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 (2:30 PM)
Good afternoon, sorry for a delayed start. Busy weekend upcoming, with College Cup in women's soccer, the start of the NCAA volleyball tournament, and lots of women's college hoops. Let's got going!
How do you see the Big Twelve performing this season?
Mechelle Voepel (2:32 PM)
Almost every team lost key seniors and has a lot of youngsters. They will learn and grow, but I honestly am not expecting a whole lot from the Big 12 in general this season, although some of the top teams may do fairly well. But in comparison to some years where there have been two or even three legitimate Final Four contenders in the league, it is just not as strong this year. At least, that's my reading so far.
Why is Texas A&M still ranked after two losses to unranked foes in Texas and Syracuse? Do they even deserve to be ranked when their best win is against Houston or Memphis? I get giving a team a benefit of a doubt, but it seems that established names always get a ranking boost even when their results don't match that lofty ranking.
Mechelle Voepel (2:37 PM)
The rankings are always like this, though, especially early in the season. Most voters haven't seen enough of a lot of teams to have a real strong idea how good they are. So teams tend to get ranked on reputation, and if you are team from a power conference that has won a recent NCAA title - like Texas AM has - then you tend to get the benefit of the doubt for even longer. However, I do think by about mid-January, the polls actually start to be more reflective of how good everyone is, but even then, reputation comes into play. That's why I always say, the polls should always be taken with a grain of salt. And I say that as someone who's voted for years, and really tries to do a good job on it. But there are always flaws on my ballots, too.
Irving Matchen (Washington DC)
Looks like UCONN is weathering their injury storm. Doesn't matter if KML and Tuck are back for the Duke game, has anything changed to where UCONN is still the team to beat now and come April?
Mechelle Voepel (2:39 PM)
Nothing has changed. UConn's is still the team to beat, and if anything, may come through its injury situations with even more confidence. As for the Duke game ... maybe this is finally the year in the Coach P era where the Blue Devils really do stand up and give UConn a challenge for 40 minutes. Duke is deep and senior-dominated. Maybe it will happen.
Ally (New Mexico)
How good is Notre Dame this year? Can they win the ACC? Final four?
Mechelle Voepel (2:44 PM)
I've actually been more bullish on Notre Dame than some folks, because I think they have a lot going for them as long as they stay healthy. They have really good guards even despite losing Diggins to graduation. They have a strong post game that mixes experience and youth. And Muffet McGraw is a really, really good coach both in preparing teams and making adjustments. Plus, Notre Dame is hosting a regional, so that could be an advantage, too. Can they win the ACC? It's not impossible, although Duke would still be my pick. Can they go to the Final Four? Yes, but as always, it will depend on match-ups in the tournament. But I will not be a bit surprised to see Notre Dame in Nashville.
Chris (Baton Rouge)
Hi Mechelle, Tennessee's had some problems so far with starting out really flat in the first half but playing like the best team in the country in the second halves of most games. Do you think they'll eventually get past this or is this a problem that could continue to plague them as the year continues? Also, I'd like to give a shout out to Ariel Massengale, she's really stepped up her game and is playing like one of the best guards in the country so far.
Mechelle Voepel (2:48 PM)
It's interesting how some teams have this issue and NEVER really get past it through the whole season. They are just slow starters, period. But that may not be the case with Tennessee. It may be that the LVs still need more time to be completely comfortable with what works best for them, and who is their *real* leader on court.
Lin Dunn said that Uconn was bad for the game, then covered herself up by saying that other teams not being able to compete was what she meant. I do not fault Geno Auriemma because he is the best coach in the women's game by far. However, I blame the number 1 overall prospects who pick Uconn even though there are number 1 prospects ahead of them going to the same place. We saw it with Tina Charles and Maya Moore (Elena Delle Donne was next), then Breanna Stewart following Mosqueda Lewis. I get that these players want to be coached by the best but do you think this is the reason why other teams cannot compete, especially because the number 1 overall prospect is usually a head above the rest?
Mechelle Voepel (2:56 PM)
I will never fault any kid for making whatever decision she feels is best for her. And if that means she wants to go to a place where the odds are she will play for an NCAA title, I can see why she would pick UConn. Why blame someone for that? I understand the reality is that UConn has won so much that a lot of people are "tired" of them. But people were "tired" of UCLA's men in the 1960s and early 1970s, when they got seemingly every top recruit for years and piled up championships. Eventually, others caught up. What I admire about UConn is that they set the bar high and they never lower it. So when a recruit goes in there, she has to reach that standard, or she's not going to play. It's really up to other programs to keep raising their standards. And the talent pool IS growing among younger players. There is a lot of talent at places other than UConn. But are those players being taught as well, and are they practicing with the same effectiveness as UConn? It isn't just about practicing "hard." It's about practicing things that make players really, truly better. Ultimately, I believe UConn's sustained excellence has done enormous good for the women's game overall. Those player have gone on to vastly impact the WNBA for the better, and international ball as well. Yes, we all want to see more upsets of top teams through the course of the season. I do really believe we are on that path, but it is still going to take more time.
Do you feel there is any chance that Baylor could make a legitimate run for the Elite 8 this year? Or do you feel their inexperience will keep them in the sweet 16?
Mechelle Voepel (3:02 PM)
It's way too early to know yet how good Baylor is, but there's also this: I really think it's nearly impossible to predict most teams' NCAA tournament potential that well until you are actually looking at a bracket. I know that sounds like "duh," but people constantly ask, "How far do you think Team X can go in the tournament?" as if that's not impacted greatly by the draw. Especially for a young team that is finding a new identity like Baylor is (save Odyssey Sims, of course). Baylor could get a very advantageous draw, in terms of matching up agains teams whose strengths and weaknesses are similar to the Bears. Or, they could go against a really experienced team and potentially get knocked out earlier. How Baylor does in the Big 12 is going to tell us a lot more than we know yet. For that matter, let's see how they do Friday against Kentucky.
How do you feel about the Pac-12? Colorado remains unbeaten, but largely untested, and Stanford continues to be Stanford. The rest of the league has been fairly difficult to figure out--Arizona State manages to beat North Carolina, but loses to San Diego? California was expecting a bit of a rebuild--but that loss to George Washington was a bit surprising. Washington State managed to beat Nebraska--and shouldn't be feeling too bad about most of their losses thus far. UCLA is dealing with injuries which have hampered their consistency thus far, and Washington has underperformed early. Given the preseason expectations, it seems that the pecking order heading into the new year will be Stanford, Colorado, and Arizona State, followed by everyone else.
Mechelle Voepel (3:10 PM)
I think you just wrapped it up pretty well. :) It still seems like this is a league in transition, one that may be upgrading in the way that a lot of people have hoped for (including with recruiting). But will that translate into having a few national championship contenders in the next few years?
Mechelle Voepel (3:11 PM)
Sorry for that ... the chat was frozen for a few minutes.
Brandon Jenn (iowa city ia)
who wins the game tonight between syracurse vs iowa. thanks.
Mechelle Voepel (3:12 PM)
Hmmmm .... I will go with Syracuse, but ... what's cool is that both programs are off to really good starts. We'll see if that holds up going into conference season.
Mike (St. Louis)
Will UConn go undefeated this year?
Mechelle Voepel (3:17 PM)
Yes, I think so.
Teresa (Springfield, Mo)
Mechelle, have you see the UTEP Miners play this year? They put a major beat-down on Kansas State two weeks ago and continue to thump everyone they face. Coach Keitha Adams is a Kansas gal who was very successful at Independence J.C. before taking on the challenge of reviving UTEP hoops. Wonder why she can't get a sniff at some BCS schools.
Mechelle Voepel (3:19 PM)
She has definitely done some good things at UTEP. But I am not really aware of how many jobs she may have applied for at other schools.
Rick (Charlottesville, Va)
What can the LSU lady Tigers realistically do this season? I like the new guards, and while I realize the offense is going to be more guard-oriented, Theresa Plaisance hasn't been utilized enough so far in my opinion.
Mechelle Voepel (3:24 PM)
I think LSU could be a team that really improves a lot during the course of the season. It really does depend on the learning curve and growth potential of their back court. So far, I think Coach Caldwell has done a good job of maximizing the potential she's had for her teams at LSU.
Mechelle Voepel (3:24 PM)
Sorry for the delays on the chat today, hope to have that fixed for next week. Thanks for all the questions!