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, all. Hope everyone is staying warm. Let's get started.
Greg (La Crosse, WI)
Another game against Uconn, another blowout loss for Duke. What do the Blue Devils and Coach P need to do to make these games against the elite teams more competitive? Also, Coach P indicated in her postgame press conference that she would like to play a more difficult non-conference schedule (which might help) but that other teams won't schdule Duke. What's up with that?
Mechelle Voepel (2:08 PM)
It was disappointing for women's basketball fans, but UConn folks did get a great Kelly Faris Appreciation Night out of it. :) Some readers have thought I "picked on" McCallie too much in the past. That's not my intention. The reality is, though, that we've seen this same game - maybe this first half was different but the end result was the same - for the last several years. The possible answers may sound simple, but perhaps not so easy for McCallie to fix. Duke is still a team that gets thwarted by good (or great) teams when it can't score enough in transition. The half-court offense has been an issue all of her time there at Duke. And then there's the fact that Geno Auriemma was able to motivate his players to be more aggressive and play harder in the second half. Duke didn't come close to matching that. I get that it's easy to get steamrolled by UConn ... but should it happen again and again to this degree, when you do have a talented team like Duke does? As for the schedule ... she's been at Duke for several years now. They are a premiere program. It's really up to McCallie to get them a premiere schedule. The one they had clearly didn't get them ready for UConn.
Does Kelly Faris intend to go pro? If so, do you think she has proven herself enough this year to displace either Diggins or Delle Donne as the expected second or thrid pick?
Mechelle Voepel (2:12 PM)
I can't imagine her not going pro. No, I don't think she's going to displace Diggins or Delle Donne. But I think she should be valued for what she can bring. There are Kelly Faris disciples and Kelly Faris detractors, and both have their legit points about how her ability translates at the next level. UConn generally prepares players very well for pro ball, and her game has improved in all aspects each year she's been in the program. She is hard-nosed, tough, willing to accept any assignment without complaint or even batting an eye. Yes, you can find holes in her game, which is the case for most rookies. But I think there are coaches in the WNBA who will really value having a low-maintenance work horse with a UConn pedigree. I would if I were a coach (heaven forbid).
Shalisha Cook (New Jersey)
What are your thoughts on the Baylor vs Uconn game? Baylor is playing Uconn in the same building that they lost to them in by 1 point when they were a Sophmore dominated team. Brittney Griner said she felt she lost that game for her team. Who do you think are the keys to the game and Who do you see winning?
Mechelle Voepel (2:16 PM)
I really think this will measure up as the blockbuster everyone hopes. Griner missed some key FTs in that game, and it prompted her to work at being better from the line. There is so much talent, good coaching, and fascinating matchups in this game. You know, I'm always trying to duck predictions ... but I'll say Baylor is going to pull this one out in a nail-biter. (So go ahead and start celebrating, UConn.)
kevin (macon ga)
Is Sloane Stephens run to the semis a fluke like Alexandra Stevenson at 1999 Wimbledon or a harbinger of a great career to come?
Mechelle Voepel (2:22 PM)
Predicting tennis futures is another risky proposition. I think Sloane Stephens has a better all-around game and is more grounded as she tries to make this ascent. Maybe "grounded" is not the right word. But you remember there was a lot of "drama" with the Alexandra Stevenson story and her father turning out to be Julius Irving, and them trying to forge a relationship. There was a lot going on in her life that seemed a distraction from tennis. It seems like Sloane Stevens is probably more focused at this point as she tries to become a consistent elite player.
Greg (La Crosse, WI)
Tennessee seems to have found its groove after a rough start. Are the Lady Vols a legitimate title contender or are they still missing something that would put them in that conversation?
Mechelle Voepel (2:25 PM)
The Vols are improving, but I don't think right now they would beat UConn, and they already lost big to Baylor. It's hard to imagine a team could win an NCAA title this season without having to go through Baylor, UConn or both. It will be interesting to see how Tennessee plays against Notre Dame on Monday, considering the Irish have already played both Baylor and UConn, winning the latter.
Which of the two games tonight between ranked, Conference rivals are you the most interested in: MD vs. UNC or UK vs. S. Carolina?
Mechelle Voepel (2:28 PM)
Interested in both, but if I have to pick I'll say Maryland vs North Carolina because it's a rematch and may indicate how the Tar Heels will go through this tough four-game stretch vs. Terps, Miami, Florida State and Duke. Sylvia Hatchell is 3 wins from 900 in her career, and it could come as early as Jan. 31, I believe. But it could also be delayed awhile, as these are tough games. The interesting thing with Kentucky-South Carolina, of course, is which team sets the pace in that game, since they are so opposite.
kevin (macon ga)
Other than Lindsey Harding and (technically) Catchings, who are the top prizes in the free agent market?
Mechelle Voepel (2:33 PM)
I think the other unrestricted FA who stands out the most is Jia Perkins, who a lot of teams would be happy to obtain. But not sure SASS will let her get away. Lots of questions about Harding's future ... since she became discontented elsewhere and moved, is the same thing happening (or already happened) in Atlanta? If it has, Los Angeles would seem the team most likely to want to lure Harding away ... she's familiar with Carol Ross, and depending on how Sharnee Zoll is coming back from injury, LA is still in need of PG help. I know Tamika Catchings has been somewhat vague/noncommittal about her future - she was the same way talking about it during the WNBA playoffs - but I still expect she will stay in Indy.
ccollin13 (Toledo, Ohio)
Iowa State coach Bill Fennely was quoted last night saying that Brittney Griner's dunk in the Baylor - Iowa State game was "unacceptable." He went on, "She's a great player, but no. I don't like it. I still don't like it. No, sorry. Probably shouldn't say that. It's probably like, 'Hey, it's great for the game.' It's not." What do you think of these remarks, and do you think Griner's dunking prowess is good for the game?
Mechelle Voepel (2:49 PM)
I was *really* disappointed that Bill Fennelly said that. I've covered his teams forever, and he can be humorous and gracious about other teams and players. He's done so many times. But he let his competitiveness get the best of him in this case. It's absolutely ridiculous to criticize Brittney Griner for dunking. It makes the women's game look ridiculous and whiny when coaches complain about it. BG has the ability to make a VERY high percentage shot with the dunk. Why in the hell should she not dunk? To spare Iowa State's feelings? It's ludicrous. It just irritates me no end when people act like it "hurts" the women's game when there are these still-rare dunks. It's beyond silly. I guarantee every coach in the world would love it if BG were dunking for their team. Look, I get that Big 12 teams in particular are quite weary of dealing with Griner and the Baylor steamroller. But that's not an excuse for taking shots at a player who is very talented and has been good for the sport. I think it was poor form by Bill Fennelly, which is why it's so disappointing. In general I think he's a great spokesman for the game. This was not a good moment for him.
Any thoughts on Brittany Chambers being able to find the right team in the WNBA?
Mechelle Voepel (2:53 PM)
She certainly had a great game last night for Kansas State, hitting six of a team-record 16 3-pointers in an upset of Oklahoma State. Very impressive, considering K-State lost two more players for the season this week with injuries. They are down to 7 on the roster. One of several teams just devastated by injuries. With Chambers, I'll say the same thing I've said in previous chats - it's hard for guards to get WNBA jobs if there are any doubts about their defense. Not impossible, but still ... Chambers is going to play overseas professionally if she wants, but it may be a tough road getting on a WNBA roster. But ... she's a tough kid.
One other thing that Fennelly said after the game was that his players needed to get their butts in the gym and shoot. I heard Debbie Antonelli and Geno and others say the same thing about the women's game. It helps to make more shots if players practice making shots. Do you think this is emphasized enough in the women's game? The shooting %s in the women's game are dreadful.
Mechelle Voepel (2:57 PM)
Actually, you see shooting in both the men's and women's games that is dreadful. Maybe part of that is that kids "play" a lot but don't just practice shooting enough as they grow up through club ball. For the women specifically, it may also be that there are a lot of coaches who still focus more on defense than offense in part because it's theoretically easier to control. In the end, kids usually do what coaches tell them to. Not always, but if shooting stinks, it's as incumbent on coaches to fix it as it is on kids.
Mechelle, Wanted to thank you for speaking to your ESPN editors & headline writers and having the "bully" headline changed. We noticed the different headline in the afternoon web page and recognized your efforts on the Baylor Fan Forum.In other news - Kansas State won in OT over the ranked Oklahoma State last night. Will Patterson return the program to Top 4 in the Big 12 in the next few years? Or are changes a-brewing?
Mechelle Voepel (3:00 PM)
My editors did change that and did understand the issue. It was just a quickly-written headline that was not intended to convey an unfair connotation about Baylor. Thanks for pointing it out to us. As for K-State, they are getting some size next season, but are losing Chambers, of course. I have to commend that team on playing through adversity and playing hard. Not sure what the next few years will hold; just don't know for sure how current injuries will heal and new players will integrate.
What are your thoughts on UConn's Breanna Stewart? Could she be the difference this season as UConn goes for another National Championship?
Mechelle Voepel (3:01 PM)
It's evident all the talent and natural instinct she has. Because of her versatility at her size, she can be an X factor in every game. She's still learning, but that's exactly what she should be doing as a freshman. She could be a huge factor in UConn's postseason.
Sofia (Durham, NC)
Why is Kellie Harper having such a hard time landing recruits at NCSU? To this non-NCSU fan, when hired, she seemed to have an "It Factor" that I thought would do well on the recruiting trail and NCSU is a good school. This lack of recruiting success and perceived coaching mistakes (and finding new ways to not win) have the NCSU fans I know calling for a change. What alchemy makes a good recruiting staff?
Mechelle Voepel (3:04 PM)
Talking to Kentucky's Matt Mitchell last week, he said that if anyone thinks there is a "formula" to recruiting, they're crazy. Because each scenario with each kid is so different. You are right: Kellie Harper did seem like the right hire with all the tangibles and intangibles to succeed. She knew the state, having coached at Western Carolina, she understood what the program needed in healing from the loss of Coach Yow. So it's hard to figure ... other than maybe it's just tough to be the "third banana" in the Triangle, which is what N.C. State became a while ago in women's hoops. I'm sure this season in particular has been really frustrating for Harper and Pack fans.
kevin (macon ga)
The WNBA schedule release seems to come later and later every year. What's causing the delay this time?
Mechelle Voepel (3:06 PM)
I don't know, especially since the lottery was done so early and they knew where Brittney Griner was going in regard to looking ahead to TV windows with big games. I've asked about the schedule in recent weeks and keep getting, "It's on the way." Guess we'll get it by May, huh? :)
The building, conventional wisdom is that there are 3 elite teams. Thus, they could justifiably claim three of the #1 seeds. Whom do you project as the final #1 seed at this point, or too early to forecast?
Mechelle Voepel (3:07 PM)
Too early. I'll make this a quick answer. :)
Sofia (Durham, NC)
Do you think Kelsey Bone will make herself eligible for the WNBA draft this year? It seems like the guards there aren't getting her the ball enough or when she's got good position. But she's still able to put up good numbers.
Mechelle Voepel (3:09 PM)
I don't think that would be wise ... she is still growing as a player and learning, and I think she knows that. She's really coming into her own this season, and another year in college is going to make her a better pro.
The way this season is unfolding, Maryland will be lucky to finish this season with 6 players. How do you think the Terps will fare the rest of the way in the ACC?
Mechelle Voepel (3:12 PM)
Sometimes, teams get into these terrible situations with limited personnel due to injuries ... and yet they deal with it really well. For one thing, everybody knows her role - it's all hands on deck. There's not much conflict about playing time. :) Still, in situations like Maryland (and K-State, among others) you have to worry about just getting so low on bodies that it's hard to function properly. So far, though, the Terps are hanging in admirably.
Big E (Tulsa)
Do yo think Liz Cambage will be in a Shock jersey this summer?
Mechelle Voepel (3:17 PM)
Is that you, Liz? Ha-ha! You know, Cambage did not have a great time in her season in Tulsa, nor did she perform up to the hopes that were pinned on her. Coach K tried to forge a relationship with her, mostly long-distance, and he said that was something he'd still work on. But it wouldn't surprise me if we don't see her in Tulsa this summer.
Shalisha Cook (New Jersey)
The Big 12 seems like its very much Baylor's to win. Who do you think will come in second? Who do you think will challenge Baylor the most?
Mechelle Voepel (3:19 PM)
I think Oklahoma will come in second, but Texas Tech will challenge Baylor the most. But no Big 12 team will actually beat Baylor this season. That's my prediction. :)
Although it is very early, Charlie Creme's recent Bracketology had UConn and Tenn in the same region. One, do you think the Seeding Committee might lean towards trying to see such happen, or not a situation they care to arrange? Two, if you were Holly Warlick, do you want that game in your first head coach season, as well as do you want your young team against a young Huskies team or wait a year?
Mechelle Voepel (3:22 PM)
If the committee can arrange it like that without too much bracket manipulation, I wouldn't be a bit surprised if they do it. And I think Holly Warlick would embrace the challenge. If they met this season, provided both teams are healthy, UConn is the favorite. Holly, I think, would relish the experience her young kids would get especially and play up the underdog role. But I don't think anybody actually *hopes* to play UConn. Maybe Notre Dame? :)
Shalisha C (New Jersey)
Baylor's Jordan Madden and UConn's Kelly Faris have very similar roles on their respective teams but it seems that Faris is more needed in order for her team to win. Do you think that those 2 will have big impacts on the game in February?
Mechelle Voepel (3:24 PM)
Yes, and not just with defense, although that's their specialty. Also with the offense both can provide.
Demetrio (San Jose)
Catchings had an interview where she said she is most likely returning to Indiana. Why isn't she 100% returning?
Mechelle Voepel (3:24 PM)
Maybe she doesn't want to be completely taken for granted. :) I can understand that.
Mechelle Voepel (3:25 PM)
Thanks for all the questions ... sorry there are so many I did not get to. Lot of big matchups tonight, and really looking forward to Big Monday with Notre Dame and Tennessee. Chat with you next week!