Chat with Mechelle Voepel
Welcome to SportsNation! On Friday, 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 Friday at 2 p.m. ET!
Mechelle Voepel (2:02 PM)
Good afternoon from the windy Midwest. Let's get started.
With no CBA signed, 2014 schedules released and the situation with the L.A. Sparks, should there be concerned about the stability of the WNBA? Or should everyone just be patient?
Mechelle Voepel (2:03 PM)
Right now, I'm still advocating for patience. I think the CBA will get done, not sure how the Sparks situation will be resolved. But talking to officials from other teams, they are pretty much business as usual.
Do you have any problems with Lolo Jones being named to the US Bobsled Team? Is the criticism of her selection fair or not?
Mechelle Voepel (2:07 PM)
No, I have no problem with it. The "push" on bobsled teams - men's and women's- is always a really speedy, strong, all-around athlete who doesn't necessarily have to have specific winter sports "skill." They are there for speed and strength, and then they need to be as inobtrusive as possible and let the driver and gravity do their things. Lolo Jones is really fast and strong. I think she fits the primary requirements quite well.
Glenn (Fresh Meadows, NY)
So how strong IS the WNBA really, you still have Naysayers (Huffington Post had a DOOZY of a bad article rife with idiotic NBA comparisons) saying it's done because stern is leaving, you have the Sparks crisis, but you also have the Stars picking up a jersey sponsor and more teams than ever making money...so which is it?
Mechelle Voepel (2:12 PM)
Stern is leaving, but the NBA is not backing away from the WNBA. Adam Silver has been heavily invested in the WNBA as well. You mention the mix of good and bad news ... that's exactly what it is. Right now, several of the franchises are pretty optimistic and at least feel solid. Then you have the Sparks, which we can see now were mismanaged. I talked to new Atlanta GM Angela Taylor yesterday ... of course, she has a long history with the league front office and with individual teams. She said, "I would not have come back to the league if I were worried about its overall existence." She seems very confident that Atlanta has strong ownership support and that the league as a whole is OK.
kevin (macon ga)
Have you been watching Pam McGee's reality show?
Mechelle Voepel (2:13 PM)
No, I only watch sports, "Downton Abbey" and "American Horror Story." Is Pam's show good?
jbb1985 (lounging with the Dowager)
What were you thinking at halftime of the ND-Tenn game? Was it more Tenn might not keep up the pace and shooting, or that ND closed the first half at a higher gear which bodes well for them, or both? Or perhaps, you were thinking this could be an upset win that stops the embryonic Warlick Watch before it forms?
Mechelle Voepel (2:15 PM)
I was thinking exactly what I wrote in my column that night ... seriously, I never doubted Notre Dame would come back and win. I just never sensed the Irish were panicking ... they knew what mistakes they were making, and that they could fix them. Once they started executing offensively, all the pressure went to Tennessee to hit shots, and the LVols couldn't do enough of that.
Is Notre Dame a NC contender?
Mechelle Voepel (2:17 PM)
Yes. Clearly, it goes without saying that Connecticut is a huge favorite. But the Irish are one of the very few teams out that would legitimately believe they had a chance should they meet.
kevin (macon ga)
If you were running the W, what team you pick for a 2014 WNBA Hard Knocks program?
Mechelle Voepel (2:19 PM)
Off the top of my head, I'd say Phoenix because of some of the player personalities.
Your thoughts on the Big 12? Is it down, up, or all over the place? Who can we expect to dance in March?
Mechelle Voepel (2:25 PM)
It's a little a little all over the place. I thought coming into the season Oklahoma might be the favorite. Then I thought it had to be Baylor. Now you have to consider Oklahoma State and West Virginia. I don't know exactly what to think about Iowa State ... yes, they had a cushy non-conference schedule, but that doesn't explain how badly their offense has misfired recently. That said, I've seen the Cyclones in dire peril in previous seasons, and Bill Fennelly somehow helped them pull themselves out of it. Kansas is a team capable of both beating *and* losing to any other team in the league. The Jayhawks beat Baylor last Sunday ... this weekend they could lose at Kansas State, which got annihilated at Baylor on Wednesday. It wouldn't surprise me. So ... let's get through another few weeks before trying to really say for sure what we may see in March from the Big 12 (minus two).
kevin (macon ga)
The Dream hired Angela Taylor to be their new GM. Good choice?
Mechelle Voepel (2:27 PM)
I think so. I talked to her yesterday, and she feels good about the Dream ownership's commitment and having Michael Cooper aboard as coach. Next week, I'll have a longer story with more of Angela's thoughts, but suffice to say she has put the bad stuff (the end at Washington) behind her and is eager to get a title with the Dream.
Matt (Sackets Harbor, NY)
As a Husky fan, I'm a tad worried about what UCONN will do after Geno in The American. With that being said however, I've been pleasantly surprised by a few of the teams that are in the conference. With strong football, I believe UCF, if given proper commitment from their athletic department, could develop and a nice program, as could Memphis with their strong MBB team. Temple would also be a good bet to make this happen. Agree or Disagree?
Mechelle Voepel (2:29 PM)
I agree. And having UConn in the conference may be a good "spur" for the other women's programs in the league to get better.
Gil (Washington, DC)
How deep does a bench need to be to make a serious tournament run? 2, 3, 4? And what team has the best bench in WCBB?
Mechelle Voepel (2:33 PM)
You can win a title with a "bench" that goes two deep, if they're really good players. It's been done. If you have seven very good players and they're healthy, you are OK. If healthy, I think UConn's bench is fine, so is Notre Dame's. Duke has a good bench, even after losing Chelsea Gray. Overall, a really "deep" bench is sometimes overrated in terms of being necessary to win a title.
What the heck should I be thinking of Purdue? Lose at Northwestern and get creamed at home by Michigan, and but they win at Penn State and Nebraska. Help this Boiler fan make sense out the team.
Mechelle Voepel (2:36 PM)
Actually, I need *your* help. If there's one team right now that I would say I have no idea game-to-game what it will do, it's Purdue. And it's not like it seems to be related to whether they are at home or on the road. They're just up and down.
Brett S. (Las Vegas)
Our WNBA coaching carousel continues with Fred Williams as the hire in Tulsa. Is this a good hire for them? I'm not sure who the other interested parties were (Gaines? Plank? Is Meadors still floating around?) but is he that much of an "upgrade" over Kloppenburg?
Mechelle Voepel (2:43 PM)
Williams has had success, of course, but I am not sure what the Shock braintrust thinks he is going to bring that Klop didn't. Unless it's about getting along a bit better with the players; Williams has a reputation as a players' coach. I'm not saying Klop did not get along with them, but ... I just had some nagging sense (just a feeling) that maybe somebody on the team (or a few somebodies) weren't totally on board with Klop. So, we'll see how Fred does in another go-round with another franchise.
jbb1985 (lounging with the Dowager)
Looking at the likely USA National Team for the 2014 Championships, might this be the best ever women's squad? Might this be their Dream Team. Even if you keep the London team intact except for Cash and Jones, so as to add Griner and EDD, the starters win the Championship, or the subs could win the Championship as they seem so superb from top to bottom. Aussies have multiple stars, but not this deep. Best ever, if you speculate pre-tourney?
Mechelle Voepel (2:46 PM)
I don't know that I'd say "best ever" just yet about any USA Basketball team that did not include Lisa Leslie and Sheryl Swoopes. But it will be incredibly good, no matter the final make-up. I just think, overall, Lisa Leslie is still the MVP in terms of all-time USA Basketball careers. As good as she was in the WNBA - which is great - she was phenomenal and very consistent for USA Basketball for a long, long time.
Li or Cibulkova in the Australian Open?
Mechelle Voepel (2:49 PM)
I'll go with Li Na. But I can't fib ... I have been paying more attention to WBB, WNBA and LPGA this past week than the Aussie Open. The LPGA started this week, having its first January date since 2000. That's a big deal, that commissioner Mike Whan has been able to fill in some of the blank spots in their calendar. And I'm really excited to see how Lydia Ko does in her first full year as a pro. She's such a nice kid.
Tennessee looked good in the first half against Notre Dame but wound up losing. What was the difference maker and what do the Lady Vols need in order to be in Nashville in April?
Mechelle Voepel (2:57 PM)
One thing I see - and Tennessee expert/beat writer Dan Fleser wrote about this recently - is Bashaara Graves has to get her confidence back. She is so talented, and yet it seems like she is almost "not there" in some games. They need her to be the consistent force both offensively and on the boards that she can be. But they also need consistency in game management from the guards. I just think Simmons/Massengale sometimes try to take on too much themselves, and they don't utilize their weapons inside as much as they should. I realize often that's because they feel they *have* to score, but that's when Tenn's offense becomes easier to stop, in my view. There is that balance between interior/exterior that Tenn has seemed to struggle with. And then that, in turn, weakens their defense. Fixable? I think so, but these are veteran guards, so it's not like they just need to "grow and mature." They have to just do it.
Tennessee vs. Notre Dame: (for one full half) TN looked like a Final Four contender, and then....chaos. To what do you attribute that kind of lapse that we didn't seem to ever see under Pat?
Mechelle Voepel (3:03 PM)
I actually think about this a lot ... there can't be a coach in the world (slight hyperbole, maybe, but I don't think so) who has a tougher act to follow than Holly Warlick right now. Pat is one of the few people I've ever covered who quite literaly lived up to "legend" status every single day for decades. She was a force of nature, and I swear she could get players to do things that nobody else could have inspired from them. There is no "following" Pat. You have to build your own identity, and maybe Holly will need multiple years to do that. Will she be allowed to?
Mechelle Voepel (3:05 PM)
And I'll say another thing ... I often wonder if deep-down, Holly truly ever thought she'd be in this role. She was such a loyal assistant, and the change in personality you need to go to head coach has had to be difficult for her, along with everything else she's had to experience and deal with in regard to Pat's illness.
Tom (San Francisco, CA)
What's up with Kentucky lately? 3-3 in SEC and losing to lowly Alabama at home? Is there a lack of leadership in O'Neill, Stallworth and Walker? Was the loss of Mathies greater to overcome than the recruits and young guards? Seems like they need to get it together. No momentum since that Baylor win or "star" player to carry them.
Mechelle Voepel (3:08 PM)
You just wrapped up pretty well what's up with Kentucky. It just seems like there is a leadership gap on the floor, which is a little surprising to me, actually. The loss to Alabama is Kristy Curry's first big moment in the SEC, and overall I think this is deep league with teams that can pull some surprising upsets. But losing at home to Bama ... yeah, that is not good.
Hannah (San Diego)
Curious as to any updates on the Sparks? It seems since it is taking some time and no indication that we will hear anything this week, do you believe there are LA buyers in the mix now? Otherwise, it seems like the Warriors taking over would have happened more quickly. Thoughts? Hoping things can get moving quickly
Mechelle Voepel (3:11 PM)
My colleague Michelle Smith has another update today that just reinforces the interest from the Warriors. We have heard from various sources that there is a potential ownership interest in LA, but it's been hard to get any really "firm" information. And the league is not communicating at all with media about much of anything except their "happy" stuff like the All-Star Game being in Phoenix.
John (San Digeo)
I see Taj Mcwilliams-Franklin is playing overseas again. Is there a chance she returns to the WNBA this season? Possibly with the Lynx or another club?
Mechelle Voepel (3:12 PM)
Rumors are that Taj does want to play in the WNBA again. She never did close the door. I sometimes wonder if Taj will become the first 60-year-old in the league. :)
Matt (South Bass Island)
The Jayhawks travel to Manhattan this Saturday to take on the Wildcats in the "Sunflower Showdown." Is this the worst rivalry game nickname in the Big 12?
Mechelle Voepel (3:17 PM)
Oh no!! We are proud of our sunflowers here in Kansas. :) I'm a Missourian who's lived in Kansas for a long time now, but I love sunflowers. Admittedly, it doesn't sound very "fierce" for a sports matchup. But considering that Kansas is known for: 1. "The Wizard of Oz," 2. tornados, 3. other forms of wind, 4. wheat/other crops, 5. flatness, 6. prairie dogs, 7. tumble weed .... is Sunflower Showdown that bad?
Matt (South Bass Island)
Which was a more important factor in the Cavs' upset win over the Terrapins last night, turnovers or home court advantage?
Mechelle Voepel (3:19 PM)
Both. The Cavs are a really different team at home than they are on the road/neutral sites. They gave Notre Dame a bit of a scare at home, and then knocked off Maryland last night in Charlottesville. That had to have warmed the hearts of the "old-timers" - I say that affectionately _ among UVa fans who remember the old days of the big battles with the Terps.
Is Rachel Banham the favorite for Big Ten Player of the Year, or will her team's record, if they don't finish near the top of their conference, hurt her chances?
Mechelle Voepel (3:20 PM)
I still think she has to be strongly in the running, even if the Gophers are struggling. She's just such a good player.
Were you surprised by the final score of the Maryland-Virginia game last night? Is this troublesome for the Terps for their upcoming games against the tougher ACC schools?
Mechelle Voepel (3:21 PM)
I was surprised by the score, and I think maybe it was a wake-up call the Terps needed. Brenda Frese indicated that after the game.
James (New York)
Exactly what are the issues holding up the signing of the collective bargaining agreement in the WNBA? Is it the number of players on the roster? Players wanting a bump in pay? I just find it hard to believe that a deal isn't done yet.
Mechelle Voepel (3:24 PM)
Pay does not seem to be an issue ... at least based on conversations I've had. The players want a 12-player roster, that is a big issue that the union really wanted to stand firm on.
Doesn't enthusiastic interest by Lacob in joining the WNBA bode well for expansion of the league?
Mechelle Voepel (3:26 PM)
If nothing else, it indicates that the league as whole is in very shape to move forward with 12. I don't if we'll get to, say, 14 teams in the next few years or not. Clearly, a lot depends on whether the Sparks stay put in LA.
Matt (South Bass Island)
Which game on ESPN 2 this Sunday will be more exciting to watch, S.C. @ Vandy or Tennessee @ Texas A&M?
Mechelle Voepel (3:29 PM)
Can I say both? I am eager to see how South Carolina defends the Vandy backcourt. And let's see if Tennessee can assert itself in the paint against the Aggies. I'm really looking forward to both of those games.
Mechelle Voepel (3:30 PM)
Thanks for all the questions ... sorry for those I did not get to. Maybe by next week, we will have something more substantial on the Sparks and the CBA.