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 from the Midwest, where winter has been good to us so far. Fingers crossed. Let's get started.
Mechelle Voepel (2:06 PM)
Well, my part of the Midwest has been mostly mild, that is.
Matt (Sandusky, OH)
When analyzing the Ashley Robinson/Victoria Dunlap trade, was it really wise of the Storm to get rid of a familiar veteran post for an unproven "sophomore" forward?
Mechelle Voepel (2:10 PM)
Seattle's Brian Agler doesn't make moves without really good reasons ... this one may have had some salary implications, and also some belief that Dunlap was going to develop. That's about all I can figure. It wasn't something that made Lauren Jackson particularly happy, though. But players have to adjust to the "business" part of pro ball, and she's very aware of that.
The NCAA Seeding Committee was one game away from a Tenn.-UConn game in the semis last year. Since Tenn is not likely a #1 seed this year, barring non-stop upsets left and right, do you think the Seeding Committee, not knowing when Summitt retires, puts the two teams in the same Region hoping for an Elite Eight game for the long-awaited and perhaps last chance for a Pat-Geno tussle?
Mechelle Voepel (2:15 PM)
One thing about speculating in February in regard to what the committee might do in March is that some things could still happen that really do change what we think now. The committee may be inclined to try to "make" this matchup happen, but let's see how Tennessee plays the rest of the regular season and in the SEC tournament. Tenn's performance against Kentucky on Monday might just indicate the Vols have found a real "fire" again, and let's see how that impacts the rest of the season and then seeding. By the way, the NCAA's mock bracket for various media visitors is going on now in Indy. I did it the first year, in 2008, and it was very informative.
How would you handicap Coach Of the Year (COY)? Coach Mulkey has by far what looks like the favorite to win the NCAAs and probably go undefeated. Coach Summitt could be the sentimental fav if the voters think she's retiring off-season? But wouldn't you think that Geno has pulled off a tremendous job given he was supposed to be in a rebuilding year and, golly, he's #2 in the nation? Who will be COY and who should be COY?
Mechelle Voepel (2:23 PM)
I was talking to some fellow reporters about this the other night at the Oklahoma-UConn game ... there was a lot of support for Geno Auriemma as COY. And that's not just because those guys cover UConn. :) I think he definitely deserves consideration, for all the reasons you mention. Tina Martin of Delaware is also in the race, and Matt Mitchell of Kentucky. And of course, Kim Mulkey. People have different philosophies about COY ... do you give it to a coach who you think has a lot of talent and succeeds with that talent ... or to someone you think has less talent and does great things with that? I think you can look at it both ways ... part of being a coach is recruiting that talent.
Lets say Tulsa gets the first pick in the draft after this year? Do they take Griner and trade Cambage? Wouldn't the WNBA rather see a Griner- Cambage rivalry that could potentially start during the olympics?
Mechelle Voepel (2:27 PM)
What the WNBA might "want" is not necessarily what Tulsa would want. :) Various things go into this ... how will Cambage feel about the WNBA/Tulsa in 2013? Is there any chance at all Brittney goes pro after this year? (We'll wait and see). Let's say Tulsa does have Cambage and Griner in 2013. Cambage can bang inside as a 6-8 player, but it seemed to me that she liked to "drift" a lot to the outside this past season. What if she played more a power forward role and Griner was the center. How about that 6-8/6-8 high-low combination?
Niya (San diego)
There are moments when I watch Tennessee and the athleticism of Vicki Baugh really catches my eye. Do you think she can be a top 5-10 pick in this years draft? What do you see in her future and if she plays to her ability could TN win a national championship?
Mechelle Voepel (2:30 PM)
You are right ... there are moments when the "best" of Vicki Baugh really shines though and you remember just how much potential she has and how good of a player she can be. The issue, of course, is how much she's going to be affected by the knee injuries she's had, and how pro teams evaluate her in that regard. I still think when everything is clicking for Tennessee, they have the ability to win a title ... but what they have lacked is the consistency that we're so used to seeing from that program. Even after their dominant performance against Kentucky, you have to ask yourself: Can this group win six games in the NCAA tournament?
Rutgers is now ensnared in a 5-game losing streak and it was not exactly all top 10 teams beating them on the road or at the RAC. Rushdan was injured for a few of those losses. Does it seem likely that Coach Stringer, still a remarkable recruiter, might be less of a game coach and teacher these days, or are the last 5 years so merely an extended dry period mixed in with injuries, transfers/ departures, and bad luck in a very tough Conference?
Mechelle Voepel (2:33 PM)
I wonder if it isn't every single one of those things. It's hard to maintain the energy necessarily to coach at the Division I level for so many years the way Coach Stringer has. Then you add in that they've had some "misses" in recruiting - not misses in terms of talent, necessarily, but in how that player ended up not fitting in well at Rutgers. And I think it is a tough conference. Maybe not at the very bottom, but certainly at the top and through the middle, it's extremely challenging. Stringer has gone through a lot, not just in her lifetime, but even in the past 5-10 years. So all the things you mention could well be factors.
Cardinal (in NYC)
Giving your love of predicting, which is a better bet: Baylor going undefeated through NCAA play or Mizzou going winless in conference play?
Mechelle Voepel (2:41 PM)
Missouri, in its last year in the Big 12, is now 0-13 in league play, but has lost its last two games - to Oklahoma and Texas AM - by just four points each. The Tigers also have three other Big 12 losses that were by six points or less. Meaning, they really have been knocking on the door to finally getting that first win. This Saturday, Mizzou plays Kansas in Lawrence, which may be the last "Border War" for the women since KU has said (for now) it won't play Missouri since the Tigers are leaving the Big 12. I don't know if those hard feelings will ease over time; I hope so, because it's the biggest geographic rivalry here in KC and it will be bizarre not to have it. Anyway, the Jayhawks lost junior post player Carolyn Davis to a terrible knee injury on Sunday, which was really heartbreaking. I am sorry more people have not gotten a chance to see this kid play, because she's really good. She's out for the rest of the season, and I wonder how much heart KU has right now with all that's happened. It could be "ambush" time for Mizzou, which is so hungry for a win. What the heck ... I'll say it's a better bet for Baylor to go undefeated. I think Mizzou is going to catch somebody either at the end of this regular season or in the Big 12 tournament.
Jonathan (New York)
Part of me likes the prospect of Delle Donne, Griner, and Diggins coming back next year. But another part of me asks, what does it say about the WNBA, that it cannot entice these collegians to play in LA with arguably the league's most exciting player (Parker, when healthy), OR in Seattle with arguably the best player (Jackson, for now) and the consensus best point guard in the game (Bird)?
Mechelle Voepel (2:45 PM)
I think it's still about the value of the college degree and college experience. Plus the fact that pro salaries - even when you factor in the greater money made overseas than from the WNBA - aren't necessarily enticing enough for players to give up that last year of college. I don't think it's a "bad" thing that most kids still don't want to give up a year of being a kid and playing for their school. The men's game has almost completely lost that, frankly, and it's understandable with the size of the salaries in the NBA. But there are some experiences that you can't put a price tag on.
Hey mechelle, every time uconn is on tv the announcers mention how much they have "overachieved" this year. What were the actual expectations of the huskies given that at this point we have won every game i expected us to win and lost the two i expected us to lose.
Mechelle Voepel (2:49 PM)
I figured they would be an Elite Eight or Final Four team when all was said and done, but actually didn't expect they would be so cohesive and good from the very start of the season. I'm never "surprised" by how good that program is. I just don't necessarily "expect" that they should always seem like, no matter what happens, they don't miss a beat. You'd think losing Maya Moore would have had more of noticeable impact, but it really hasn't. At least, not so far.
The Big Ten is as bunched up as I have seen it in a while. Penn State (10-3) travels to Purdue (9-3) tonight then hosts Ohio State (9-3). The Buckeyes end their season at Nebraska (8-4). There are also few five-loss teams. Who do you think will win the Big Ten when all is said and done?
Mechelle Voepel (2:51 PM)
Oh, my gosh ... picking the Big Ten is very hazardous to one's sense of feeling you know anything about women's basketball. There are so many possible scenarios here, but ... I think Penn State is going to come out on top by a hair. Sorry for the kiss of death, Lions' fans.
kevin (macon ga)
In the last week, 10 ranked teams have lost to unranked opponents. Is parity a reality?
Mechelle Voepel (2:55 PM)
I asked Geno Auriemma about this Monday. He said that parity is kind of like global warming: Not everybody believes in it or always sees the evidence, but it really is there. Now ... for those folks who don't believe in global warming, I guess I can't convince them that either thing really exists. :) I actually think "parity" to a degree has been around a long time. It's just taking a while for it to reach the very top with any consistency. I do think weeks like this past one are good evidence of progress. And, yes, I believe in global warming.
The All-American team has many great guards to pick from this year. If first team AA guards are Odyssey Sims and Samantha Prahalis, would 2nd team AA be Hartley and Diggins, or might the Miami guard get to 2nd team?
Mechelle Voepel (3:00 PM)
This is going to be difficult for the media voters, as we pick first, second and third teams for All-American honors - and for the guards, everybody you mentioned is in the mix for first team. Right now, if I had to pick two guards, it would be Sims and Diggins. But it's hard to make those choices, because they are all so good.
Sylvia Fowles, Candace Parker, Brittney Griner, Tina Charles, Lindsay Whalen, Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Tamika Catchings, Cappie Ponexter, Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus and Angel McCoughtry....would you make any switches to this roster?
Mechelle Voepel (3:01 PM)
That sounds like a pretty darn good group to send to London.
If Coach Summitt retires in 2-3 years and you were the highly-compensated Tenn AD and higher-ups, would you prefer a high-profile Tenn-connected replacement from the outside, one of the existing staff, or looking at past 4 years of less than stellar results vs. high expectations go outside and go non-Tenn connection Coach?
Mechelle Voepel (3:04 PM)
I'd be really surprised if the next coach - whenever that person steps in - did not have Tennessee connections. I'm not sure who would even be in the mix for that who didn't have Tennessee links. I'll say what I did in a previous chat ... if Holly Warlick really, really wants this job, I think she deserves a chance to do it. Not as the "surrogate" but as the real head coach, whenever that time comes. Tennessee does have a lot to think about in this regard. It's a very difficult situation for everyone involved.
Mechelle Voepel (3:07 PM)
By the way, during this chat, the Washington Mystics sent out a release that Crystal Langhorne has re-signed with the Mystics. I'm not sure what kind of team she's going to have around her this year, but I'm glad for the Mystics' sake she's going to be there. They definitely need her.
kevin (macon ga)
How is it that ESPNW can post a Valentine's Day list of the greatest heartbreaks in sports history and not include any moment's from women's sports? No Mary Decker in 1984, no Jana Novotna in 1993, nothing. If ESPNW ignores the long, rich history of women's sports, who will take the time to tell those stories and build those legends?
Mechelle Voepel (3:17 PM)
It is fair to say that ESPNW is in a transition period. You probably noticed that for the first year or so, there was not much if any connection between ESPNW and the things done on ESPN.com regarding women's sports, including what we had on our women's basketball page. ESPNW was begun as an enterprise that was about establishing a different "brand" than ESPN.com, which is why writers such as myself, Graham Hays, Charlie Creme, etc. were not initially involved. It's in an evolutionary process right now as we've begun combining our efforts in a way I think ultimately will be beneficial for women's sports. I hope readers will see that evolution as a really positive thing, and I am very pleased to now be a part of it.
Matt (Sandusky, OH)
Now that she has signed with Minnesota, is veteran guard Erin Thorn a good fit for such an athletic, title-defending Lynx team?
Mechelle Voepel (3:20 PM)
I was a little surprised with this signing, actually, but I think this season, especially, there will be some signings that are about getting some healthy bodies in spots that may be lean because of various issues like the May start to the season due to the upcoming Olympics. The Lynx must think she can help them on the perimeter.
Matt (Sandusky, OH)
What is up with West Virginia? First, they upset Notre Dame, then they knock off Rutgers. Did they have a change in their lineup or just improved chemistry that has caused them to be flying high now and out from under the radar?
Mechelle Voepel (3:21 PM)
Maybe it kicked in to have that last big push in their final season in the Big East? :) I think it's improved chemistry for a group that maybe needed some time to develop. It will be interesting to see how the Mountaineers do next season in the Big 12. That will be really weird, frankly.
During a preseason chat you said you wouldn't be going out on a limb predicting that Ogwumike would win the Wade trophy this year. Do you find now yourself out amongst the leaves hearing cracking noises?? : )
Mechelle Voepel (3:25 PM)
Oh, heck, that limb is already broken. I must have been on cold medication that day. Nah, I can't blame it on that. I am going to be doing some pieces in the coming weeks about the various awards, including one I'm doing today on player of the year. My vote goes to Brittney Griner. Now I'm REALLY not going out on a limb. Seriously, though, it's not like Nneka would be a bad choice or anything. Just that Griner has been great on an undefeated team. She's one of 21 finalists for the Olympic team. She's been terrific.
kevin (macon ga)
True or False: Holly Warlick is to Pat Summitt as Bill Guthridge is to Dean Smith
Mechelle Voepel (3:28 PM)
I don't know the answer to that, really. The Guthridge transition didn't work, we all know that. But I don't know if Warlick would have the same issues that he did in taking over for Smith. She might have more of a "captain's" mindset than is obvious from her being an assistant for so long. I just think if she really wants the job and Tennessee believes in her, she should get the chance.
In the 30 NCAA Tournaments, #1 seed has won 70% of the time, #2 seed has won 23 times (seven NCs), and two #3 seeds have won, or 7% of the time. If there was a #3 seed likely to win this year, a bit of a dark horse to say the least, which squad might you tab as that semi-reasonable long-shot?
Mechelle Voepel (3:30 PM)
This is not the year for a No. 3 seed to win. :)
kevin (macon ga)
The Shock indicated on their website that neither Betty Lennox nor Sheryl Swoopes will be back with the team this season. Will either of them play in the W again?
Mechelle Voepel (3:31 PM)
Lennox .... maybe. She might still find a place in the league if it's not with the Shock. But I think if Swoopes is not with the Shock, she is not going to be playing in the league.
Your thoughts on the Brittney Griner Kelsey Bone rival? I know it really is non-existent but wouldn't it be good for the sport to have a rivalry like this? do you think Kelsey can be a good player in the WNBA?
Mechelle Voepel (3:35 PM)
They won't be playing in the same conference next year, which is a shame. Right now, Bone is still developing as a college player. Griner is, too, but she's at a much higher and consistent level. Had Kelsey come to TAMU from the start, instead of going to South Carolina and sitting out the transfer year, it probably would have been fun watching them go head-to-head for three years in the Big 12. Griner has set a very high bar, and is a sure thing in the pros. I do think Bone has a future there, too, but she's still got a lot to work on with her game. We've been seeing progress this year.
Mechelle Voepel (3:36 PM)
Thanks for all the questions, and I apologize for the ones I did not get to. Look forward to chatting with you again next week.