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 (2:04 PM)
Good afternoon. I am in Seattle for the volleyball championships; tonight's semifinals are on ESPN2 at 7:30 and 9:30, pitting Texas vs. Wisconsin and Penn State vs. Washington. We have some interesting women's basketball match-ups this weekend. Let's get going.
kevin (macon ga)
With the national championship seemingly already decided, what are some other compelling reasons to watch WCBB this season?
Mechelle Voepel (2:06 PM)
I think to watch how some of the younger teams like North Carolina develop, how a team like Notre Dame does in a new conference (ACC), how some of the top seniors perform as they ready for the WNBA draft. Last year, it didn't seem like anyone was going to beat Baylor, but Louisville did. I don't know if anyone can beat UConn - I doubt it - but maybe someone will have an amazing game against them the way the Cardinals did against Baylor. Maybe.
Victor ( monroe)
Do you think Connecticut will beat Tennessee this year?
Mechelle Voepel (2:10 PM)
Well, obviously, first they'd have to meet up in the NCAA tournament. So we'll see if the bracket is set up in such a way that that match-up is likely. And if they do face each other, UConn will be the favorite, just like they will be against everyone else this year. Tennessee's backcourt is pretty good, and I think overall the LVols will be a very strong team by NCAA tournament time. They are already good. Good enough to beat UConn? I don't know. One thing about Tennessee ending this series is that it took away that yearly guaranteed matchup with the Huskies, which I think benefited both teams in terms of preparation for the NCAA tournament. Nobody on Tennessee's roster now has ever played UConn, and vice versa.
kevin (macon ga)
What do you make of the US Olympic Opening Ceremony delegation, headed by Billie Jean King?
Mechelle Voepel (2:13 PM)
Seems like a fine idea. She is the epitome of American sports, and a confident, outgoing member of the LGBT community. It sends a needed message. My colleague at ESPN, Bonnie Ford, wrote a good column this week on this issue. Clearly, these Winter Olympics have a disturbing subtext in regard to Russia's persecution of its LGBT citizens, who've been made scapegoats. That issue is not going away, no matter how much the IOC wants to ignore it.
Mechelle Voepel (2:18 PM)
Very quiet day on the chat. Maybe everyone is busy with holiday shopping. Four of the undefeated teams - Tennessee, Colorado, Oklahoma State and Georgia - all play on the road Saturday, so there could be quite a shake-up in terms of the poll for next week.
Dan (Dallas, TX)
Do you think Candi Whitaker can bring Texas Tech back into the top 20 nationally year in and year out consistently? What does she need to do to be successful?
Mechelle Voepel (2:22 PM)
Let's put it this way: I hope so. Texas Tech has such a tradition and history in women's basketball, but there's no question the enthusiasm of the fan base has faded in recent years. Part of that, though, is that recruiting in the state of Texas became more difficult with the rise of Baylor and Texas AM, in particular. That's the bottom line, really: Whitaker has to be able to recruit top-level players, and that's been a challenge at Texas Tech in the last several years. She's just getting started there, though, so I think she deserves some time to establish herself and see if she can re-build some of the aspects of the program that have faded.
Any thoughts on the differences between B1G volleyball and women's basketball? It has been a long time since any B1G women's basketball team has done well in the NCAA tournament.
Mechelle Voepel (2:27 PM)
It is interesting that the two best conferences in women's volleyball - the Big Ten and the Pac-12 - are more thought of as underachievers in women's basketball. Obviously, Stanford has carried the torch in the Pac-12 for women's hoops, and Cal made a Final Four run last year. But there hasn't been a Pac-12 champion in women's basketball since the Cardinal in 1992, which is a long, long time ago. And there hasn't been a Big Ten women's hoops champion since Purdue in 1999. I do think that there have been coaching upgrades in Big Ten women's basketball - or at least attempts at upgrades - in recent years that should help the conference be better. Ohio State should be a major power in women's basketball, and they were very good - at the Big Ten level - for many years under Jim Foster. But they consistently underperformed in the NCAA tournament. This is a conference that should excel in all women's sports, and with the popularity and reach of the Big Ten network, can publicize its women's sports well. Let's see how the addition of Maryland and Rutgers next year impacts Big Ten women's basketball. If nothing else it adds in two programs that have been to the Final Four, and in Maryland's case, won the NCAA championship.
Keith H (Seattle)
What storylines are you pursuing for the volleyball tournament? The Huskies have been a treat to watch all season. Go UW!
Mechelle Voepel (2:30 PM)
Will being the "home" team help Washington? Or does it matter that much to their opponent, Penn State, which plays in some very loud road environments in the Big Ten? I think it could be a very good semifinal tonight, but the edge goes to Penn State in terms of the number of weapons they have. So we'll see. The underdog team tonight is Wisconsin, which has to face No. 1 seed Texas. If the Longhorns play in this event like they did in the regional final against Nebraska, I think they will win their second consecutive national championship. But ... ultimately, tonight, I hope we get good, competitive matches for a national television audience to see.
kevin (macon ga)
Does the injury to Asjha Jones make it more or less likely that the Sun will draft Chiney Ogwumike with the #1 pick?
Mechelle Voepel (2:32 PM)
I would say more likely. But I'm not sure the Sun would pass up Chiney even if Ashja had not been hurt. It's not that Alyssa Thomas, for instance, is not an intriguing pick. But as Chiney continues to pile up big numbers this season for Stanford, I think she makes the case that she's improving even as a senior, and can be a productive player at the next level.
Laekiva (New Orleans) [via mobile]
How do you think the Storm will do this upcoming season with the return of Sue and Lauren, and most of their roster from last season?
Mechelle Voepel (2:41 PM)
Hopefully, Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson will be able to return healthy to the Storm. The WNBA season is still so far away, you hope that both those two and all the other returners stay healthy. Seattle was impressive with how hard they fought last season to make the playoffs, even without their "big two." But the West isn't going to get any easier. If everyone else stays relatively healthy, you still have defending champion Minnesota and two hungry teams in LA and Phoenix. So I really look forward to having Bird and Jackson back in the league, and seeing if the Storm can take the progress other players made this past year and move forward with those two future Hall of Famers.
Are there any updates on the CBA for the WNBA?
Mechelle Voepel (2:44 PM)
I don't have any updates at the moment. I hope to have more news on that in January. We know what the big issue is for the players' union in regard to roster size. We'll see if the league and the owners are willing to change that.
Mechelle Voepel (2:46 PM)
Thanks for the questions. The volleyball championship match is Saturday at 9:30 p.m. Eastern on ESPN2. Big hoops games on Saturday in Tennessee at Stanford, and then Sunday with Duke at Kentucky. Enjoy your holidays!