Chat with Mechelle Voepel
Welcome to SportsNation! On Thursday, women's basketball writer Mechelle Voepel will stop by to chat about the women's college hoops season.
Voepel is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's women's basketball coverage.
Send your questions now and join Voepel Thursday at 2 p.m. ET!
Mechelle Voepel (2:04 PM)
Good afternoon. Volleyball national semifinals are here in Kansas City tonight, and we have a little sunshine today for our California visitors to enjoy. :)
Mechelle, a volleyball question for you. Is this the day Texas gets revenge on Penn State? No Dorton for PSU, and Faucette should equal a win. Also picking Cal because of Murrey and Rostratter(gotta root for her).
Mechelle Voepel (2:07 PM)
Indeed, the Longhorns would love to avenge a crushing loss last year when they were up 2-0 in the final but fell 3-2 as Penn State won its third title in a row. This year, the Horns come a little more battle-tested from their NCAA tournament run, which included beating UCLA, Illinois and Purdue. Still, I think the match is a toss-up. On the Pac-10 side of the bracket, if Cal plays like it did in the regional final against Washington, I doubt anyone can beat them. I really think the Bears have looked the best so far in the tournament, but, of course, USC did beat them twice in the regular season.
Loved your article on the Cornhuskers' volleyball program. Staying on that subject, has the NCAA said anything about their bone-headed selection jobs, especially having Nebraska, Washington, Cal and Hawaii in the same regional? What do you think will happen with the Cook-McLaughlin situation? Also, who do you think wins it all (Penn State, Texas, Cal, USC)?
Mechelle Voepel (2:11 PM)
Thank you. The NCAA committee members are in defensive mode right now because they know how bad people think the bracket is. I hope they understand that's not personal toward them, it's an indication that the system needs to improve. For one thing, committee member MUST do a better job of watching as much volleyball on TV, on-line and in person as they possibly can. They have to pick the brains of coaches and analysts more. And they have to realize the RPI is just one tool to use for the bracket, and it has a lot of flaws. I am not sure how the NCAA may respond to the confrontation between the coaches after the Nebraska-Washington match ... they needed to take a cue from their players in how to handle the aftermath of a very, very emotional match. As for the Final Four, I think if Cal is on the top of its game, it will win its first women's volleyball championship. But we have the potential for three really good matches here.
UConn Steve (TX)
What are your thoughts on the "Throat Slash" gesture that Brittney Griner flashed several times after blocking a Tennessee shot? Personally i think that has no place in WCBB. And a 6' 8" player *should* be able to block shots against 6' 3" players or shorter. Thanks for today's chat.
Mechelle Voepel (2:19 PM)
I don't know how many times she did it, actually. But I don't really like things such as that. It's sort of borderline taunting, and I don't care for that in any sport no matter who's doing it. But ... these kids know they are on television, and they see it in other sports. I know people might say, "Well, heck, they celebrate or commiserate after every point in volleyball. So who cares what Griner does?" I guess I would say the volleyball thing is part of the energy of the sport, and it's not really directed at the other team. Some could say Griner wasn't directing that gesture at Tennessee, it was just a way for her to fire up herself and her teammates. But I just don't really like seeing it.
Meighan Simmons seems to have the look of a special player. Is the only knock on her a lack of big game experience?
Mechelle Voepel (2:22 PM)
That's not much of knock considering she's only in December of her freshman season. :) Yes, I totally agree she has that look. She was the most high-energy and confident-looking player Tennessee had against Baylor. Which leads to this question ....
Why have the Lady Vols team, specifically the upperclassmen, not lived up to the expectations? The junior class was ranked #1 coming into college. Is it injuries, playing out of position, conflict between team style and individual style?
Mechelle Voepel (2:25 PM)
There seems to be a lot of things to wonder about with Tennessee, not because the squad isn't good, but because it's not really, really good. Injuries have been a big part of this, and a lot of Tennessee fans feel there hasn't been a true leader at point guard for quite a long time, and that's had a lingering effect on the program. The leaders on the 2007-08 championship teams were the post players, led by Candace Parker, of course. Tennessee did win the SEC regular season and tournament last year, and I wouldn't be surprised to see the same this year. But the Baylor game exposed some things about Tennessee that could be fixed ... but also could prove to be the flaws that would keep this team out of the Final Four again.
Is Syracuse for real or was the Ohio State win smoke and mirrors?
Mechelle Voepel (2:30 PM)
Syracuse has shown the last few years that it has the ability to come up with big wins. So in that sense, I don't see it as some kind of fluke or anything. The 'Cuse played well and kept Ohio State from doing the same. But the Orange play Baylor next, on Dec. 21, so that will be another chance to see just how high a level Syracuse can reach.
I am excited to be going to the Maggie Dixon Classic this weekend. What do you think about the game between Rutgers and Texas A&M? I would love it if my Scarlet Knights can pull off an upset.
Mechelle Voepel (2:33 PM)
It is a very intriguing matchup, and we hope both squads bring the best of what they do offensively, rather than it being a potential 49-44 cover-your-eyes kind of grind-it-out game. Rutgers is 6-4 but has played a difficult schedule. Are the Scarlet Knights benefitting and maturing from these games? We'll get that answer with how they compete in Big East play.
What's gone wrong in South Carolina? Coach Staley did a great job at Temple, and though it's only her third season this year, it seems like that program has stalled...I don't think anyone expects the Elite Eight every year, but what will it take for her to get the Gamecocks back to relevance in the SEC?
Mechelle Voepel (2:39 PM)
To look at the realistic expectations anyone can have for South Carolina, you have to consider the program's history. The Gamecocks have only been to the NCAA tournament eight times since it began in 1982, most recently in 2003. This is not a program with a history of a lot of success. She's had some setbacks in recruits leaving, and that is going to happen when you're trying to change the culture of a program. Two seasons and starting a third is simply not enough time for make any sweeping statements about how Staley is doing in terms of really building something that is sustainably successful at South Carolina.
Hi Mechelle, Xavier plays Stanford and Duke coming up in the next few weeks. What do you think their shot is of beating one or both of them? If they win one or both, do you think that would help guarantee them a #1 seed for the tournament.
Mechelle Voepel (2:43 PM)
This is a good Xavier team, for sure, but they haven't played anybody as good as the Cardinal or Blue Devils yet. And with both of those games on the road, that's a tall order. But I love that Xavier is playing these games ... it's the best possible thing for them to do prior to starting the Atlantic-10 season. You can't guarantee a No. 1 seed with anything done in December, but if Xavier could win one or both of these games, it certainly will help their seeding. However, even if they lose both, it was worth doing for the experience they get. You don't prepare for March by avoiding challenges.
kevin (macon ga)
Auburn is headed towards their third losing season in seven seasons. Prior to Nell Fortner's arrival the Tigers had only had two losing seasons in school history. Is Fortner on the hot seat?
Mechelle Voepel (2:51 PM)
The Tigers are 4-5, and that includes a rather embarrassing loss to Sacred Heart. When you're in the SEC, you don't expect to lose to that team. When people bring up "hot seat" in regard to women's basketball, I always say the same thing: What are the realistic expectations for schools with their women's hoops programs? Auburn is in the national-championship football game, and I'd expect that's where the school's and most alums' focus is. People have asked questions today on the chat - I haven't posted all of them - about whether Texas' Gail Goestenkors, South Carolina's Dawn Staley and Auburn's Nell Fortner are on the "hot seat," and I have to say, realistically, no. I think they're all frustrated to varying degrees about different things with their programs, but they're still secure in their jobs.
UConn Steve (TX)
ESPN2 is televising the Stanford-Tennessee battle. ESPNU is televising the UConn-Ohio State game. History will be made one way or another in the Huskies game. I have ESPNU but many WCBB fans do NOT and they do Not have ESPN3.com no-thanks to their IP. Any idea why ESPN would essentially minimize the importance of this game? Do you have any comments on the Big Ten (12) new division names, Legends and Leaders? :)
Mechelle Voepel (2:59 PM)
My theory as someone who doesn't work on the TV side is that it's not about trying to minimize the game, but rather trying to maximize the importance of ESPNU. It's a channel that they want to become high profile, and so you put things on it that will make viewers have greater demand for it. Again, that's my theory. As for Legends and Leaders ... it's very arcane and can be perceived as pompous. A lot of people aren't going to remember who's in what division ... they are two names that kind of sound alike and don't have geographical distinction. Most people saw the Big Ten's new logo and this whole Leaders/Legends thing and thought, "How did any of that even get off the drawing board?"
Why don't more teams try to get Brittney Griner in foul trouble? She seems to fall for a number of pump fakes when used in situations where the player that is shooting is not the one she is defending initially. I feel that this would be an effective strategy, although it is obviously easier said than done.
Mechelle Voepel (3:03 PM)
I think you answered your question pretty well ... it is easier to conceive of ways to get Griner in foul trouble than it is to actually do it. It's hard to replicate facing her except with perhaps your male practice players - although there are just not that many athletic 6-8 men around to practice with the women, either. They're probably doing their own sport, you know? The Big 12 teams that face Griner more than once have a better chance to come up with game plans to be more effective against her.
Marie (Corpus Christi, TX)
Any news on whether the WNBA will name a full-time president soon? Also, have you heard what the Silver Stars are going to do about their coaching situation? They seem to be dragging their feet about making an announcement, especially with free agency just around the corner?
Mechelle Voepel (3:09 PM)
When I spoke with David Stern, he did not give any ballpark estimation for when he wanted to see a new WNBA president in place. Personally, I think there is a lot of work to do, and I hope it's more on the front burner than it appears from the outside. As for the Silver Stars, I am not surprised ... it doesn't seem like they think it's particularly important for the franchise to have a coach now while the team's not playing. Dan Hughes is still in his role of GM, so he is overseeing personnel. We'll see if he ends up being coach again, too.
You mentioned in your article that you thought that Tennessee would be a different team in March or April if they face Baylor again. Just how far does this team have to go before becoming a Final Four caliber team?
Mechelle Voepel (3:12 PM)
I don't think they have *far* to go, but sometimes when you're at the level of being almost a Final Four team or really there, that distance is small but still hard to travel. Tennessee has to get healthier, and there has to be a feeling they really have more offensive cohesion. And all that said, it may still come down to NCAA tournament matchups in regard to whether they make the Final Four.
Hi Mechelle; What do you think of the upcoming game between UCONN and Stanford? Do you feel that Stanford should be able to finally stop the UCONN streak?
Mechelle Voepel (3:16 PM)
Yes, I think we've all been kind of expecting we know how this movie is going to go. Once UConn got past Baylor, many of us skipped ahead to waiting for Stanford. Now, we could get surprised by Ohio State and Florida State, but it just doesn't seem that likely based on how UConn has performed thus far.
The WNBA website appears to have carried no mention at all of the departure of Donna Orender. Is this surprising to you?
Mechelle Voepel (3:19 PM)
I'm not surprised ... it's a Web site publicizing the league, and at this point there is no reason for them to publicize their past president. They are going to have positive, upbeat stories about things that serious WNBA fans may consider fluff ... but that's pretty much to be expected.
Justin Webb (Chapel Hill, NC)
The Tarheels are currently 10-0, looking good and deep at each position. What do you think their chances are at beating Duke for the ACC Championship? Are their outside contenders in the ACC as well?
Mechelle Voepel (3:25 PM)
Boston College, Florida State, Maryland and Miami are all off to good starts - or at least good records - in non-conference play. But I'd guess the ACC title still comes down to the Tar Heels and Blue Devils, as it has so many times in the past decade-plus. But the only non-conference game the Tar Heels have left that will say much of anything about them is when Connecticut visits on Jan. 17.
Mechelle Voepel (3:26 PM)
OK, I need to do this today, too: my top five coaches are Pat Summitt, Geno Auriemma, Tara VanDerveer, Leon Barmore and Andy Landers. I agree with what a lot of people have said, that fifth one could really be up for debate. But I'd expect the first three are on everyone's ballot.
Mechelle Voepel (3:29 PM)
And one more thought on "hot seat" questions ... if I have to give a number in terms of what season I think people can seriously start to say, "Is this actually working?" then I would say five. If, after five seasons, a team hasn't really had much forward progress under a coach, then you need to either have some significant change in philosophy, the rest of the coaching staff or begin examining an exit strategy. Now, there are times when a coach has not had success until after five years .. I'm just saying as a sort of a general rule, that's the number I'd use.
Mechelle Voepel (3:31 PM)
I am off to volleyball Final Four in just a little while, the matches are on ESPN2 and should be very enjoyable to watch. Volleyball final is Saturday night on ESPN2. And I think we all know what a big day Sunday is in women's hoops. Absolutely huge. Thanks for the questions, and we'll chat again next week.