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Sunday, May 14, 2006
Updated: May 15, 5:21 PM ET
Detroit is definitely the favorite (right?)

By Mechelle Voepel
Special to ESPN.com

Back in January, a guy set the so-called "world record" for fastest time solving the Rubik's cube: 11.13 seconds.

Swin Cash
Swin Cash and the Shock start out as ESPN.com's preseason favorite for the WNBA's 2006 season.

I've always been happy to, once every year or so, do one of the six sides. Currently, I have yellow done. Maybe next year I'll mess up yellow and do green. Since I've never come very close to having the whole thing right, I guess I'm working on the world record for slowest time solving the Rubik's cube: currently 25 years.

I don't even know why that annoying little toy has found its way onto whatever desks I've had for a quarter-century. Why hasn't it been lost in a move? No, instead it just sits there, reminding me that I can barely spell "algorithm." (Yes, I had to look it up. Luckily, the dictionary has never been lost in a move, either.)

Anyway, I bring this up because it seems as though, before every WNBA season, I dig up some lame puzzle analogy -- you know, saying how each team has to figure out which pieces will fit where. And how until we all get a chance to see that, it's really hard to predict anything.

This is meant to cushion me against too much grief for making lousy predictions. But, of course, it's also true.

The league is back to 14 teams, with the addition of the Chicago Sky. Even so, there's more talent than there are spots to play in the league. So all teams have good players and several have truly great players. How it all shakes out through the course of the season is what we're asked to project.

Who avoids key injuries? Who has some player(s) ready to take a big step forward this season? Who handles the WNBA's sometimes crazy traveling schedule best? Who clicks really well with whom? Who has a surprisingly lackluster season? Who stops listening to the coach? Who finds the coach's system works OK? Who experiences some plain, old good luck? Who gets snakebit?

After strictly guessing at all of that, I'm picking Detroit to win the WNBA title. Why? Well, I have to pick somebody -- they make me do that. So I chose the Shock. It wasn't exactly that simple, though.

My editor at ESPN.com, Mel, called recently and asked who my prediction was to win it all. I said something like, "Well, you know, I think … uh … I really don't know."

There is no team logo for "I really don't know," so that wasn't going to work in a chart on the Web site. But I'd been thinking I'd probably pick Sacramento to repeat. So I said, "I think I'll go with Sacramento."

Then doubt set in. Why not Seattle? However, is Lauren Jackson going to be 100 percent this season? Then again, L.J. even at less than 100 percent is pretty good. How does anybody figure out that percent thing anyway?

OK, it's Seattle.

Tick … tick … tick …

No, what about the "sentimental" pick, Houston? I decided I was going with the Comets. Dawn Staley should have won a national championship at Virginia. But Tennessee and Stanford got in the way of that. Now, with Staley announcing this will be her last season playing, it would be awfully nice to see her win a WNBA title.

Janeth Arcain won't be with the Comets in 2006; preparation for September's world championships in her homeland of Brazil will keep her there this summer. It's uncertain whether she'll even return to Houston next season. But with Sheryl Swoopes, Tina Thompson, Michelle Snow, etc., might Houston still have enough to take the title?

Sure, of course. It's Houston.

Oh, no …

Tick … tick … tick …

Changed my mind again. Decided to return to Seattle taking the championship.

Tick … tick … tick …

Never mind. Back to Sacramento. I was just about ready to press the button on the e-mail with that selection. Then completely reversed course again and went with Detroit.

The Shock are huge inside. Detroit has slashing ability, strong finishers, monster rebounders, good experience. Swin Cash appears to be back fully healthy. Katie Smith still can be the most dangerous perimeter scoring threat in the league. Deanna Nolan at any time can look like the WNBA's most athletic player. Cheryl Ford is so hard to stop in the paint.

Of course, it's really hard not to pick a Western Conference team to be the league champion. The East vs. the West still looks unbalanced to me -- the West simply appears stronger. Maybe, in the end, that will be to Detroit's advantage.

Or maybe I'm about as good at this as I am at the Rubik's cube.

What am I looking forward to as the WNBA gets set for its 10th anniversary season? That's much easier to answer. Lots of stuff:

• Seeing Cash as her old self again.

• Everything about the Minnesota Lynx: from Nicole Ohlde making a run at being an All-Star to Vanessa Hayden cleaning the glass to Seimone Augustus chasing rookie of the year honors.

• How Phoenix's run-until-you-drop style works. There's not necessarily a lot to make you think the Mercury will excel this season. So maybe success will just be if the team makes progress.

• Observing the warm welcomes Swoopes should get from opposing fans showing their support after her personal revelations this past fall. Also, how those fans will say "thank you" to Staley as she makes her "farewell tour."

• The day Connecticut's Lindsay Whalen is back on the court doing her thing.

• Each opportunity to watch Indiana's Tamika Catchings.

• Washington living up to its potential. (Maybe I'm going out on a little limb here, but I believe in the Mystics. Of course, it's still May.)

• Watching to see whether things get better in Charlotte and San Antonio.

• Wondering what the funniest message-board post from an angry New York Liberty fan will be.

Mechelle Voepel of The Kansas City Star is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. She can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com.