Chat with Mechelle Voepel
Welcome to SportsNation! On Thursday, women's basketball writer Mechelle Voepel will stop by to chat about the start of the college season.
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 (2:02 PM)
Good afternoon from rainy but still-nice-to-visit San Antonio, where the volleyball Final Four is being held. Tonight on ESPN2, UCLA meets Florida State - the first time an ACC team has been in the Final Four in women's volleyball - at 7 Eastern, followed by USC vs. Illinois. Final is Saturday night. Plus, we have a lot of hoops on tap this weekend, Sunday especially. Let's get started.
After watching the Tenn-Rutgers game, how much do you think the Vols missing Massengale could affect them, if her finger injury lingers for too much of the regular season and they remain w/o starting point guard?
Mechelle Voepel (2:05 PM)
It's a concern. Tennessee wants/needs her on the court. They won without her against the Scarlet Knights, who did another of their offensive disappearing acts at the end of that game. But Tennessee missed her. Talking to those who cover Tenn every day like Dan Fleser and Maria Cornelius, they think that Massengale has not just the right skill set but the needed attitude to run the team, even though she's young. It's something that Tennessee has been looking for the last few years, and the Vols don't want to rush her healing but also need her to get as much court time as possible. We will be watching to see how that plays out, because the kid is ultra-competitive.
Carol (Santa Cruz, CA)
What's your thoughts on Stanford-Tennessee game next week? Seems to me that Stanford has been more consistent, and being at home, in their comfort zone will benefit Stanford. I'm thinking that Stanford should put Chiney Oguimike on Stricklen, who is the most dangerous offensive player on Tennessee's roster. Chiney did a great job on Maya Moore last year.
Mechelle Voepel (2:09 PM)
Historically, Tennessee has certainly gotten the best of this series. But I think you're right about the comfort factor in Maples, and about Chiney's defensive prowess as a weapon. And the Stanford guards have some more quickness this season, so we'll see how they attack a Tenn team without Massengale. Tennessee is perfectly capable of still winning this game, but I think it might go like last year's UConn-Stanford game did at Maples ... the Cardinal will be very energized by the crowd.
TexasEx (Outside of Texas)
What do you think about the Horns this year? Better than last year?
Mechelle Voepel (2:13 PM)
I get asked a lot about Texas ... they're still looking for a "signature" non-conference victory that sort of makes a statement. Ultimately, like everybody else, they'll be judged nationally on how they fare in the NCAA tournament. Even if they end up having a very good Big 12 season - which I think is quite possible - the scrutiny will really come in terms of how far they go in the postseason. I think they have more depth and more tools this year, but I don't know yet if that means they're going to be more successful at the time when it really matters.
Chris Fiegler (Latham,NY)
Have you ever seen a Brawl in NCAA Women's College Basketball?
Mechelle Voepel (2:17 PM)
There have been some, but I've actually only seen one in person - and it was a real fight. Fists -a-flyin' and headlocks and windmill punches. Seriously. It was in 1987 at my alma mater, University of Missouri, vs. Oklahoma. The teams had disliked each other for a while, and a lot had built up both over the course of the previous few seasons and in that particular game. A Missouri kid threw the ball at the face of an OU kid after the OU kid had fouled her. The MU kid got a technical. This was near the end of the game. MU won by two points, and in the handshake line, the MU kid who had gotten the tech and the OU coach - Maura McHugh - got into it. And then the scrum began. Missouri and Kansas got into it with a similar fracas that started in the post-game handshake line in 2004. I wasn't in attendance for that one, though. I think it's kind of random that both happened at Mizzou ... not like we Missourians are ornery mules or anything. :) Oh wait ... no seriously, I do think it was random. Fights just shouldn't ever happen, but sometimes they do.
Barry (Phoenix, Arizona)
Did you see the Duke-Kentucky game? What did you think?Also, inquiring minds want to know...protein choice. Soy, whey, or hemp?
Mechelle Voepel (2:22 PM)
I eat a lot of soy. And you're setting me up to bash Duke's offense again, when I keep promising to try to stop. :) Kentucky will really clamp down on teams under the system Matt Mitchell has developed. I know what's frustrating to Duke followers is that they feel they have a wealth of offensive talent - and have had that for several years - but they are still susceptible to being taken apart by good defenses. I don't know if that will ever fully turn a different corner under a coach who emphasizes defense the way McCallie does.
Matt (Sandusky, OH)
Does Baylor have enough talent in their supporting cast around Brittney Griner
Mechelle Voepel (2:25 PM)
I think so. Jordan Madden, Brooklyn Pope and Destiny Williams in particular all have the talent to be factors in this game - offensively, defensively and on the boards. If those players compete at their best, they will curtail some of the things that UConn likes to do with this particular squad in setting up the offense a little further away from the basket and not relying that much on trying to go head-to-head with Griner on the block. The supporting cast will have a chance to shine for Baylor against UConn ... but we'll have to see if they actually do it.
Does the path to the Final Four seem substantially different for a #1 seed vs. a #2 in your historical view? The first two rounds, the higher seeds play similar lower teams, i.e. #16 or #15, and #8 or #7 if form holds. If the #3 seed is not significantly better than the #4 seed, then there isn't a major difference, it seems between the respective paths once neutral sites also kick-in? Or do you think that logic falls down?
Mechelle Voepel (2:32 PM)
I believe these numbers are right: A No. 1 seed has won the NCAA title 21 times and been runner-up 16 times. A No. 2 has won it seven times and been runner-up six times. (Last year, it was 2 vs. 2 with TAMU and Notre Dame). A No. 3 has won it twice and been runner-up five times. And a No. 4 has never won, but been runner-up three times. So ... that would suggest that one way the "paths" can be harder for a No. 2 is that if seeds hold, it has to play a No. 3 in its regional semifinal, while No. 1 plays No. 4. And historically, No. 3 seeds have been more successful at getting to the national championship game than No. 4s. At the moment, I don't have my hands on the winning percentage overall throughout the tournament of No. 3 seeds as opposed to. No. 4 seeds ... but the above numbers are an indicator of why having No. 1 would be preferable. Of course, historically, I'd say there also has often been a quantifiable difference between No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, meaning the No. 1s are just better no matter whom their match-ups are against.
North Carolina and South Carolina square off on Sunday, do you think this game has much significance in terms of recruiting for SC? South Carolina (and Clemson) have had trouble keeping the state's best recruits away from North Carolina.
Mechelle Voepel (2:35 PM)
It definitely caught my eye that they are facing off, and I don't see how it *wouldn't* be significant to South Carolina in particular from a recruiting standpoint. As you said, North Carolina has been a much, much more dominant recruiting power in that region than South Carolina or Clemson for a long time. So this is the kind of matchup that could benefit Dawn Staley's program _ if it wins.
Matt (Sandusky, OH)
Florida State upset both Purdue and Iowa State en route to a berth in the NCAA Volleyball Final Four! How did this happen? Have the Seminoles been stealing talented in-state recruits away from the Gators?
Mechelle Voepel (2:40 PM)
Actually, that's not how coach Chris Poole, who took over FSU in 2008, has done it. He wants top Florida kids, but figured he'd have to go a different route to success to be able to get those kids eventually. So the Seminoles have relied a lot on foreign players to make this climb over the last four seasons. On their 14-player roster this year, seven are from outside the United States - from New Zealand, Turkey and Serbia. FSU didn't go overseas to scout them ... several were already in the U.S. at junior colleges or D-I programs they were looking to leave. Of course, in volleyball, you can transfer and play right away; players don't have to sit out a year like they do in basketball. There's some debate whether that's a good thing, considering three of the four programs that are here - all but USC - have at least one high-profile transfer. I'm not sure there's much push to change it, though. At any rate, it's worked for Florida State, which eventually would like to go head-to-head with Florida and volleyball powers outside the Sunshine State for the best Florida recruits. This Final Four helps the Seminoles toward that goal.
Barry (Phoenix, Arizona )
Rumor has it that you were included in one of the proposed Chris Paul trades that the NBA rejected. Confirm or deny? :-)
Mechelle Voepel (2:41 PM)
This one I can answer quickly. Totally false. The only competition anyone might want me for is a "Twilight Zone" trivia contest. Beyond that, I have very few skills.
There are several very talented point guards wiht high profile such as Odyssey Sims, Bria Hartley, and Skylar Diggins. If you were coaching in the FF this year, which one is your starting point guard?
Mechelle Voepel (2:44 PM)
You can't go wrong with any of them, seriously. They all came to college with both the skills and the attitude to be leaders. Each one seems to fit perfectly with the team, coach and area of the country she's in. So if I were coaching in the Final Four - as if _ I'd be just as content with any of them. They would rightfully demand a new coach, though.
I can't say that I have ever seen a 4 guard offense work.. But Uconn seems to make it work.. How is that?
Mechelle Voepel (2:50 PM)
It's equal parts having a really smart, innovative coaching staff and having these high-level competitors/athletes. One thing Geno Auriemma has said a lot about recruiting is that it annoys him if some kid says, "I'm a 2" or "I'm a 3" or "I don't like to play that position." He wants people who say, "I play basketball." Admittedly, some of the kids with this UConn team are being stretched out of what would be a natural comfort zone physically. But because of their mentality, they don't think about it. It's just, "What do you need me to do?" Vandy went to the Sweet 16 a few years back with a mostly-guard team, but not many can do it. Yet we've come to expect that Auriemma could figure out a way to win if he had the Muppets as his starting line-up. He would even get Miss Piggy to set screens and play team defense.
ladybears4eva (Los Angeles)
Thoughts on Pope? I think Pope was definitely improved from last year, watching her play these last few games while Williams was out...for some suspension/injury or other. COndrey was out on injury as well at MSG last weekend. There was criticism on our close win, which i thought it had to do with our shortened bench and Sims early foul trouble. Should it have been a larger margin? Do margins really matter when you're playing away from your home court?
Mechelle Voepel (2:53 PM)
I think Baylor fans will understand when I say that Pope has been the classic Jekyll and Hyde player for a lot of her time at Baylor. But ... we may be seeing her transformation into more Jekyll. I think a win is a win on the road for the most part. Teams always want to "look good" and I'm sure there were things that Mulkey didn't like about that game against St. John's ... but in the end Baylor won. Even in games where teams win by a lot, there is always something they didn't do perfectly.
Presuming Brittney Griner puts up very good and improving numbers this year and next, how do you view BG vs. some of the recent excellent posts like Tina Charles, Sylvia Fowles, Jayne Appel and Parker (even if she played multiple positions)? Against the somewhat further back posts like Ruth Riley, Kara Walters? Or versus the early years' superb post players like Anne Donovan, Denise Curry or Sue Wicks?
Mechelle Voepel (2:59 PM)
The younger posts tend to be more athletic and have grown up with that expectation. Brittney has a different athleticism than the past players of her size. That said, there are still areas of the game that she's working on to improve, of course. All of the players mentioned have differences, but they all really compete hard and that's why they all had success. Each one figured out how to strengthen weaknesses or minimize them. That's what Griner is in the process of doing, and her progress has been noticeable every season.
Michael (Waco, TX)
What is your pick for the Baylor vs. UConn game on Sunday? And what are the keys to the game that Baylor has to stick to?
Mechelle Voepel (3:03 PM)
Ah, yes, everybody likes the picks. :) If I have to pick, I will go with Baylor. I think the home court is an important edge, and that these teams do have comparable talent. Obviously, as they are 1-2. To me, the keys for Baylor are avoiding turnovers, rebounding at a high level, walking that line between getting the Griner the ball a lot but not forcing it, and how well each team shoots from behind the arc. UConn has a long history of playing well on the road no matter if they're in a nearly-empty gym or if 10,000-plus are screaming at them. So I don't think the crowd effect will matter to them. But I do think it will help Baylor. I think it will be a tight, well-played game and hopefully will live up the expectations that so many of us have for it.
When is Charlie Creme going to do his next bracket? I know it is an exercise in futility but I think it is fun.
Mechelle Voepel (3:05 PM)
I think that is a compliment, right? :) I believe Charlie starts doing Bracketology every week once conference season begins, but I am not sure. Will try to find out and post on the next chat. I know Charlie really loves the women's game and he doesn't mean to make people mad with his brackets, I promise. :)
Mechelle Voepel (3:07 PM)
Thanks again for all the questions. I will be covering the volleyball Final Four tonight through Saturday in San Antonio, and then Sunday will have a chance to see Texas AM vs. USC in College Station in the afternoon, followed by Baylor-UConn that night in Waco. Should be a really fun weekend with some great performances. Will chat with you next week.