollant ... since the Badgers' job just opened, it's not like there's been much time for the players to get "worried" about the job search. I do think, back in 2007, the situation with Duke and Texas and Gail Goestenkors did affect the Blue Devils. So if Green Bay wins tonight, it may turn into more of a distraction if the Phoenix continues in the tournament.
doug b (columbus)
Do the bucks have any chance to upset Tenn? I think a big game by Lavender could send the bucks to elite eight. what do you think?
Mechelle Voepel (4:11 PM)
A chance, yes ... especially if Jantel Lavender has a bit game. I just have a feeling that Tennessee is going to really be geared up in practice this week after playing what they probably think was not a very good game last night. Myself, I give Marquette credit for that. But it's going to be an intense time in preparation for Tennessee, and I'm not sure that the Orange Crush at full-strength and focus is a team that Ohio State can get past. But we'll see, of course.
What are your thoughts on Tennesee's depth and if they have any chance to beat Uconn?
Mechelle Voepel (4:13 PM)
I've been very bullish on Tennessee's depth for a while, just because I think it is a big advantage. Even if last night's game scared Tenn fans a bit, the bottom line is that they still won it. So if they meet UConn - there's still a ways to go before that could happen - they do have the capacity to win. Certainly.
kevin (macon ga)
Attendance for the first two rounds has been pretty lackluster even with the predetermined sites. What can be done to improve it?
Mechelle Voepel (4:17 PM)
Top 16 seeds host, low ticket prices, market it hard. And then hope for the best in a sluggish economy. The idea that pre-determined sites would boost ticket sales was always wrong ... I don't know why anybody thought that would happen. But as long as television prefers (demands) predetermined sites, that will stay no matter what happens with attendance.
Which impressed you more - Marist win vs Iowa St. or Loss to Duke? Do they stay in top 25 for year end?
Mechelle Voepel (4:21 PM)
They were both impressive ... and the only thing that surprised me is that Marist was still able to play well enough to almost beat Duke despite Allenspach's injury. Having seen Iowa State at the Big 12 tournament, I really felt pretty sure Marist would beat them. Then I thought Marist would give Duke a great run ... but would not have guessed they could do so minus such a key player. We have already done our final vote for the Associated Press poll ... our last one is before the NCAA tournament. The coaches do theirs after, and I would be surprised if they would not keep Marist very securely in the Top 25.
Any change in your Final Four expectations?
Mechelle Voepel (4:23 PM)
For a while there last night, I was thinking I was going to be really wrong about Tennessee. :) But ... I'll still go with the No. 1's. I am not much for prognostication, really.
Matt (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
If I'm a Purdue fan (which I am) what should I consider a success for the Boilers tonight?
Mechelle Voepel (4:27 PM)
Just being competitive, which sounds nebulous, I know. But to not have the score in the first half be something like 30-4, you know? To just go out and play hard and not be intimidated or get flustered because of how well the Huskies can execute. UConn can just get going like an avalanche, so if Purdue can avoid that, it's a success.
Is this the year Giorgis leaves Marist? Tanya Warren at Northern Iowa? Which mid-major coach makes the jump to a bigger job?
Mechelle Voepel (4:30 PM)
There are a lot of coaches who've made a good showing so far. It comes down in part to whether those coaches are really so comfortable where they are that the lure of a bigger conference is not enough for them. I can't imagine that some of these mid-major success stories won't be pursued by some programs that do have a lot to offer. But money and being at a "big" school are not the most important things to some people. Plus, some of them may believe that a big part of their success is directly because they stay in their comfort zone.
Eric (St. Louis)
Do you think that Oklahoma has a legitimate chance to make it back to the Final Four this year?
Mechelle Voepel (4:32 PM)
If the Sooners had one more experienced, dependable scorer, I'd be more inclined to say Sherri Coale just might somehow pull it off again. But when you look at the obstacles in the Sooners' way, starting with Miami, I just don't see it.
Shaun (Waco, TX)
Were you surprised that first year host, Baylor, had the highest attendance for the first round games with both Tennessee and UConn hosting as well?
Mechelle Voepel (4:38 PM)
First off, sorry for the break in the chat ... the system seems to freeze up at times for some reason. As for Baylor ... not really. There's so much excitement there in Waco, I expected that place to be packed to the gills both nights.
Erica (Boise, Idaho)
Just checked Gonzaga's season record. The four losses were to USC, Stanford, Miss, and ND by a total of 22 points (6, 6, 1, 9). How were they an 11 seed?
Mechelle Voepel (4:39 PM)
I thought Gonzaga and Marist were both seeded way too low. And the way they both have played has proven that. Marist shouldn't have been in the position of having to play No. 2 in the second round. Gonzaga did at least have the home-court edge to counter being an 11 seed.
Do you think it's insulting when NCAAW players are referred to 'not being able to dunk but have good fundamentals' ?
Mechelle Voepel (4:45 PM)
Actually, I usually laugh at that because it's such an automatic cliche. Not all the women *do* have good fundamentals. :) I think people who are open-minded about the women's game appreciate good players for the same reasons they appreciate them on the men's side: Great players flow with the game and make outstanding things seem simpler than they are. And they do it with speed. With the exception of certain super-acrobatic dunking prowess in the NBA, I don't know that *just* being able to dunk makes a guy a really admired player. And people who are closed-minded to women's hoops won't like it no matter what. I really think it's a waste of time to worry about those folks. Let them enjoy what they like, and try to ignore some of their ridiculous insults. ... Of course, I say that, but they do tick me off sometimes. :)
Erica (Boise, Idaho)
What's your biggest surprise of the tournament so far?
Mechelle Voepel (4:48 PM)
I feel like I keep saying nothing has surprised me ... but honestly, I'm not sure anything really has been a big shock. I expected Marist to beat Iowa State and challenge Duke. I figured UCLA would sneak past Gonzaga, but it was not a surprise that the Bulldogs won. (Now, last year, I *was* surprised that Gonzaga beat Texas A&M because the Aggies had played so well in the Big 12 tournament.) As for more results this year ... I didn't think West Virginia was going to win its first-round game, and I thought Penn State would prevail in the second round against DePaul. But I can't say either of those results ended up being shockers.
April (North Carolina)
What are your thoughts on the UNC-Stanford game?
Mechelle Voepel (4:50 PM)
If the Tar Heels played a style where they valued their possessions more, I'd think it could be a great game. North Carolina certainly has the talent to make it close contest. But their style, to me, is not effective against the very best teams. That said, Stanford needs to be very wary of getting beat on the boards by Carolina.
Chris Fiegler (Latham,NY)
When is the 2011 WNBA Draft?
Mechelle Voepel (4:51 PM)
April 11, 3 p.m Eastern time at ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn.
Keith H (Seattle)
Mechelle, I was curious if there was much of a national buzz towards Gonzaga's Courtney Vandersloot. Around here we've known about her, but when you put up a tournament like she has this year, I would think the profile would be raised a bit. Is it?
Mechelle Voepel (4:53 PM)
I would imagine last night definitely raised it. The men's NCAA tournament wasn't on, so there were more eyes going to the women's games that wouldn't necessarily always go there. The fact that she'll be such a big story there in Spokane this weekend will raise her profile, too. I've heard from a few friends who are not really "into" women's hoops but pay some attention, and they were blown away by how she performed last night.
T Smith (Waco)
Do you think WVU, with their pressure defense, has a chance tonight against Griner and company?
Mechelle Voepel (4:56 PM)
It seems to me that the best way an underdog _ which I think everyone would acknowledge that West Virginia is - can go about trying to beat Baylor is to slow the pace, make it a defensive battle and hope you can contain those around Griner. I say this even though Baylor is an exceptional defensive team as well. West Virginia is used to trying to win this way, so the style they will need to even have a chance against Baylor is something they're already familiar with. But I can't see Baylor losing, especially at home.
Why don't more womens teams apply full-court pressure? Not just to turn a team over but disrupt offensive half-court efficiency with the short shot clock?
Mechelle Voepel (4:59 PM)
I guess three main things: The lack of a 10-second backcourt violation means there's less potential "reward" for full-court pressure. Then there's the quality depth you need to be that kind of defensive team. And finally, it's about how playing that defensive style might affect your offense.
Blake Whitney (Washington, DC)
If teams aren't allowed to play on their home court in regional play, is it really fair that Gonzaga gets to play right across town from their home arena? Should any team not have to leave their city limits to get to the Final Four?
Mechelle Voepel (5:05 PM)
It's one of the things the women's game has wrestled with for a long time. Because attendance for everything short of the Final Four is very much driven by fans of the teams playing rather than a large groundswell of interest in the sport itself. All who pay attention to the game, of course, talk about this a lot. I know the overall interest has improved since I started covering women's basketball in 1984, but it's still not where everyone wants it to be. So ... there will likely be a great atmosphere in Spokane this weekend because Gonzaga is there, and it would not be quite the same otherwise. Places bid for regionals with the hope that a team close by will be there. Ultimately, I think we live with certain inequities or things we wish were different because it's better to have crowds at games.
Matt (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
How concerned should Tennessee be about the Sweet 16 game against Ohio State?
Mechelle Voepel (5:08 PM)
One thing Tennessee coach Pat Summitt has said consistently is that she does worry about the team's focus and killer instinct. All the time. She has had to keep reinforcing that. So that fact alone is a reason why Tennessee should have concern with Ohio State. This isn't the same kind of Tennessee team as some in the past that couldn't wait to clobber opponents.
Notre Dame has not looked that great in their first two games, while both Duke and DePaul barely made it to the Sweet Sixteen. Assuming both teams stay healthy, are we destined for a Uconn-Tennessee Final Four matchup even more than we thought at the beginning?
Mechelle Voepel (5:13 PM)
I felt pretty sure of Tennessee-UConn from the start, so I don't know that I'm more sure. :) That said, there are some extenuating circumstances. Duke and Notre Dame beat teams that were double-digit seeds but played much better than their seeding. And DePaul had to play a pretty good Penn State team on the Lions' home floor, of course. I do think Notre Dame, if they face Tennessee in the Dayton final, still has a chance to win that game. But, even with UConn at basically a six-player rotation, I'm not sure any team in the Philly region truly believes they can beat the Huskies.
Matt (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
With openings at Washington and Wisconsin, any chance Kelly Graves or Matt Bollant make a jump? Do you think their gender would hurt their chances?
Mechelle Voepel (5:19 PM)
The gender issue is more an issue at certain schools, depending on a lot of factors (including how many other women's sports at that school are coached by men.) I'd like to think most people would say, "Try to hire the best fit for a school, regardless of gender." But it's tough when you have essentially NO female coaches in any men's sport anywhere. It just is. There is no easy, pat answer for this. It is a concern that men can feel they have opportunities to coach men or women, but women can't reasonably feel the same way. I don't think that problem is helped, though, by denying men opportunities in the women's game when they will be good hires. And everything Graves, Bollant, Giorgis have done would suggest they would succeed other places if they wanted to move.
Linsey (Sterling Heights Michigan)
If MSU wins tonight vs. GB, how do you see them doing in the Sweet 16 vs. #1 seeded Baylor in the Sweet 16?
Mechelle Voepel (5:24 PM)
It's so hard for most teams to match up with Baylor. But if the Spartans have to do that, they are a team that - at their best - executes well and has players who understand their roles well. Those may seem like basic things, but you have to have a solid fundamental team to have a chance at knocking off any one of these No. 1 seeds.
Robert (Indianapolis, IN)
I know the media will love Gonzaga and those who only follow the game during the tournament, but I'm sensing a backlash because of the hosting factor. You can't ignore their advantage considering their only win over a BCS school is WSU...the host of the next town located in the same city. Take the Zags out of Spokane and they are real good, but not a team that beats the teams they are going to at home.
Mechelle Voepel (5:28 PM)
I agree, it can't be ignored, and in what I've written about Gonzaga, I've prominently mentioned that. At the same time, it's the way the tournament was set up, and we have to deal with it like that. I think Gonzaga is a great story ... but by the same token, yes, it bothers me that a No. 3 seed like UCLA had to play on an 11 seed's home court. UCLA earned a more fair second-round game based on how the Bruins played all season. But every year of pre-determined sites, there are different programs that get burned like this.
Which teams have the best chance of upending one of the number ones?
Mechelle Voepel (5:29 PM)
I'll say Texas A&M, Notre Dame and - if they win tonight - Xavier.
Erica (Boise, Idaho)
Is Stanford playing with fire given their tendency to have a so-so first half and a really good second half? Or does it just show how well they make half-time adjustments?
Mechelle Voepel (5:31 PM)
I think they're playing with fire ... and I would imagine Tara VanDerveer is telling them that, too. The deeper you go in the tournament, the more crucial it is to have a good start. I know there's been a lot of chatter about Stanford and the players' ability to make adjustments ... but the Cardinal doesn't want to be playing catchup in every first half from here on out.
UConn Steve (TX)
As usual, the discussion boards have the usual complaints about referees, especially the Penn State fans and Ohio State fans. Foul totals and free throw attempts to do not always tell the complete story. I do not remember the last time a coach or player agreed with a foul or non-foul. :) Some fans want the referees to let the women play. Other fans complain about the grabbing and holding. There have been a lot of travelling calls this season but Marquette got away with a few against Tennessee. What are your thoughts on the referees so far in the tournament? Did you see the elbow incident in the OSU-GT game? Thanks for today's chat.
Mechelle Voepel (5:38 PM)
I've always wanted less fouls called, not more. But in terms of overall referee performance ... I've got to say, when you have no stake in who wins, you usually find fewer flaws. Or at the very least, you see that so-called "bad" calls even out. I'm not trying to be condescending at all. I just notice if I'm watching major-league baseball, where I am a fan and have a rooting interest, I might think a strike called against the Cardinals was a "terrible" call. And when I see the same pitch called in a game between two other teams, I'll think, "Eh, that was borderline." So I think emotional attachment about the outcome affects judgment at least to some degree. That doesn't mean there aren't "bad" calls or that people should never complain about officiating, though.
CardinalFan (San Diego)
A lot of us Pac-10 fans have been happy to see the emergence of UCLA over the last few years as a potential rival for Stanford. What do you think Nikki Caldwell needs to do now to take the Bruins to the elite?
Mechelle Voepel (5:44 PM)
It's a dull answer, but building a program takes time. And you need some lucky breaks here and there. UCLA got an unlucky break this year by being a No. 3 seed that had to play on Gonzaga's home court. In another circumstance, the Bruins would be in the Sweet 16, garnering at least another day of TV attention for recruiting purposes, and getting one more game of experience to build on. She know how to recruit and coach. She will keep building.
Do you think Vandersloot has a bright WNBA future ahead of her? Or is she more of a Tyler Hansbrough in that she's had a very impressive college career, but will see more limited action professionally?
Mechelle Voepel (5:48 PM)
A lot of people have really strong views and opinions on how players will do in the WNBA. I tend to be more reserved in judgment because so many things can affect that: Where they play, how good the coaching staff is, what the team surrounding them is like, how they adjust to life away from the structure of college, how they embrace the demands of being a professional athlete. Which for most of the WNBA players means accepting spending several months playing overseas. Not everybody want to do that or can do it. There are more variables that go into professional success than just evaluating how the player looks right now on the court. Vandersloot clearly has a great understanding of the game and has shown the ability to rise to the occasion. But I will say I think folks who don't watch a lot of the WNBA do not realize just how good you have to be to survive in a league that has 12 teams and 11 spots per team. There's a lot of competition for those spots.
UConn Steve (TX)
Here is my take on the #1 seeds. Take away Maya and UConn does not win the NC. Take away Brittney and Baylor does not win the NC. Take any 1 player away from Stanford or Tennessee and they still are great teams. Your thoughts?
Mechelle Voepel (5:53 PM)
I think that's a fascinating debate to have, and I probably agree with you on UConn/Maya and Baylor/Griner. But I'm also not sure you could take either Pohlen, Pedersen or Nneka Ogwumike off Stanford and be very certain of winning a title. And I tend to doubt Tennessee can win a title without Shekinna Stricklen playing well. But Tennessee and Stanford are teams that are less dependent on one specific player. However, the fact that all these players are with the teams they are with is what makes them the No. 1 seeds, right?
Mechelle Voepel (5:55 PM)
Thanks for all the questions! Hope you all enjoy the rest of the second round.