Chat with Mechelle Voepel
Welcome to SportsNation! On Thursday, women's basketball writer Mechelle Voepel will stop by to chat some hoops.
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 (2:02 PM)
Good afternoon! The last shoe has dropped in the WNBA coaching saga, as Anne Donovan comes back to the league with the ConnSun. The Eastern Conference has some new/old intrigue, doesn't it? Let's get started.
Pete (Thomaston, CT )
Now that the Sun have hired Anne Donovan, should they (Sun) still be considered crazy for firing Mike Thibault?
Mechelle Voepel (2:08 PM)
It's a good hire, of course, with Anne's extensive background in the league. And she's won a WNBA championship. I'm just not sure that I see it as all that different from just keeping Thibault - other than having a different voice motivating the players. And maybe that's what the ConnSun management really wanted. The coaching moves in the Eastern Conference this off-season remind me of what happens in the NBA ... coaches with experience moving - sometimes voluntarily, sometimes not - to new places. I don't know that's a bad thing, it's just the nature of pro sports. Same in the NFL, for instance.
Blake Whitney (Washington, D.C.)
Do you think Anne Donovan is an upgrade to Mike Thibault in Connecticut? Donovan has an impressive resume, but that the same time, it seemed to me like things kind of got stale in Seattle with her, and it also seemed like she had a little more trouble with the national team (thinking of the bronze in the world championships) than any other coach has lately. Also, her draft record in Seattle was frankly not good. Again, not really criticizing her or the hire, but I am skeptical that she will make a better coach/GM than Thibault. Your thoughts?
Mechelle Voepel (2:12 PM)
I think you're making fair and valid points. Donovan is a good coach, and I never did understand, really, why she thought she could bring life to Seton Hall. I know she's from Jersey, but still ... you know? Anyway, Donovan is like a veteran NBA coach: She knows the league and the coaches and the styles. She knows how to handle pro players. Sometimes she's had personality clashes, but most every pro coaches does with some folks. Ultimately, I still think the Sun made one of their fellow Eastern Conference foes better by letting Thibault go and giving him fresh motivation elsewhere. But ... if Donovan wins a title in the next couple of years, the Sun looks brilliant.
Texas Tech goes on the road and hands OK-State their first loss of the season. Is that more of a statement about Texas Tech or OK-State....or just 'business as usual' in the Big 12?
Mechelle Voepel (2:15 PM)
I'd say business as usual. You know who's going to win the league. The rest of it is probably going to be a mad scramble. (By the way, Kansas beat Kansas State last night for just the third time since 2001). The Big 12 (10) is going to be interesting in terms of who besides Baylor can really establish themselves for good NCAA tournament seeds.
kevin (macon ga)
The W has made a few rules changes. Primarily adding defensive three seconds and extending the 3P line to the international distance. Are these changes good for the league?
Mechelle Voepel (2:18 PM)
I have talked to a few WNBA coaches about this. They are OK with the changes, but some have pointed out that the extended 3-point line may mean that it's easier to leave even more players "alone" out there - or lightly guarded - because they can't consistently hit from there. Meaning it won't necessarily space out the defense the way that it's sort of hoped to do. I didn't get the sense that any of the coaches were thinking these rules would drastically change much about the league, but they aren't opposed to them, either.
Pete (Thomaston, CT )
Will there ever be a Chat that doesn't include answer to a question by Kevin from Macon? :)
Mechelle Voepel (2:19 PM)
Probably not. :) He is one of the most consistent question askers, so I appreciate that. :)
Loved your article on Tyler Summit. Can you identify one single characteristic about him that impressed you most?
Mechelle Voepel (2:22 PM)
That he is so unpretentious, like his mother. There's no phony humility, he really *is* a humble person, yet has great self-confidence in his ability that is not off-putting at all. As Holly Warlick said, a kid in his circumstances could have been spoiled and arrogant, but he's not anything like that. He is a real tribute to his parents. I would say that whether he was in women's basketball coaching or any other profession.
Purdue just had 34 turnovers in a win over Illinois. Can you remember a team winning a game with that many turnovers? How is it possible that a team coached by a former successful PG can be so bad a protecting the ball?
Mechelle Voepel (2:24 PM)
Other than North Carolina? :) Yeah, that is an ugly TO number. I think some of it is a credit to how the Illini are playing defensively, but I don't have a good answer for your question. I would imagine nothing drives coaches crazier (again, other than Sylvia Hatchell) than those kind of TO numbers, even in victories.
It seems to me that Anne Donovan is the perfect coach for Tina Charles, given her history as a dominant center and the way she helped Lauren Jackson develop into the world's best player. Should we look for Charles to continue to improve because of Donovan?
Mechelle Voepel (2:26 PM)
Good point, but I think Tina Charles is going to improve almost no matter who her coach is. She's that driven, and that smart. But, yes, it should indeed be a good fit for her.
jbb1985 (Big E country...well, that's everywhere)
With the Stanford-UConn game further in your review mirror, any new opinions or shifts about either team or their prospects?
Mechelle Voepel (2:31 PM)
Before that game, I was telling a friend of mine who is not a big WBB fan but was still going to watch it, "I really hope it's not a blowout, but it might be." She said, "Really? It's 1 vs. 2." I said, "Yeah, but I think Stanford is really NOT No. 1." Not that I am so great at predicting anything, because I'm often not. But ... I hadn't ever voted Stanford No. 1 this season - even after the win over Baylor - because I just thought UConn was going to be a lot better than the Cardinal. And they were in the game. So it played out the way that - deep down - a lot of folks probably feared it might. Because this is a very good UConn team, while Stanford has one star and a lot of other players who have talent, but aren't consistently *really* good. Especially against the likes of UConn.
Glenn (Fresh Meadows, NY)
Seton Hall, Oregon and USC all went for who many thought were the class of WNBA coaches. Seton Hall has officially failed with Donovan returning to the W and CT Sun, Oregon has failed on the court and seems to be a matter of time before they pull the plug, and Cooper is also firmly on the Hot Seat at USC. Is the quality difference in coaching really that great between college and the W or was something else at play that made these 3 fail in converting to the College Game?
Mechelle Voepel (2:36 PM)
The key is in recruiting. Donovan had been in the women's college game before, and Westhead had been in the men's college game. But it's a really different era in recruiting, and I think all of them faced big challenges in that regard. In Donovan's case, I think Seton Hall is a very hard sell, to be frank. Oregon and USC shouldn't be, but neither has been all that successful in getting great players. I don't know how long Cooper and Westhead will keep at it in the Pac-12.
Pete (Thomaston, CT )
How much closer do you think the ND-CT game will be this Saturday than the CT-Stan game last Saturday?
Mechelle Voepel (2:39 PM)
As I've mentioned a few times on the chat, I really like the development potential of the Irish. But I've seen pretty good ND teams go into UConn and still get obliterated. I think Saturday will be a little more of a game than Stanford-UConn ... but not much. I think the Huskies have a score to settle with the Irish about the losses last year, and they want to firmly establish they are No. 1. I hope I'm wrong and that it's a really close, tense, entertaining game, but I don't think so.
kevin (macon ga)
You did a chat with no Qs from me last week! I didn't send any because I was incommunicado for the holidays.
Mechelle Voepel (2:41 PM)
And that was pretty much my shortest chat ever. :) I'm sure some people actually appreciated that.
what do you think of Chucky Jeffery out of Colorado? watching her against Louisville she's really talented, you think she can be a first rounder in the Draft?
Mechelle Voepel (2:43 PM)
I haven't heard much feedback on her ... have to point out it's always tougher for guards because there are a lot of them with pretty similar skill sets. To stick in the league, you have to stand out in some area. Over the next few weeks as we reporters cross paths with the WNBA folks out scouting, we'll gather some more info on their evaluations.
The Sun front office should have checked out Seton Hall game with Michigan before hiring Donovan. Who isn't doing their homework over there?
Mechelle Voepel (2:45 PM)
I know what you're saying, I just think Seton Hall was a failed experiment for Anne.
John (Shreveport, La)
As a Baylor fan, do you see the Big 12 being as tough as it has been as evidenced by Texas Tech going to Stillwater, Ok. and getting a win?
Mechelle Voepel (2:48 PM)
There's one great team and the rest all have various flaws. The Big 12 has had years where it's been much stronger as a whole.
Tom (San Francisco, CA)
Pretend you're Pokey Chatman. You pick EDD in a no-brainer, as the Lyme's disease flare up is minimal and the reward outweights the risk, right? Vandersloot continues to develop at the point and you add a future Olympian to the 3/4 spot. Agree?
Mechelle Voepel (2:49 PM)
Well, last fall at first I was thinking Chicago should go with Diggins. Then I changed my mind and said EDD. I'm sticking with that. So we'll see what Pokey thinks. The East sure didn't get any easier, though, with the coaching changes. It's pretty intriguing, actually.
Korey (Greensboro, NC)
Hi Mechelle, what are your thoughts on Duke? They've been in top 5 all season but yet when analyst talk about the top teams, they seem to be overlooked.
Mechelle Voepel (2:56 PM)
The reason they haven't been talked about much, I think, is their boring schedule so far. With the talent the Blue Devils have, they should have challenged themselves more. I know they still have to play UConn, and they've got the ACC schedule, but some of the games the Blue Devils played (Monmouth? 3 points at half?) were just awful. Now, I realize that UConn and Baylor also have played some of these uber-crappy games that no one except big fans of those teams can even stand to watch. But Duke needed at least one other bigger name/threat to face before ACC season started. Of course, now so much rides on that UConn game in terms of how people will think about Duke. Can the Blue Devils be competitive against the Huskies after some of their recent 30-plus blowout nightmares at the hands of UConn?
Who do you think is the real #1 college club in the country, and why aren't you voting for them?
Mechelle Voepel (2:58 PM)
I've been voting for UConn as No. 1 since Baylor's loss to Stanford. To me, Baylor and UConn are pretty even. Their upcoming matchup is the one game that I feel certain cannot let us down. I was on the verge of replacing Stanford at No. 2 with Baylor even before the Cardinal lost to UConn, but that made it easy.
jbb1985 (Hooterville citizenship for Depardieu)
Of the teams a bit further back, such as UK, MD, PSU, L'ville, UGA and Cal -- which seems the best dark horse to cause problems in deeper NCAA rounds?
Mechelle Voepel (3:01 PM)
Right now, I'd lean toward Penn State and Cal. I have been really impressed with how Maryland has played despite the knee-injury devastation to the backcourt. I just wonder if they can hold up. Really interested to see how Cal develops through the Pac-12 season.
Matt (South Bass Island)
A deep Purdue team was almost upset in overtime last night by a shallow Illinois squad which used just a 7 player rotation. Is this a strategy that a power conference team could apply for an entire league season or would they flat out run out of gas?
Mechelle Voepel (3:02 PM)
I always think back to how Notre Dame won the 2001 NCAA championship with five "iron women" and relatively light use of the sixth and seventh players. It's possible. I'm always more worried about kids blowing out knees than running out of gas.
Nick Saban was a poor NFL coach. Steve Spurrier was an awful NFL coach. Both thrive in the college world. It is possible to be good at one and not the other. Those criticizing Anne Donovan based on her Seton Hall time, recruiting and coaching kids in front of 200 people, should consider this, no?
Mechelle Voepel (3:04 PM)
Yes. I think that's exactly right.
Who's a better point guard, Chelsea Gray or Odessey Sims?
Mechelle Voepel (3:06 PM)
From a complete game standpoint - game management, scoring, defense - Odyssey Simms would get my vote. Gray is impressive and improving, though.
jbb1985 (zip code next to Hooterville)
Admittedly it is in the future, but with Griner's and three other senior starters graduating after this season, will Baylor reload enough to aid Sims in keeping Baylor's recent high ranking, or might they be more a #5 to #10 type team?
Mechelle Voepel (3:08 PM)
At least starting next season, more a No. 5-10 team ... but I don't think there's going to be some huge plummet by Baylor. They'll stay very competitive in the Big 12 and nationally.
Another round of coaching changes is over and Julie Plank and Angela Taylor still haven't been hired anywhere. If DC made such a mistake moving on from them, why has no other team hired either?
Mechelle Voepel (3:13 PM)
Fair question. I don't know that Angela Taylor, in particular, has actively looked to get back into the WNBA. Still, it was a mistake because those two had built a good foundation with the fans and had success. All that got tossed aside for reasons the fans didn't understand, and it really hurt the franchise's credibility with the paying customers. Ultimately, I'm not sure we'll ever know exactly what went down in D.C. At the time, Sheila Johnson swore - on her infamous teleconference with several of us in the media - that she wanted Julie Plank to take over both the GM and coaches' jobs, but Julie balked. I've since heard that Julie has said she WAS willing to do both jobs.
Glenn (Fresh Meadows, NY)
What broke on Texas this year? Great start but they've looked awful the last 3 weeks
Mechelle Voepel (3:16 PM)
Which is in keeping with the way Texas has been the last few years. Karen Aston is having some of the same issues in getting consistency in performance that Goestenkors had. But ... Karen is still very early in her head-coaching tenure there. That said, I think Texas will have an up-and-down league season, too.
Will Stanford have any trouble with undefeated Buffs on Friday at Colorado's home court, as Buffs still undefeated, albeit with few tough games on their resume to date?
Mechelle Voepel (3:18 PM)
I think this could be challenging for Stanford. The Buffs have speed and scoring on the perimeter, and they've got more self-confidence than they've had in a long time.
Mechelle Voepel (3:18 PM)
Thanks for all the questions. Will be back to chat next week.