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. The women's tournament gets under way on Saturday, and I'll be headed to Ames/Iowa City for early round games. Let's get started!
jbb1985 (Petticoat Abbey)
You and the 4 other ESPN experienced, expert prognosticators pick UConn over ND in the Finals. Which of the 5, if any, was leaning initially to ND or at the least think it is a nail-biter?
Mechelle Voepel (2:09 PM)
I have no idea what everyone else was thinking on picks ... we all do them independently and send them in. I don't know what everyone will pick until I see them published, just like you do. I will say I was *so* close to picking Notre Dame, but then I go back to the philosophy I generally have about this year, which is that Breanna Stewart is the X factor. In the end, I think picks are just frivolous and don't matter. I like writing stories. I don't like making predictions. It's something I have to do because they tell me I have to. :)
Of the #1 seeds, who has the easiest path to a championship and who has the most difficult?
Mechelle Voepel (2:13 PM)
I'd have to say UConn's path would appear the "easiest" and probably South Carolina's is the most difficult for these reasons: They may have to play a North Carolina team that beat them earlier this season in the regional semis, then they may be facing Stanford on the Cardinal's home court in the regional final. That's if seeds hold, of course. And you have to consider that South Carolina is the only one of the No. 1 seeds that has never made the Final Four, let alone win a national championship. So it's all new ground for the Gamecocks in that regard. That said, both Tennessee and Notre Dame could face regional challenges, even if the Irish would be on their home court.
Genny (Western MA)
What is your opinion about conference tournaments--are you with Graham H or Charlie C? My feeling is why bother playing a whole conference season just to play the same teams again? Tournaments have also become less exciting with teams moving around so much that you do not have some of the long-standing rivalries.
Mechelle Voepel (2:18 PM)
I like conference tournaments for all of the same reasons that Charlie gave. However, I've long thought that conferences that typically can't count on having more than one bid would be better served to make their "automatic" bid be the regular-season champion. Then still have the conference tournaments, as they would give all the teams a chance to still play for a championship and potentially impress the committee enough to get an at-large bid. I know one of the gripes a lot of people have is that "big" conferences get too many bids. And then if a good mid-major/small conference team is upset randomly in its league tournament, it really hurts that league not sending what's likely to be truly its "best" team. So that's my thought ... the leagues can decide themselves what method they use for automatic bids, and I think you could keep league tournaments even if you change the auto bid to regular-season champ.
How far do you picture Baylor going in the tourney? They are clicking at the right time.
Mechelle Voepel (2:22 PM)
I don't think I'm going out on a limb to say that I expect to see a matchup of Baylor and Kentucky in the regional semifinals. And we know what happened (4 OTs) when they met in the regular season, so that could be quite a contest. I think it would be a tall order for Baylor or Kentucky to knock off Notre Dame should they meet in the final - even if it wasn't on the Irish's home court. But I would not say it was impossible. And there are some things in this tournament that I *would* say were impossible.
Tim Irvin (Loyola Marymount Univ/LA)
How important would an undefeated UConn/Notre Dame final game be to increasing the Women's tournaments footprint on the sports conciousness of America? "Golden Domers" would watch a game of Jacks if one of the participants represented ND.
Mechelle Voepel (2:26 PM)
I think it would be a very high-profile championship game, but I don't know how long-term it would impact the overall perception of the women's game. I tend to think that is more a cumulative thing than one particular game, although I know a lot of people consider the Bird-Magic 1979 men's final as being a kind of tipping point for the men's Final Four. That was also a very different media world in terms of the limited number of entertainment options we had compared to now. :) So ... let's put it this way, I think UConn-ND, both undefeated, would be a very big night in the sport. What it could mean long term is much harder to guess.
John (Findlay, Ohio)
I am disappointed that Bowling Green was left out of the NCAA field despite a 27-4 record. One bad game costs the tournament. It doesn't seem fair to me. What are your thoughts?
Mechelle Voepel (2:28 PM)
I do understand what you are saying, and it is what I was talking about earlier with how one game for smaller leagues can have such a hefty consequence. The complaint that the committee is too generous to the so-called BCS leagues with bids is a long-standing one, but I realistically don't know that we will see it change anytime in the near future.
Richard (Statesboro, GA)
Everything appears in place for a UConn-Notre Dame final. Who can crash the party in Nashville? If you had to pick a champion and not pick the Irish or the Huskies, who do you like?
Mechelle Voepel (2:31 PM)
If we somehow take both UConn and Notre Dame out of the championship mix, I'd say Tennessee would be my next pick. I think they are playing very well, although they are potentially going to have to navigate a very tough regional to get to Nashville.
Which possible WNBA first round pick has the most to gain or lose in the tournament between Alyssa Thomas, Maggie Lucas and Meighan Simmons?
Mechelle Voepel (2:33 PM)
Hmmm ... I think the assessments of Thomas and Simmons are pretty well set now. So I would probably say that Lucas could potentially impact her status more if Penn State would go on a run and she played well during that.
I've been really impressed with West Virginia's ability to be so defensive this year, I really feel like they have the best ability of the #2 seeds to get into the Final Four, what are your thoughts on their chances?
Mechelle Voepel (2:37 PM)
I am impressed by West Virginia both offensively and defensively. In fact, this may be Mike Carey's best offensive team, while still playing his trademark defense that is so good. While Bria Holmes is just a sophomore, she's been terrific, and there is such a strong presence of senior leadership with the Mountaineers. I do think West Virginia has the ability to make a Final Four run, even though it could mean having to beat Louisville and Tennessee.
jbb1985 (east of west)
You noted you don't like making predictions and then us folks post multitudes of requested predictions. Does this mean you might be partaking of adult libations while patiently making all these predictions, so as to get through it? Or instead of quaffing wine or mead, you hit the hot cocoa hard?
Mechelle Voepel (2:42 PM)
I'm actually drinking Canada Dry Cranberry-Lime sparkling water. :) The reason I dislike making predictions is that readers/viewers tend to link your "prediction" with you liking or disliking a team, and that's just so not the case. I should not still be bugged by this after all the years I've been in the business, but I just don't like it when people think I am "against" some team for some reason ... I like all the kids, and I just root for fun games and good performances.
Reshard Jemerson (Memphis,TN)
Are there any dark horse teams in the tournament?
Mechelle Voepel (2:46 PM)
I guess we can't count a No. 2 or No. 3 seed as a dark horse. :) Because I think of West Virginia or Kentucky or Baylor as teams that could upset the apple cart on the right side of the bracket. I don't want to minimize UConn's road on the left side of the bracket, but it's just harder to see an upset coming in their quarter. As for the Stanford regional, I don't think there will be much surprise if either South Carolina or Stanford win. I've heard some people plugging North Carolina as the "upset" team in that quarter, and the No. 4 seed does have a lot of talent. It's just with their youth and inconsistency, winning four games at this level to make the Final Four - this year - seems unlikely for the Tar Heels.
Now that UConn and N.D. no longer play each other, and just assuming they meet in the Finals, I believe that gives UConn a definite advantage. What do you think?
Mechelle Voepel (2:49 PM)
I don't think it really would make that much difference this year, since most of the key players for the Irish have experience playing the Huskies and a lot of familiarity with them. And vice versa. I still go back to UConn's greatest advantage being Breanna Stewart.
Rich P. (Storrs)
As a UConn alum, I hear quite a bit about Breanna Stewart and don't get me wrong, I think she is one of the best 203 players in the country. But there is a great deal of sound and fury about her being the #1 all time Husky. Two questions: do you think she will be on the Mount Rushmore of women's basketball or at least UConn's. Geno may hold her under 20 points (remember Dean Smith and Michael Jordan)? And if you had to pick one: in your opinion who is the great Husky of all-time: Diana Tarausi or Maya Moore (or someone else)?
Mechelle Voepel (2:54 PM)
Considering Stewart is still just a sophomore with one NCAA tournament under her belt, I think it's OK to wait before starting her Rushmore sculpture. :) That said, she's clearly a phenomenal talent, and you hope that UConn fans just enjoy the chance to watch her. As for "GOAT" for the Huskies ... considering Taurasi has three titles - two of which they could not have won without her - I think a lot of folks might pick her. But Maya Moore is right there, and both have been fantastic as pros/Olympians, too. Obviously. :)
Jan(Kentucky) [via mobile]
Which championship game would be more dramatic to watch-unbeaten UConn against unbeaten Notre Dame or the long awaited UConn/Tennessee matchup with both programs tied with 8 natuonal championships?
Mechelle Voepel (2:57 PM)
I actually think those would be equally dramatic for the reasons you mentioned. And add to it that if it was UConn/Tenn, it would be in Nashville, and I think the entire state would be transfixed by that game.
Why is Uconn such a big favorite over ND in everyone's eyes? UConn did beat ND in the final four last year but ND beat them the other 3 times they played. Notre Dame has proven to be better with out Skylar, so how can UConn be such a shoe in this year?
Mechelle Voepel (2:59 PM)
Again, I can't speak for everyone else, but I don't see it as UConn being a "big" favorite over Notre Dame or being a shoe-in. I think if UConn and Notre Dame meet, it will be a close game. It's just if you have to pick *one* - which we do when we make our picks - I have to lean toward the Huskies with Stewart as the X factor.
Mechelle Voepel (3:02 PM)
I appreciate all the questions. Tournament time is always fun, but it is also always a little challenging for me because I always feel sad for the kids -especially seniors - when they lose. Hopefully they all can enjoy just being part of the event, and can appreciate how much they had to invest to get this far. Enjoy the games!