Chat with Mechelle Voepel
Welcome to SportsNation! On Thursday, women's basketball writer Mechelle Voepel will stop by to chat about the start of the college season.
Voepel has covered women's college and pro basketball for ESPN.com since 1996. Read her blog at www.mechellevoepelblog.com.
Send your questions now and join Voepel Thursday at 2 p.m. ET!
Mechelle Voepel (2:05 PM)
Good afternoon. If there is one cliche thing I think I have started to embrace as I get old(er), it's to not get too upset over stuff you have no control over. That doesn't mean I'm able to always do it ... but in the case of Albert Pujols leaving the Cardinals, I am, for the most part. It's too bad for Cards fans, and I am sad about that cherished ideal of "legacy" but ... that is life in pro sports. Most people will always go anywhere for more money ... and it helps that the American League has the DH. Good luck, AP. Now, onto college stuff ...
So the Baylor/UCONN game on the 18th is shaping up to be probably the biggest game of the pre-season so far. Any thoughts on it?
Mechelle Voepel (2:10 PM)
I really liked what I saw from UConn on Tuesday night against Texas AM. The Aggies were disappointing, but the Huskies do that to teams. I guess I shouldn't have picked so much on Duke for getting crushed twice by UConn last year, right? It will be interesting to see how the Huskies play in a full arena where everyone is cheering against them. They'll probably love it; they always have in the past. I will be in attendance covering that game, so I'm really pleased about the way it's shaping up.
Women's volleyball...USC vs. Hawaii...your thoughts? I think that it may end up being the match of the year and it looks like it will be a sellout (over 9,600 tickets sold as of yesterday). I'll be there and I'll probably have no voice on Saturday but there is no other experience like it out there!
Mechelle Voepel (2:15 PM)
I think it would be great as the national championship match in San Antonio. :) As it is, it's a shame to me that these two teams are meeting in a regional semifinal, but you've probably heard me griping about the committee and the bracket enough. What bugs me is that these teams are, if not 1-2, then right there both in the top five, so they shouldn't be meeting this early. But ... that is out of my control, too, so clearly I am not following my previous pledge. I hope it's a great, five-setter and whoever wins will fully deserve a trip to the FF ... but still won't get it yet, because they'll have another match to play vs. the Pepperdine-Kansas State winner. Hope you enjoy the match, that it's epic, and congrats to the Hawaii fans for their loyalty and support of this program.
Matt (Sandusky, OH)
The biggest upset of the NCAA Volleyball Tournament so far was Kansas State winning 3-2 over Nebraska in Lincoln! How did this happen? After leaving for the Big 10 Conference, did Nebraska just forget how to defeat Big 12 opponents?
Mechelle Voepel (2:22 PM)
Funny thing ... I was talking to some radio guys in Omaha last week - complaining about the bracket/committee, of course - and I thought, "You know, the other thing is, Kansas State could really be dangerous for the Huskers in the second round." Which might sound weird, since they'd won only three times in previous history against Nebraska ... but that's more than the likes of Kansas (zero) or most of the other Big Eight/12 teams ever did. To K-State, going into the Coliseum at Lincoln was a *very* familiar experience, and all the pressure was on the Huskers. I think K-State played a GREAT match, Nebraska showed its stumble against Northwestern in the regular-season finale was indicative of something not quite right, the in-season issues with Neb setter Lauren Cook and her driving problems/suspension maybe did affect the team, perhaps Big Ten play wore out the Huskers ...and I'm not making an excuse for the Huskers, but once they saw the bracket and being in the Hawaii regional, it got in their heads. And they were worried about that, when in fact, K-State stopped them before they got there. I've seen a lot of KSU-Nebraska volleyball in my years in KC, and I know how much the Wildcats have dealt with being a good program but usually not good enough to beat Neb. Well, they did it this time. Congrats to the Wildcats and coach Suzie Fritz. I do feel bad for the Huskers because I think they are certainly better than a second-round team. But they had a match on their home court against a familiar foe, and lost in 5. Ouch on those service errors, btw.
kevin (macon ga)
Who makes better music: Essence Carson or Angel McCoughtry?
Mechelle Voepel (2:23 PM)
You know last week I said I can be a little clueless on popular music. :) I will leave this up to those with more refined taste than I to debate. What do you guys think?
Could the Texas Tech Lady Raiders be a surprise/sleeper team in the Big 12?
Mechelle Voepel (2:26 PM)
I've had them in my top 25 from the preseason, and so far so good. Coach Kristy Curry was actually ticked off at Big 12 media day in October about the Raiders not being selected higher or not getting much individual acclaim from the league's coaches in preseason voting. I thought, "Well, that could be good if she uses that to fire them up." Considering the longtime fan base at Tech, it's good for women's basketball in general if Tech is doing well.
What do you anticipate from Tenn during the regular season -- perhaps 2-3 losses, or might this year be a 5-6 loss going into the NCAA's?
Mechelle Voepel (2:32 PM)
Considering they have two losses already, still have to play the likes of Rutgers in NJ, Stanford in Palo Alto, and Notre Dame in South Bend, plus the SEC schedule ... I think five losses would not be surprising, nor would it make me think less of their chances in the NCAA tournament. This is a "different" Tenn bunch from the Parker-Hornbuckle-Anosike teams, we all know that. They are mentally different. They are facing different adversity. But they do have a lot of talent. So we'll see if, in crunch time in March/April when it really matters, if they can hold their own.
Gary Blair was quoted as saying Geno's best player is presently coming in off the bench (i.e. KML). Is she the best on UConn now, or would you think it is Bria Hartley?
Mechelle Voepel (2:37 PM)
Right now, I'd say it's Bria Hartley, just because of her experience - even though she's still so young - and her play-making ability. But the thing about UConn is that it's not just their "best" players that kill other teams year in and year out. It's players like Kelly Faris, who hustle all the time and are versatile and do whatever is asked of them. They seem like "role players," when in fact they really are very talented and would be the "superstar" on a lot of teams. That has long been the hallmark of UConn - Auriemma recruits players who want to win titles and who buy into that team concept. I know that sounds like a bunch of cliches, too. But it's absolutely what happens there.
Tom (San Francisco, CA)
What's happening at Vanderbilt? Balcomb has two good sophomore guards and the Commodores, though playing a relatively light schedule, look like they can make some noise this year. What is it about Balcomb's program that keeps them in the hunt every year?
Mechelle Voepel (2:41 PM)
I got a chance to see them play in person against Oklahoma, and you are right in targeting the success of the two soph guards as a big part of this. Plus, yes, the schedule has been a little cup-cakey. I will be writing about the Commodores next week. Vandy's consistency in being a good program, of course, goes back to Phil Lee and Jim Foster even before Melanie Balcomb, but she's proven herself to be a consistent winner at Xavier and Vandy, too. Her teams always seem to be a little undersized most years - I joke that she is allergic to a "traditional" lineup - but they get the job done against most teams.
Barry (Phoenix, Arizona)
Thoughts on the Duke-Kentucky matchup tonight?
Mechelle Voepel (2:44 PM)
Glad to see them playing each other, hope it doensn't get "ugly." Kentucky's defense can do that to teams, and we know that Duke's offense can disappear no matter how much talent happens to be on the floor. I hope for the best in terms of how both teams play.
Tom (San Francisco, CA)
The emergence of Kentucky and Louisville as top women's programs must be good for the sport - both are big draws on their respective campuses and recruiting doesn't seem to be slowing down. What are the chances these two programs surpass the stalwarts in their conferences?
Mechelle Voepel (2:47 PM)
I couldn't agree more ... these are programs in a men's basketball-insane state, but there is some room in the hearts of Kentuckians for the women, too. Especially with two very good coaches who tend to connect well in their communities and sell the game well. I don't know that anyone is going to "overtake" UConn and Tennessee, so to speak, but it's nice to see the Cardinals and Wildcats continuing to establish themselves in their own right. Again, from the standpoint of the development of women's basketball as a spectator sport, these regional rivalries among teams that are gaining national prominence is SO important.
Genny (Western MA)
It is great to see Pat Summitt receiving awards and accolades, but the timing seems to be a response to the diagnosis. I wish it did not take that for her to receive the recognition she deserves. Thoughts?
Mechelle Voepel (2:51 PM)
I've had a few questions about this on the chat, in regard to the "Sports Illustrated" Sportswoman of the Year award she shared with Sportsman Mike Krzyzewski. SI's history on this award has been that sometimes they honor people for more than just their sports accomplishments; it's about other things. Not always, but they do have a history of that. I can't really criticize them for paying homage to Coach Summitt at any time, and if the courage she's shown in being public with her diagnosis factored into their decision, that is not contrary to some of the choices they've made before.
Matt (Sandusky, OH)
Do the Bluejays of Creighton cause any match-up problems for the Cornhuskers in tonight's Battle of Nebraska?
Mechelle Voepel (2:55 PM)
Don't think so ... Creighton is pretty small, overall, but Nebraska is not big and lumbering. The Huskers can play different styles with their depth. The Huskers have had the better of this series the last six meetings, I believe. I commend Creighton coach Jim Flanery for always including some good non-conference foes on the Bluejays' schedule. Oh, and congrats to Creighton's men's soccer team, which is in the College Cup and is a major point of pride on campus and in Omaha.
Genny (Western MA)
Are you surprised at how well UConn has been doing so far in its "rebuilding" year? What will it take for them to beat Baylor (besides hounding Griner)?
Mechelle Voepel (2:57 PM)
I don't think anybody is ever surprised that UConn plays well. Their "rebuilding" is not other teams' rebuilding. A big thing, along with denying Griner, is forcing turnovers - which is not something teams have been all that successful with against Baylor, keeping a "third" scorer from emerging with a solid game (other than Griner/Sims), and making Sims uncomfortable. Which, again, most teams have had little success in doing. UConn's defense is consistent, though, and they will play smart against the Bears. Kim Mulkey is very good at halftime with adjustments, so that's another thing UConn has to counter.
Tom (San Francisco, CA)
Iowa and Iowa State seem relatively down this year. Do you think the fans will still turn up in Des Moines in March for the tournament?
Mechelle Voepel (3:00 PM)
I think people will still show up, because you're drawing on the Iowa State fan base there (bigger and more reliable than Iowa's when it comes to women's basketball over the past decade-plus). The Cyclones fans have pride in their region, so to speak. But of course it also depends on what teams are there, and how that might draw in more local fans who don't have a specific rooting interest.
Are there any top teams that you are surprised by? Meaning did you expect more or less from the team(s) at this point. Throw in some teams that are not ranked too.
Mechelle Voepel (3:06 PM)
I expected a little better record thus far from Florida State, although I do recognize the Seminoles have played a pretty challenging schedule without a lot of the cream-puffery that we see on so many teams' slates. That factor alone makes it difficult to gauge how good/bad some teams are, because records can be really deceiving in non-conference play. I don't know exactly how to rate Vandy, for instance, because of their schedule. Is Colorado on the upswing, for real? How good is Michigan, which has one loss, to Maryland. And as for the Terps ... well, we have to wait until ACC play to really make a determination on them.
How do you see the Big Ten playing out this year? Mainly how do the Gophers do?
Mechelle Voepel (3:10 PM)
Classic logjam, but I guess I'll still go with my "prediction" - you know how I love those - of Purdue to win. As for Minnesota, a 5-5 mark can't be what Gophers fans were hoping for at this point. But maybe facing the likes of Baylor - despite getting clobbered - does pay off in terms of really preparing for the grind that is always the Big Ten. Nebraska "fits" in this league, and the Huskers are one more team that is going to wedge itself into the logjam, I think.
Which defense is the toughest among the top-tier teams in your view, and why?
Mechelle Voepel (3:25 PM)
Consistently, for several years now, I'd say UConn has the most reliable, athletic, smart defense. This isn't a news flash - a lot has been written and said about how good defensively the Huskies usually are, but at the same time, they can be so pleasant to watch offensively that it's inevitable their defense is overshadowed. Texas AM has been built in the Gary Blair era on defense, and though it didn't show much the other night, most of the time teams dred playing the Aggies. Tennessee has many seasons, too, of being a great defensive team, but I think that's been one of the frustrations the coaching staff has had in the last three years - they aren't always up to their standards there. Rutgers, of course, is known for its ugly scores, and we all know Vivian Stringer loves defense ... but you wish that it would translate into better offense for the Scarlet Knights more often. Baylor has been solid defensively, too, under Mulkey. And Kentucky has made its climb a lot because of defense. As to why ... you have to have athletes, and you to be able to teach concepts and stick with them.
Mechelle Voepel (3:26 PM)
Thanks for all the questions! I will be in San Antonio next week for the volleyball Final Four, but my plan right now is still to do the chat on Thursday at 2 p.m. Eastern. Look forward to chatting again then.