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 3 p.m. ET!
Mechelle Voepel (3:05 PM)
Good afternoon. Well, just as I predicted, the Final Four is ND, UConn, Louisville and Cal. Yep, nailed it. Oh ... wait. You mean that was *my* bracket picking Louisville to be upset in the first round and Cal to go out in the second round? Hahaha! No, that wasn't me. That was my dog. Dang it. She misunderstood what I told her, see. So she filled out the bracket wrong. She also ate my homework a lot when I was kid. Before she was born. OK, let's get going.
What was it that Jeff Walz did that made that game so successful? Did he try something radically different that nobody else had thought of yet? Or did he successfully combine elements that other coaches had tried in bits and pieces? Will WNBA coaches replicate his game plan?
Mechelle Voepel (3:11 PM)
I think his game plan was rather similar to what others have tried, but with a few wrinkles. The Cardinals were physical and pushed that as much as they could. But ... Baylor did still end up scoring 81 points by the time the LBears had finally gotten their offense untracked and were rallying. The difference in the game, as Jeff Walz said yesterday, was Louisville's offense. I mean 16 3's is absurd, especially against a defense like Baylor's usually is, and in a do-or-die game against the No. 1 seed. All the stars had to align a certain way for Louisville to pull this off: They had to hope the officials didn't call the game super-tight (which they didn't, especially in the first half), they had to keep the ball out of BG's hands a lot (which they did), they had to hit 3's (which they did to a surreal degree), and they had to keep their poise while counting on the fact that the longer the game was close or they were ahead, the more worried the defending champs might become. It all worked ... and yet it still took two free throws with 2 seconds left for Louisville to win. That's how hard it was to eliminate Baylor. It was really amazing.
Sofia (Durham, NC)
Last week, before the Sweet16, I asked you what you thought could be done to improve inconsistent (at best) or incompetent (at worst) refereeing that we fans see in women's basketball every year. I'll ask again this week. How can the governing bodies improve refereeing--they haven't kept up with the athleticism or speed of the game.With the silly talk on ways to improve scoring (ie lowering rims), serious people rarely talk about improving refereeing to decrease the pushing & forearm checks
Mechelle Voepel (3:18 PM)
There are people who monitor the officials every game, during games, and give them feedback. They are evaluated every game. I think the officials are trying to do the best job they possibly can in a sport that has gotten increasingly physical. Do fans want a LOT less physical play? What would everyone think if five or six players were fouling out of every game on both teams? Would that send the message better? Is that message everyone wants sent? I understand the frustrations, but there is complaining about officiating at every level of every sport. The hope is always that it will get better. And I disagree that it hasn't improved - the officials ARE better now than they were 25 years ago when I first started covering the sport. I think they have to keep striving to improve, but they also deal with fans and coaches who see things more with their hearts than their eyes, and then blame everything - fair and unfair - on officiating.
Blake Whitney (Washington, D.C.)
I respect how intense Kim Mulkey is and I can even respect her antics on the court in standing up for her team. With that said, we have had at least a half dozen instances of her acting completely unprofessional in press conferences. Yes, the officiating was questionable, but Louisville still hit 16 threes and Baylor didn't adjust. Louisville won the game, but Mulkey didn't give them any credit. And this is from a woman who has a pattern of frankly acting like a spoiled brat after losses. I like Griner, I think Sims is amazing but I can't bring myself to pull for Baylor in most games and it all comes back to Mulkey. Do you think her comments were out of line?
Mechelle Voepel (3:26 PM)
No matter what I say here, it will tick off some constituency. :) I think the officials let too much go in the first half and kind of lost control of things in the Louisville-Baylor game. But, I think they *were* reeling it back in during the second half. And as you pointed out, Louisville hit 16 3-pointers, while Baylor got only 10 shots for Griner. Mulkey is an excellent coach, and I would guess privately she is ripping herself to shreds for what she thinks she could and should have done differently. But ... she also has a pretty large persecution complex; it's her us-against-the-world personality that she's always had as long as I've been familiar with her. If you read through the whole press conference transcript after that game, she did have some positive things to say in regard to Louisville. But, as many people saw, she also ripped the officiating, and that didn't surprise me. She is a passionate person, and right after a loss like that doesn't bring out her most diplomatic side, to say the least. Mulkey is Mulkey; she's not going to change. Some people will love her, and some people will love it when Baylor loses.
Do you think losing hurt Griner re how the WNBA coaches view her, in particular, did it show her weakness?
Mechelle Voepel (3:28 PM)
Absolutely not. It was one subpar game at a terrible time for that to happen. That can't override an amazing college career.
Matt (South Bass Island)
If you had to select just one Louisville player as the Baylor upset game MVP, would it be Shoni Schimmel, Antonita Slaughter, or Monique Reid?
Mechelle Voepel (3:31 PM)
Antonita Slaughter was my pick as MVP of that game. Her 3-point shooting and the defense she helped provide on Baylor were so instrumental in that upset. I think we all might have expected Shoni Schimmel to have a big game, but for her to get that much help from Slaughter made all the difference.
Todd (New Jersey)
With Texas A&M's Kelsey Bone now entering the draft, where do you see her being drafted?? Is she a guarentee at #4 for the Mystics?? Do we now have the "big 4"?? Will we see a mock draft from you in the next few days??
Mechelle Voepel (3:34 PM)
I think she will go as either the No. 4 pick or No. 5 pick. We've talked on this chat in past weeks about the things Bone needs to do to improve and become a consistent high-level player. I think she can do that at the WNBA level, and that emotionally she was "done" with college. But she has to prove that she will put in the work to make it happen at the next level. I think ESPN.com will run my mock draft at the end of next week after the college season is over. Let's hope some of my mock-draft picks aren't as bad as my "upsets that didn't happen" picks on the NCAA bracket.
Do you think Tennessee's Kamiko Williams will be drafted after a solid senior season?
Mechelle Voepel (3:39 PM)
I was talking to the Tennessee beat writers about this. They think that Williams has blossomed more under this year's coaching staff and that she is starting to realize her potential. Nothing against the previous staff ... but our amateur psychoanalysis of Kamiko is that she actually does better when you give her a little more free reign, and that she related very well to assistant Kyra Elzy. Kamiko is a very good mid-range shooter, which is becoming increasingly rare. She is a strong, steady ball-handler, and she was Tenn's best perimeter defender. She has a pro-level build, too. So I think she will be drafted because pro coaches will see what she *can* become if she continues to develop.
Blake Whitney (Washington, D.C.)
If Mark Cuban really wanted to do something for Brittney Griner or women's basketball, maybe he should bring a WNBA team to Dallas. Just saying.
Mechelle Voepel (3:43 PM)
That's exactly what I said. This is a silly topic. The size and athleticism of NBA players is just mind-boggling. It irritates me that this phony "debate" has gotten as much airtime as it has.
Keith H (Seattle)
Re: Officiating. I remember a quote from Bill Russell years ago. "No matter from peewees to the NBA, the level of officiating will never equal the level of play." It appears the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Mechelle Voepel (3:46 PM)
I think that's a very good way to put it.
What do you think happened to Tennessee in their game with Louisville? Youth and inexperience in a big game? To big of a first half hole? How would you summarize their season?
Mechelle Voepel (3:51 PM)
Tennessee's starting backcourt hurt them offensively a lot. Meighan Simmons and Ariel Massengale were a combined 7 of 41 in the two games in OKC. It wasn't a big deal against Oklahoma, because Tennessee's defense was able to stop the Sooners. But the defense wasn't enough against Louisville, which then put a lot of pressure on the Tennessee offense. The LVols responded in the second half, with 52 points if I recall right. But the deficit from the first half was just a bit too big. Overall, it was a good season for Tennessee. Spani was hurt all year and played through it. They lost Carter, the promising freshman, early. Harrison and Burdick dealt with their injuries. And Simmons/Massengale just had some rough times shooting. But winning the SEC regular-season title and making the Elite Eight is a pretty good year. And I think Tenn has a lot to look forward to for 2013-14.
Mechelle Voepel (3:53 PM)
By the way, I just heard that Roger Ebert died. Very sad to hear, but of course he's been battling serious health issues for a while. He had an amazing mind, boundless energy, and a very big heart. I always wanted to know what he thought about every movie, and thought he was as fair-minded a critic as there was. RIP, Mr. Ebert.
So, is it true the Women's Tourney can't win? If "the expected" make the Final Four it's "predictable and weak," and if "the unexpected" make the Final Four the game is "feeble"?
Mechelle Voepel (4:03 PM)
Well, it can't win with certain segments of the population. Because, exactly as you pointed out, they will criticize WBB for either having "no" upsets, or they will criticize it because - as I've heard the term used - "no-name" teams are playing in the WFF. I always say _and I wrote this - that big upsets before the FF come with a price: They usually mean a great team or player(s) won't be at the FF, and you kind of miss seeing them on that stage. But that *doesn't* mean it's not also fun and interesting to see other teams and players. I also think there is a collective amnesia about WBB among casual observers. Many seem to have forgotten that a "surprise" team, Texas AM, won the NCAA title just two years ago. Yeah, way back in the olden days of 2011. When Baylor lost to Louisville, I heard from some people who suggested it was good for women's hoops because it finally proved that one team wasn't completely dominant in this sport. I was like, "What on Earth are you even talking about? Has Baylor won a bunch of NCAA titles in a row? Do you even know what happened the year before last?"
Jemele Hill said of Mark Cuban's comments on Griner that they "perpetuates the dangerous idea that great female athletes need to validate themselves by competing against men." Do you agree and if so, are those comments applicable regardless of Cuban's intentions with the comments?
Mechelle Voepel (4:11 PM)
I don't know what Cuban's intentions were. The guy is a publicity hound, but for all I know maybe he was just trying to be magnanimous and respectful toward Griner. Yes, I agree with Jemele's sentiment here. I always say, does anyone ever suggest the guy who won the 125-pound weight class at the NCAA wrestling meet can never really be respected unless he could also beat the heavyweight champ? Does the smaller guy's title somehow mean less? Of course not. He wrestles people of his size because that's how we structure athletic competition: people of similar abilities, size, age are grouped together. You can appreciate any competition, in my mind, if the competitors are evenly matched enough to make it a competition. I can enjoy high school girls basketball, NAIA men's hoops, Division I women, NBA men ... I like it all, as long as it's good competition.
UConn is getting great play from their freshmen, particularly Breanna Stewart. Something they were not getting the previous games against Notre Dame. Will the freshman finally lead the way this time?
Mechelle Voepel (4:15 PM)
It does seem like the lights have come on at the right time for the younger Huskies, doesn't it? I'm sure that is a concern for Notre Dame, because it makes UConn all the more deep and dangerous.
Genny (Western MA)
We saw with Lousville that a mindset can mean a lot. Might UConn have a mindset--in the back of their minds anyway--that they just cannot beat ND? To be so close so many times, only to lose in the end, has to do a number on you.
Mechelle Voepel (4:18 PM)
Geno Auriemma talked about that on the teleconference yesterday, saying that he thought there were some times earlier in the series that Notre Dame probably had a mental block against UConn. He said he also pointed out some very specific things to his team that he thought they did wrong at the ends of the three games they lost this year. In other words, he wants them to think they were in control of those games, and did things to lose them. Not to think that Notre Dame has some voodoo magic going on. :) So his intentions have been to keep pounding home to his team that they do NOT have a mental block vs. the Irish. We'll see.
Who do you think will win player of the year? Griner, Chiney, and EDD all lost in the sweet 16. Do you think this opened the door for Diggins to take that award? I would still give it to Brittney but you can say I'm biased since I'm a Baylor fan.
Mechelle Voepel (4:21 PM)
The awards are voted on at different times by different groups of people. For instance, the AP all-American teams, POY and COY are all voted on BEFORE the NCAA tournament. Those ballots had to be in on March 18. So what's happened in NCAA play has no bearing on those honors. Wade trophy, Naismith and Wooden are done a little later. I don't vote on Naismith. And as for the State Farm All-Americans, they are voted on by coaches, and they can take the tournament into consideration. So ... because of all that, we might have more of a mixed bag on some of these honors than we probably would have expected.
In Baylor's sweet 16 with Louisvile, Do you think BG took more contact then she is usually allowed to endure by the officials? Or Do you feel it was the same as usual? Also, What are your thoughts on Schimmel getting in BG's face and taunting her? But not responding when O got in her face?
Mechelle Voepel (4:26 PM)
I think the first half was pretty overtly physical, and Louisville perhaps got in more shots on Griner than she sometimes has to take. She said in the press conference, though, that you have to just play through that. I don't much care for trash talk and "getting in people's faces" and there was some of that on both sides. But ... in a game of this magnitude, emotions can get pretty high. Overall, it still came down to Louisville's performance from behind the arc, Baylor's inability to get Griner more shots, and then ... Baylor just didn't play very good defense on that last Louisville possession that led to the winning free throws.
Hey Mechelle, has any conference had three members in the Final Four before? A great way for the Big East to go out!
Mechelle Voepel (4:29 PM)
The ACC had three in 2006, when Maryland won after beating UNC and Duke. LSU was the other team in the FF that year. Geno Auriemma calls this year a great swan song for the Big East.
Blake Whitney (Washington, D.C.)
Shoni Schimmel has always been known as a great talent, but she's been a bit up and down and can have some wild games. With that said, I watched her knock out 2-seed Xavier two seasons ago on Xavier's home court in the second round, and then she was amazing against Baylor. She definitely seems to rise to the occasion in big games. What do you think her potential is next year and in the WNBA?
Mechelle Voepel (4:33 PM)
Jeff Walz has talked about these things improving with Shoni: her leadership on court with her team, her decision-making (measuring risk-reward better), and defense. Is she a great defense player? No, but he said she has learned to hold her own. Let's see how she continues to improve on all of those things. Holly Warlick said, "There are shooters, and there are scorers. She's a scorer." Meaning that Shoni will find different ways to put the ball in the basket, and she'll create something if nothing is there. Those are skills that are valued at the next level.
Michael (Tampa, Fl)
What is wrong with Duke?? Why do they keep coming up short in the biggest games, and they usually lose by a lot. What needs to be done to get over the hump??
Mechelle Voepel (4:40 PM)
Duke tends to have trouble when it plays good teams that can defend the Blue Devils' half-court sets. They tend to be too predictable, and coaches like Auriemma and McGraw can take advantage of that. It also hurt this time that Duke was without Chelsea Gray. Kentucky and Duke both have talent, but neither seem able to develop the kind of read-and-react offenses that really can keep a good defense off-balance. I don't think against the best teams, you can rely on just your transition game to score enough for you to win. But ... maybe next year Duke and Kentucky will end up in the same Elite Eight, so one of them has to win it. :)
Billie Jean King helped validate Women's Tennis by defeating Bobby Riggs. Didn't exactly hurt the game of Women's Tennis.
Mechelle Voepel (4:47 PM)
Bobby Riggs was 55 years old and BJK 29 when they played that match. She wasn't playing the likes of Jimmy Connors then, in other words. Plus, as BJK said, in 1973, women athletes - and women in general - were still trying to validate their very existence in athletics and certain areas of the workplace. BJK once told me in an interview, "What I did wasn't trying to prove that the top women could compete with the top men in tennis. I was trying to prove that *any* man wasn't necessarily better than *any* woman. Because there was still that mindset then."
Mechelle Voepel (4:50 PM)
And does anybody else find it a little absurd - if that's the right word - that we're talking about whether Louisville's women's team - the No. 5 seed - was allowed to be too rough with Griner in the NCAA tournament and that disrupted her ... and then supposedly also "debating" whether Griner could make an NBA roster right now?
Do you think Taber Spani will get selected in the upcoming WNBA draft? Or do you think someone will give her a chance in training camp?
Mechelle Voepel (4:52 PM)
If she's not drafted, yes, she will get a chance in training camp. She's a 6-1 shooter, so that will catch some eyes. However, she's had a lot of health issues - especially her back this year - and maybe resting for awhile might be the best thing for her. Ultimately, she will be able to play overseas if she wants to. That I would be sure of.
Attended the Bridgeport Regional and was very impressed with Elena Delle Donne. How do you see her doing in the WNBA when she will likely be defended by only one player vs. 2 or 3 in college? Second question...do you think Breanna Stewart playing as she is now presents any significant match-up problem for Notre Dame?
Mechelle Voepel (4:54 PM)
I think EDD will be a very good player at the next level, but don't underestimate the WNBA defenders, whether they are in single-coverage or not. :) And yes, I think Stewart is a big concern for ND if she plays as well as she has of late. McGraw said one of the biggest problems Stewart poses is her ability to block and alter shots.
Steven (Alabama )
Everyone is picking Louisville for the upset it seems like. Is that just because the Cards beat Baylor and Tennessee back to back or are there some clear reasons Louisville stands out over a 32-3 Cal team?
Mechelle Voepel (4:58 PM)
Considering Cal had to struggle to get past USF, then had to go overtime against Georgia, I think folks see more vulnerability with the Bears right now. In part because they aren't a great shooting team - from the floor or the foul line - and Louisville has been. (At least recently). All that said, Cal has found a way, and they are an excellent rebounding team. I think it's going to be a close game, but I give the edge to Louisville because of the offensive bursts the Cardinals have shown in the last two games in particular.
Who are you picking between UConn and UND?
Mechelle Voepel (5:01 PM)
Notre Dame. Just because I think Diggins is "on a mission." But UConn is playing so well right now, it's hard not to switch my pick. Luckily, my predictions are completely unimportant. :)
Genny (Western MA)
Where does Lville-Baylor rank in terms of the most memorable tournament games you have witnessed? I put it up there with the 1994 title game with UNC and LA Tech.
Mechelle Voepel (5:06 PM)
It is way up there. Of course, the thing about that 1994 title game is that it was rather ugly basketball for a lot of the 40 minutes. But it had an unbelievable finish. And Kim Mulkey was on the losing end of both of those games, being a La Tech assistant in 1994. The 1997 national semifinal between Stanford and Old Dominion - ODU won in OT - remains one of them most emotionally charged and exciting games I've ever witnessed. And the 2006 NCAA final between Maryland and Duke was quite a game, too. Actually, so was the 2001 NCAA final between Notre Dame and Purdue.
Mark (Powder Springs, GA)
Mechelle, Notre Dame will have to beat UConn for a 4th consecutive time to get to championship game. How tough is that? Do you recall any similar scenarios in recent FF's??
Mechelle Voepel (5:12 PM)
I can't recall anything quite like two teams playing each other for the third national semifinal in a row, having played each other so many times before the NCAA tournament, too. Kelly Faris and Skylar Diggins will be facing off for the 15th time. That's just nuts. :) But it says a lot about those two programs. In 1995-96, SEC mates Georgia and Tennessee met two years in a row in the Final Four.
Mechelle Voepel (5:15 PM)
Thanks for all the questions. Sorry for the many I did not get to. Next week, we'll discuss more next year's college outlook and the draft, of course. Enjoy the FF!