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 (2:06 PM)
Good afternoon. Back in KC after early-round games in Chicago and Bowling Green, Ohio. Really liked BG's new facility, the Stroh Center; it's a good size for games. Headed to Des Moines tomorrow. Let's get going!
Starting with the Big East tournament, UConn has been looking like a dominant team again. With the exception of ND, are the teams it is playing that much weaker, or is UConn peaking at the exact right time?
Mechelle Voepel (2:10 PM)
There is a combo of both. UConn players are highly motivated, and Geno Auriemma almost always pushes the right buttons with them. He was on them hard after that loss to Notre Dame at the end of the regular season, and that clearly got under their skin in a good way to re-focus them. And most of the match-ups have been way in their favor for various reasons. They had "revenge" games against St. John's and Notre Dame. They're never going to lose an NCAA first-round game. And then as soon as Kansas State beat Princeton in the first round, I thought, "This is where it gets really ugly for the Wildcats. They have no weapons against UConn." I figured they would lose to Huskies like they did to Baylor this season .... like 80-40. But it was even worse. So UConn looks very good at the right time. Just as planned, I think.
After seeing St. John's in person, I think the President may be spot on picking St. John's for a final four berth. I was really impressed at the grit of this team. There will be a lot of WNBA prospects off this team. I don't think Stanford has it too easy as some have claimed out there. This region actually may be the toughest of the four. It seemed every time St. John's got knocked down in Norman they rose like the Phoenix. The pressure they put on teams is unreal. If a number one seed doesn't make I would say it would be Stanford.
Mechelle Voepel (2:13 PM)
I was impressed, too, with St. John's gumption. Creighton was a very tough test in the first round, which was to be expected because the Bluejays consistently play a tough non-conference schedule. Then beating a gutsy Oklahoma team on the Sooners' home floor ... very impressive. Three of the teams in the Fresno regional - St. John's, Duke, and South Carolina - all won their second-round games on their opponent's home floor. And Stanford had to go across the country for its early-round games. So everyone has worked to earn their spot in Fresno.
DUNKsAneeded (Los Angeles, CA)
What do you think changed Griner's perception of dunking this year? SHe only has had one, and Mulkey talked about her being afraid of criticism from the media if she missed or acted too aggressively after or during the game? Is this related to the barncastle incident and it's backlash? I think she sparked the Womens Game with her athletic ability on Tuesday, which is good for the game. a Show case
Mechelle Voepel (2:18 PM)
I think Mulkey is correct. She knows her players very well. Griner did get a lot of heat for the Barncastle incident, including from me. But I don't even think about that anymore; it's long past, a youthful mistake, and Griner has conducted herself very well ever since then. That shouldn't even be an issue anymore, and isn't as far as I'm concerned. But unfortunately, you may have seen the cretins come out in terms of reader comments after Griner's dunk. There are some really hateful, jealous, insecure jerks out there who hide behind the anonymity of the Internet to spread their bile and attack people who are successful. Pathetic cowards. I hope Griner doesn't read any of that crap, and I hope she dunks whenever she wants to and can. That dunk the other night was a "pure" dunk - it was the best-percentage shot from a player with the capability of doing it. That's what dunks are really supposed to be. I hope for many more of them from her, because it's a legit part of her arsenal that is fun to watch.
kevin (macon ga)
I know Angel Goodrich is small and has a history of knee problems, but does her performance against Delaware move her into the first round of the draft?
Mechelle Voepel (2:23 PM)
You just very aptly sized up the "cons" about Goodrich, but I think the "pros" were evident for all to see in the first two NCAA games for Kansas. Having watched her more closely just because I'm so close geographically to KU, I have been long impressed with the many skills she brings to the point position. Yes, she is only 5-4, and we know what problems that presents at the next level ... but there is also always a need for true playmakers who can score and hold their own defensively, which I think she can. Obviously, there will be some matchup issues if she is in the WNBA in 2013 and beyond, but that's part of hoops that good coaches and teammates can address. I'll say this: You won't find someone who gives more heart to what she does than Angel. And that should still count for something. Looks like it could be pretty stocked 2013 draft, especially compared to some years. Fingers crossed against injuries.
Sarah (New York)
When and where is the WNBA draft this year? I haven't been able to find this info anywhere.
Mechelle Voepel (2:25 PM)
It is Monday April 16 on ESPN's campus in Bristol, CT. I am sorry, but off the top of my head I'm not 100 percent sure of the time it starts. I believe it's 1 p.m. Eastern. I'm going, but have been a little consumed with NCAA stuff. :)
Jim (Kansas City, MO)
Holy Moly, Mechelle...Do you believe in miracles? Kansas making the Sweet 16? In the space of a couple of months, I've gone from thinking Bonnie Henrickson should be let go to thinking she's damn near a genius. What she has done with this tam since Carolyn Davis suffered a season-ending injury is simply remarkable. Those younger players are playing with confidence and poise. What's your assessment, and...Do you think they will wilt in the presence of and on the same floor as Pat Summitt?
Mechelle Voepel (2:30 PM)
I have been critical of Bonnie Henrickson at times in the past, too, and so want to be sure to give her a ton of credit for this run. She deserves it. All along, we could see the potential at Kansas, but it just didn't seem to come together. With Davis hurt, younger kids like Chelsea Gardner realized, "It's up to me," and they have stepped forward. It shows me that Bonnie never "lost" this team even when things were at their most depressing (such as the loss to Missouri with Davis already out for season). I really admire her for being able to keep their spirits up and keep them working; that is not easy with what they went through. I don't know that they can hold their own against Glory Johnson, Shekinna Stricklen and Vicki Baugh, but they will try. Their season has been a success now, regardless of what happens in Des Moines.
kevin (macon ga)
How will Riquna Williams' end of the year suspension affect her draft stock?
Mechelle Voepel (2:37 PM)
That kind of thing has to raise eyebrows with pro scouts, of course; that's the case with any sport's teams getting ready to potentially "hire" players. That said, it's enough of a different world in the pro realm that interested teams will make their own judgement about her and whether the problems that ended her Miami career are going to carry over _ or if she will deal with a pro atmosphere OK, with less issues. You've got to be able to be mature and handle yourself at the pro level, even if you don't necessarily "get along" all that well with others. You have to get along well enough to not cause distractions _ and you have to work hard or you *will* be a distraction. You don't get baby-sat at the pro level, and there are a lot of guards out there looking for jobs. I hope Williams realizes what the stakes are at the next level.
Can we give Brittney Griner some kudos for staying strong despite all the abuse she gets? People say some horrible things about her and id like to complement her on how she deals with it.
Mechelle Voepel (2:39 PM)
I agree with that. I have been impressed with how she has handled herself while maintaining her competitive fire. That's maturity.
We have already heard several names mentioned for the Texas job, including Dawn Staley. Who do you see as a good "fit" in Austin?
Mechelle Voepel (2:44 PM)
The names that seem to come up the most as far as speculation are Staley, Kentucky's Matt Mitchell and Louisville's Jeff Walz. Two of them are still with their teams in the NCAA tournament, and it makes me uncomfortable talking about that while they are still playing. Way of the world, though, I know. The thing that is different about the Texas hire than a lot of hires is that women's AD Chris Plonsky is so involved with and invested in the team. A lot of places, the AD hires the women's coach and wishes him/her well, but doesn't interact with that coach constantly. I think it's different at Texas. Whomever she hires has to be someone with whom she gets along with well personally. Plus the other major requirement, I believe, is being able to hit the ground running with recruiting in Texas right off the bat. It's not easy unless you really know the state or have one or two coaches on your staff who do.
Tom (San Francisco, CA)
Duke's offense in Nashville. Flash in the pan or an indication of what this young team is capable of in March?
Mechelle Voepel (2:46 PM)
I tell you what: They shut my mouth. I've griped about Duke's offensive execution a lot in recent years, but that was quite a display in Nashville. It will be tougher to look that good against St. John's but at least the Blue Devils showed they really are capable of playing as well on that end of the court as many thought they could.
Do you think Kamie Ethridge would be a smart hire for Texas to replace Gail Goestenkors?
Mechelle Voepel (2:48 PM)
If Kamie Ethridge hasn't become a head coach by now, I don't think it will happen. She is very comfortable in her longtime role at Kansas State. I don't see her leaving.
What's next for Coach G? How about taking over the National Team after Geno? I hope she won't take a long break.
Mechelle Voepel (2:52 PM)
Maybe the national team is in her future. Obviously, she has quite a history with USA Basketball. I think she needs to decompress from the disappointment that this career move turned out to be. She really thought it was going to work out, and it's very hard emotionally when something doesn't turn out as you expected. She needs time to re-charge her batteries and then coaching will seem much more appealing again, I would guess. Chris Plonsky really was not going to push her out, so this was her decision. I admire that she knew her heart wasn't in it and stepped aside. Sometimes people in all professions need to take breaks. Most can't afford it, though. She was in the position where she could.
Anita (Danbury, CT)
What would you focus on to beat Baylor? Who has the best chance, in your opinion?
Mechelle Voepel (2:55 PM)
Deny, deny, deny Griner the ball and then hope everybody else for Baylor is average offensively ... plus you have to be scoring well on your end. Florida coach Amanda Butler talked about the Bears getting into the realm of "being unbeatable" because they have the other weapons besides Griner. I thought Florida played Baylor pretty well, and still couldn't come all that close to beating them.
kevin (macon ga)
Through two rounds tournament teams are averaging 65 points/game. It's been 11 years since the tournament average last topped 70 ppg. Will we ever get back to the high scoring tournaments of the 80's and 90's?
Mechelle Voepel (3:01 PM)
I know you have crunched a lot of numbers on that, Kevin. I've been theorizing (guessing) for the last 10 years or so that the fact that women's basketball players have become bigger, stronger, faster athletes has a more immediate effect on defense, first, across the board. Then greater skills development will help those better athletes become more accomplished scorers. I don't know for sure that theory is right, but I hope it is. Because that would mean in the next 10-20 years, you'll see stronger offenses that can counter improved defenses. We are also seeing better coaching (gradually, but it's happening) and I hope that improves offenses. Though not all successful coaches are really good at offense.
I was surprised/impressed that PSU dropped 90 on LSU in Baton Rouge. What do you see as UCONN's biggest problem w/ the Nittany Lions offense?
Mechelle Voepel (3:03 PM)
Penn State's back court is really versatile ... when Maggie Lucas is hitting 3's and getting to the rim a lot, that makes everybody around her that much more dangerous because she demands so much attention.
Tom (San Francisco, CA)
Gail in the W. Thoughts?
Mechelle Voepel (3:04 PM)
Maybe ... she's a good strategic coach and has worked with the pro-level athletes before on the national team. Maybe she'll take this summer off - no recruiting for the first time since she was in college herself - and then have a very fresh approach to whatever she wants to do next.
Mechelle Voepel (3:05 PM)
Thanks for all the questions! Sorry about the ones I did not get to. Enjoy the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight!