Chat with Mechelle Voepel
Welcome to SportsNation! On Thursday, women's basketball writer Mechelle Voepel will stop by to chat about the 2011 WNBA 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 (2:06 PM)
Good afternoon. Congratulations to the Minnesota Lynx, first-time visitors to the WNBA Finals, and the Atlanta Dream, who are doing it again. Out of courtesy to Atlanta sports fans, I will try not to mention the events of last night in MLB. Sorry, guys. .... Well, not really. :)
With Erika de Souza not expected back until Game 2, and the small lineup working so well in the Fever series, you'd expect coach Marynell Meadors to stick with it to start the Finals. But that means one of those wings having to guard Rebekkah Brunson or Taj McWilliams-Franklin. Can Atlanta survive that mismatch? Is it just as big a mismatch the other way? Will Atlanta be forced to switch back to two true bigs?
Mechelle Voepel (2:11 PM)
That is *the* strategic question, isn't it? Interesting how Atlanta had the starting lineup change last year in the postseason, too, and it worked in terms of getting the Dream to the Finals. Minnesota has in Brunson and McWilliams-Franklin two inside players who are just more dependable and physical than Indiana's options other than Catchings, of course. So what worked for the Dream against the Fever may not as well against the Lynx. The advantage, if you will, of de Souza's absence is that the Dream played so well (welcome back to the big-time, Izi!) in the Eastern Conference Finals Games 2 and 3 with her gone that they have confidence in both lineups. So they have a chance to see how that works - or doesn't work - against the Lynx before the big Brazilian returns. Then they have options. You could say that about both these teams, though: They both are capable of using the bench effectively.
Do you think the Fever are going to make changes in the off-season (ie an upgrade at point to go w/ January and improved posts) to get a more athletic and/or more offensively diverse? They can't rely upon Catch and Douglas exclusively.
Mechelle Voepel (2:15 PM)
The Fever is the house that Catch built, and with her at limited capacity, it was too difficult for Indiana to stay with a team as athletic, quick and physical as Atlanta. We all saw that. The Fever did a really nice job most of the season of covering for the loss of injured guard Briann January, but they sure missed her in the matchups with Atlanta. Her ability to guard on the perimeter against players of different sizes ... that's worth a lot. They need her back and to hope for the continued development of Shavonte Zellous as a more consistent scoring threat. If they could get a stronger force - scoring and rebounding wise - at center, they'd love that, too. But those are not so easy to come by.
A WNBA Finals question: If the Dream go small like they did successfully vs Indiana, who guards Brunson/Taj (whichever Lyttle doesn't guard)? And do you think they'll put Angel on Moore or have her go head to head w/ Seimone?
Mechelle Voepel (2:21 PM)
I'm a lousy substitute for a coach, to say the least. I can't get my dog to do what I want most of the time. That said _ and feel free to disagree/point out flaws _ I'd say Angel starts on Taj and Izi on Seimone and Armintie Price on Maya. But these teams played so long ago I don't have much memory of what strategies they used against each other. And the teams were different in mid-June, of course.
The referees seem to be calling an awful lot of fouls during the playoffs. Do you think they're calling a proper number of techincal fouls? (I'm thinking specifically of Diana Taurasi and Angel McCoughtry.) Do you think they're calling too many physical fouls and not enough behavioral ones?
Mechelle Voepel (2:30 PM)
This is opening a can of worms, and I've been hesitant to say a lot about the officiating because people complain about that in every sport. But it seems to me that the officials are having a harder time controlling games, in part because some players don't seem to have much respect for them and in part because the officiating isn't at the same level of development that the players are. Which frustrates the players. I think the league's officials have to look in the mirror and realize they must get better, and the league may have to REALLY fine players big money, not these "secret" fines, to get across the message that they have to have some respect for the refs. Diana Taurasi and Angel McCoughtry are great, great players who have gone overboard in some of their recent actions toward officials. I get that they're frustrated by calls, and maybe the calls are lousy. But both sides - players and officials _ have to "improve" in their own respective ways to try to help the officiating.
Should Angel McCoughtry have been assessed a technical foul for refusing to leave the floor when a substiution came in for her? Should she at least have been given a delay of game call? Is that something the league should discipline as well?
Mechelle Voepel (2:37 PM)
Angel might need Louisville coach Jeff Walz to come in and show her a tape of herself again like he did in college. :) Seriously, I wish somebody whom Angel will listen to - which is not necessarily her coaches - would explain to her how she takes away from her image of a really outstanding player by these actions. You guys asked me about Angel a few weeks ago, and I was reticent to say much because, honestly, I can understand the moody personality. I used to have one myself. :) Some days I still do. But I know you can work on that if you really want to, and for Angel's sake and her teammates' sake, I wish she would. She has the talent to be one of the best players in WNBA history. You'd like her to be appreciated for that, not actions that detract from it.
Do you think the Storm (and Agler specifically) will develop a bench Agler is willing to play more than what has happened in the last 2 years? The claims that the bench is inexperienced is made (imo) in large part because they do not get PT, even in games that aren't that close. It seems like a circle b/c they don't get PT b/c Agler says they are inexperienced...
Mechelle Voepel (2:43 PM)
The Storm was able to win a championship with that philosophy last year, because all the key players stayed relatively healthy. This year, that wasn't the case - which was obvious even before we knew that Sue Bird was actually pretty seriously hurt, too. Side note: The doc that did Bird's hip surgery is top of the line in fixing athletes' hips. He operated on Villanova's Sheila Reid, who won the NCAA cross country championship last year on a repaired hip, after she'd previously fallen, injured her hip and had worries about continuing her career. Anyway, back to the Storm, this is a challenge for Agler and the Storm for 2012. You don't need to have a bench of stars, but you usually do need people who can realistically step in to play some crucial minutes.
Prediction please, I have Minnesota in 4, but I'm rooing for Atlanta. Side note: Braves choked, what can I say?
Mechelle Voepel (2:49 PM)
Well, it was lucky for my Cardinals that the Braves essentially forgot how to win a game in September. So I'm enjoying it, I must say. But I may not enjoy the playoffs against the Phillies at all. :) Anyway, I have picked against the Dream in both previous series, which shows how much I know. I am picking this one to go five games and for the Lynx to win. As most folks who endure these chats with me know, I hate picking. ;) But I think the Dream is going to fight really hard for this, and they'll take one game in Minny and one game at home. Then the Lynx win Game 5 at Target Center, and Jesse Ventura will allow Taj McWilliams-Franklin to jump off the rim and body-slam him in celebration. Taj will do this with no problem, but Jesse unfortunately will need hospitalization. :)
I know it should be all about WNBA today but where does last night's MLB games rank in terms of all time greatest sports moments? And don't you think live sporting events are the most authentic version of reality TV?
Mechelle Voepel (2:55 PM)
Being a baseball fanatic, I am biased. :) But, yes, last night was amazing. Many improbable things happened in one night as the season culminated in an improbable way with two teams left for dead at the start of September - the Cardinals and Rays _ coming back to earn playoff spots. I haven't really processed how this compares to some other days/nights in other sports' history ... but in my 46 years (I started watching sports around age 4), this was one of the best. Of course, if the Cardinals had been in the Braves' or Red Sox's position, I'm not sure how great I'd think it was. :) As for reality TV ... sports is the *only* reality TV that I watch.
KC (Washington, DC)
Crystal Langhorne is the fifth leading scorer in the WNBA. She's seventh in rebounding and fifth in field-goal percentage. Her team had a lackluster (understatement) season but she was undeniably the high point.Given all that, why isn't Crystal Langhorne going to training camp with Team USA?
Mechelle Voepel (3:01 PM)
I wrote a lot about this last year, and was critical of USA Basketball not at least including Langhorne. I don't understand it. I've yet to hear an explanation that really makes much sense. To my knowledge, Crystal wants to play, and she does have a history with Team USA. Last year, they indicated they needed "bigger" post players than Crystal, but they've recently invited new American citizen Sophia Young, who is 6-1.
Do you think Minn. will be pressed to trade some of their high quality bench players, due to unhappiness about playing time? I could see Wiggins being a starter and Charde Houston needs some playing time, she is very talented and I'd like to see Monica Wright get some more developement time too. I'd like them to make a trade but do they really "need" anything?
Mechelle Voepel (3:07 PM)
Right at the moment, they don't look like they "need" anything. But we'll have to see how McWilliams-Franklin feels and what her plans are. And how a post player like Amber Harris develops. I'm thinking Houston will be gone from Minnesota after this season. It would seem the guard/wing surplus is the Lynx's position of strength, and they don't necessarily have to do a lot over the off-season unless they really want to make the move(s). Which is a good position to be in.
Around All-Star Game time, I noticed that Taj tweeted she could get used to being in the front office environment. Could that be a hint that she won't be returning to the court for Minnesota next year?
Mechelle Voepel (3:09 PM)
I don't know that I'd read anything specific about next season into a Tweet. But I *do* think that Taj is thinking ahead to how she will continue her career after playing, and she has the personality and mindset to be involved as a front-office person or coach. She likely will be making an impact for years to come even when she finally steps away from the court.
Numerous WNBA players have to juggle league commitments and national team commitments. Is it at all possible for USA Basketball to separate the men's and women's games and have the women's team play during the winter Olympics? Would that make it easier for more people to coordinate their various schedules to be a little more in sync with each other? After all, basketball was invented to be a winter game in the first place.
Mechelle Voepel (3:11 PM)
I've actually heard this proposed before, but I don't know that we'll ever see it. It seems like the women's basketball calendar may just stay as potentially conflicted as it has been since the WNBA started. But clearly, the WNBA has to be in the summer.
kevin (macon ga)
Atlanta and Minnesota are relatively small media markets. Will that negatively affect the ratings for the Finals?
Mechelle Voepel (3:17 PM)
I don't think it matters the same way that it does in the major sports where entire metropolitan areas are glued to a team. If this was New York and Los Angeles in the WNBA Finals, would that really be a boost? Or are the Finals more boosted by having players that at least have some name recognition with sports fans who might not have watched the WNBA all season but may watch the Finals? I think it's the latter. People can grumble about Maya Moore and UConn and the attention they get, but from a standpoint of the general public's perception, Maya Moore is a name they know. And it should help. I also think it will help that at least in Minneapolis, this is going to be a fairly big deal. No, not like the Vikings or Twins or T-Wolves playing for a championship, but still important and noticed by Minnesota people who don't normally pay attention to the WNBA.
Tamika Catchings, Angel McCoughtry, Seimone Augustous, Swin Cash, Maya Moore...Who makes the 2012 Olympic team and who doesn't?
Mechelle Voepel (3:22 PM)
I'm going to guess all five make it, provided they are healthy. Cash is likely a bit more of an outlier now, relative to the others, but she has quite a history with USA Basketball and has proven herself as a very good supporting player when she needs to be that. Her international experience is valuable. McCoughtry and Augustus are superstars, and Moore is a rising star at this level. Catchings, of course, will have to rehab her foot injury. She had to do that after the 2007 season, too, to make the 2008 Olympics. Her relentless style of play has been very important on Team USA.
Matt (Sandusky, OH)
Who was your MVP of the Western Conference Finals?
Mechelle Voepel (3:26 PM)
How do you pick one? That second game against Phoenix, especially, was the depth of 2011 Lynx basketball at its best. It could be Augustus, could be Taj, could be Maya. Some might say Whalen. That's what makes Minnesota the Finals favorite.
How do you think Big East women's basketball will change with all of the conference realignment activity?
Mechelle Voepel (3:29 PM)
We'll have to wait until the dust settles on all the moves to really say, of course. UConn's athletic dept. very much wants to go to the ACC. In women's basketball terms, that will change everything in the Big East - if the league stays as the Big East - should UConn and another current BE team leave.
kevin (macon ga)
OK, let's relate the WNBA finals to baseball. What would have to happen between the Dream and the Lynx to make up for the 1991 World Series between Atlanta and Minnesota, where that fatso Hrbek wrestled Ron Gant off first base?
Mechelle Voepel (3:31 PM)
Not sure anything will help the Braves fans dealing with the memory of '91 ... but let's say it would be Angel doing an ankle-breaker (not literally) cross-over against Whalen after stealing the ball and going in for a layup at the buzzer to win Game 5 and the title.
There will be a lot of star power in the finals. Is the WNBA doing anything different in marketing to take advantage of it?
Mechelle Voepel (3:37 PM)
The league needs the ol' hype machine - I say this affectionately, bosses- at ESPN TV to do one of the things it does the very best: Give events a "presence." Plug the Finals, do cool promos, give it time on SportsCenter and other shows. I don't work on the TV side, but I know the power that side has; they are some darn clever folks at promoting the things the ESPN networks show. They've actually got a lot to work with here, because there are a lot of really skilled, exciting players and good story lines, led by the native Minnesota hero Whalen trying to bring a title to her home state.
Matt (Sandusky, OH)
What was the most important factor that helped lead the Dream to an "upset" of the Fever in the Eastern Conference Finals?
Mechelle Voepel (3:38 PM)
I have to say Iziane Castro Marques returning to her 2010 self was absolutely huge for the Dream. The Fever couldn't stop her or Angel in Games 2 and 3.
With the excitement of the last few weeks, don't we need more playoff games? 30-game regular season and every round goes to best-of-five, perhaps?
Mechelle Voepel (3:41 PM)
Sometimes less is more ... but in this case I agree with you that someday I'd like to see the playoffs expanded. Maybe best-of-three (conference semis), best-of-five (conference finals), best-of-seven (WNBA Finals). Or make the first two rounds both best-of-five. Hopefully, the league will get to that at some point.
kevin (macon ga)
For 12 years the WNBA used a 1-2 format for three game playoff series and the higher seed won 77% of them (55 of 71). The last two years they've switched to a 1-1-1 format and the higher seeds have won 58% of them (7 of 12). Is it too soon to say the 1-1-1 is better for lower seeds than the 1-2?
Mechelle Voepel (3:45 PM)
You are a statistics genius, Kevin, so I'd bet you'd say that it is still too early to judge based on only two years in the latter format. But ... my gut instinct is that it indeed might be more advantageous for the lower seed to not have to play two games in a row on the road.
Will you be attending all games of the Finals?
Mechelle Voepel (3:51 PM)
I will be at all games, and am looking forward to the atmosphere in both places. With all due respect to Indiana, I think the Dream make for a stronger matchup with Minnesota, at least the way Atlanta is playing right now. Atlanta has proven that an expansion franchise can succeed quickly. Lastly, I want to give congrats to Fever assistant Stephanie White for the very happy thing that happened for the franchise on a disappointing Tuesday: She gave birth that morning to son Landon Fletcher White. Something tells me that boy is NOT going to play ball for the Indiana Hoosiers. :) I expect his room is already black and gold. Will chat again next week, probably Tuesday. Will update chat time on Twitter. Enjoy the WNBA Finals and all your sports this weekend, folks!