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 (2:17 PM)
Sorry about the delay. Like a lot of you, I've been a bit under the weather. And now we're getting more snow. Isn't it officially spring? Ah, well ... I'm sure a lot of attention is on that other tournament today, but let's chat for a little while about WBB.
Mechelle, Is baylor the overwhelming favorite they were last year?
Mechelle Voepel (2:20 PM)
For some reason, it seems like just a tiny bit less so, doesn't it? Why? Maybe because it's so hard to repeat, and other teams have shown some real mettle, like Notre Dame. Although the Irish had their shot at Baylor in South Bend in December, and still fell by 12. Ultimately, I think Baylor will repeat.
JohnnySole (Carbondale, IL)
Despite losing 3 great seniors from last 2 title trips, are we to say Notre Dame is better? Same but got the tournament win? Thoughts?
Mechelle Voepel (2:24 PM)
I think it feels like this ND team actually IS a little better than last year's team, and that seems a bit crazy considering two of those seniors went to the WNBA. I think it may be because this squad has a bit more athleticism, Kayla McBride has stepped up to some All-America level play, and they jell just as well as a year ago. Still, I think they may end up with the same fate as the 2011 and 2012 teams. But let's see how it plays out.
Biggest potential first round upset?
Mechelle Voepel (2:30 PM)
The 5-12 games are upset possibilities in every region, I think. No. 5 Louisville is at home, but the Cardinals have had their issues, and they're facing a No. 12 Middle Tennessee team that took Tennessee to overtime this season. No. 12 Gonzaga has made it to at least the Sweet 16 the last three years, and they're at home against No. 5 Iowa State. No. 12 Marist has beaten giants before, and they're going against a No. 5 Michigan State team that did make the Big Ten tourney title game, but might be a little over-seeded. Finally, No. 12 Kansas can thank its lucky stars that it's even in this tournament - let's face it, the Jayhawks got some charity - and they could make the committee look smart if they win "an old Big 12/Big Eight" road game against longtime former conference mate Colorado, the No. 5 seed that hasn't been in the NCAA tournament since 2004.
DMP (New Jersey)
Who do you think will make the Final Four that most people won't expect?
Mechelle Voepel (2:34 PM)
Maybe I'm swayed because I saw them play so well in the SEC tournament - where their depth really helped them - but I think Texas AM could be a surprise WFF team. That said, Duke just might be that team out of Norfolk. I say all this with a great deal of respect for Notre Dame. I just think the Irish have the toughest road of any of the No. 1 seeds ... they're the only one of the four that isn't playing at home in the early rounds (one more road trip) and if seeds hold, having Notre Dame, South Carolina, Duke and TAMU in Norfolk is pretty formidable. The other region I see the most potential for an upset in is Spokane, and that's Cal or Penn State. But both those teams may have to win second-round games on their opponents' home floor (Texas Tech, LSU).
How much of Baylor's success the last two seasons is a direct result of Griner?
Mechelle Voepel (2:39 PM)
A ton. :) I know, not a specific percentage there. I'm sure with some advanced stats, you could throw out more specific numbers of her impact for every possession she's on the floor. But even without those specifics, you can say that she is such a force on both ends, she has been so consistent, and she has stayed healthy (or played through pain) ... and that elevates everyone around her. She's been a hugely dominant force ... just as players like Cheryl Miller, Chamique Holdsclaw, Diana Taurasi, Candace Parker, Maya Moore were in winning at least two NCAA titles. (CH, DT won three). Brittney, though, still has just one title, so she wants to join that pantheon.
ladybears4eva (Los Angeles)
Is it just me does the bracket actually feel much more open this year, i really dont think the top seeds have such an easy road, as compared to last year atleast.
Mechelle Voepel (2:44 PM)
I thought Notre Dame was more vulnerable than they proved to be last year ... I figured Maryland might give them a game in the Elite Eight, but it didn't happen. The Irish absolutely clobbered the Terps. I expected the other three to advance. This year ... I think Notre Dame is in the toughest regional, and Stanford is more dependent on one player than they've been in recent years. So there are some potential vulnerabilities there. However, I think Baylor has the so-called "easiest" path to New Orleans, and UConn is right there, too, unless potentially Kentucky can play at its best (if they meet).
Do you think Kentucky can beat UConn?
Mechelle Voepel (2:49 PM)
Kentucky has been more up-and-down than I probably expected they would be. When they're clicking - Stallworth and Walker producing down low, and the guards doing their thing - they are really powerful. But the post duo was not what it needed to be in the SEC final, and that's what can't happen if the Wildcats want a chance to go to WFF. And, frankly, this would be a great year for the Kentucky women to do that, considering the Wildcat men's season is already done since they lost in the NIT. I'm not saying all the men's fans are going to jump on the women's bandwagon, but at least a few may pay the women's team more attention, especially if they could make the WFF. That would be great for a program that has grown tremendously under Matt Mitchell.
How does PSU keep getting a raw deal? Both in seed and region doesnt it seem unfair?
Mechelle Voepel (2:54 PM)
I think Penn State has a legitimate gripe this year. Yes, they had the late regular-season loss at Minnesota, and they didn't make the Big Ten final. But they were the best team in the league throughout the season. As Charlie Creme pointed out, it seemed like the committee could have done better than sending them back to Baton Rouge for a potential second-round game with LSU. That said, I think they may prefer their possible chances if they make it to the Spokane Regional.
kevin (macon ga)
Yet again the Big 12 got very generous seeds relative to their results. Every B12 team in the field got a seed better than their RPI suggested (except Baylor, who couldn't), the only multiple bid conference treated so well. Why does the committee consistently favor the Big 12 in this way?
Mechelle Voepel (2:59 PM)
I really don't know. But over the years, the Big 12 has generally been treated very well by the committee. And that's with several different people on the committee. The fact that the Big 12 - in a very mediocre season, save for Baylor - got both West Virginia and Kansas in this time was pretty surprising. Maybe the Jayhawks' run to the Sweet 16 last year stuck in people's heads, because their body of work this year was not really good enough. Especially considering some of the small-conference schools like Toledo or Florida Gulf Coast that lost their tournaments (and auto bids) and didn't get in.
Stanford fan here.... What do you think is likelihood of Stanford going to Final Four again this year? My bet is 50-50 at best. Outside of Chiney, and maybe Orrange, the Card don't have much. I'm still hoping for the best, but I think this will be Notre Dame's year.
Mechelle Voepel (3:03 PM)
Obviously, one of the big things is Chiney Ogwumike not getting into foul trouble. I'd say their odds are better than 50/50, though. If seeds hold, it's Stanford vs. Georgia and Cal-Penn State in that region. I know Cal beat Stanford once this year, but if it's for all the marbles in a regional final ... the edge still goes to Stanford. I'd say it's more like 75-25 the Cardinal advance to the WFF, although I actually probably feel stronger than that about their chances.
Lady Mary Crawley (Downton Abbey)
You picked Connecticut as the first 1-seed to lose. Why? Is that a comment on UConn or more the result of the strength of Bridgeport?
Mechelle Voepel (3:09 PM)
Actually, that's because I picked all four No. 1's to make it to the WFF, and if UConn-ND play the first semifinal like they did last year, UConn will be the first No. 1 to lose. :) At least with those ESPN.com "instant picks" that we do on bracket-release day, I was very conservative and picked an exact repeat of 2012's Final Four. I don't know if I'll change my mind with more time to fiddle over it.
Craig G. (Fairfield, CA)
Hey Mechelle, do you think Cal can advance to the Final Four?
Mechelle Voepel (3:12 PM)
It's possible. They're a great rebounding team, they're physical, they can be very strong on the perimeter, too. But they may have to beat Texas Tech in Lubbock, and then in the regional semis, possibly a Penn State team that executes very well at its best. And then, perhaps, Stanford again. And the Cardinal as a program is just so much more experienced in regional finals than most programs - save a few - in the country. But it is at least a possibility for Cal. It's not like it will take a miracle for the Bears to make it New Orleans.
kevin (macon ga)
The NCAA has not announced any sites for next year's tournament except the Final Four location. Are they changing the format again?
Mechelle Voepel (3:18 PM)
I've heard that the format of the top 16 seeds hosting may return. Just because it could boost attendance. And actually make things a little easier for the committee in terms of not having so many boxed-in situations of higher-seeded teams having to play on lower-seeded teams' home courts, as is the case with pre-determined hosts. The sport has tried a couple different formats since 2002, the last year of top-16 hosting. I fully understand some of the complaints about that format. But, ultimately, women's hoops attendance is still driven by fans interested in their own teams, and bigger crowds make for better television. I'm not saying it's a "done deal" yet, but I think it's leaning that way. Plus, at least with top-16 hosting, you earn your host site by victories, not with a monetary bid.
will Griner take the WNBA to another level, exposure and attention? it seems like once they get to the pros ex.maya, candace, they step out of the spotlight.
Mechelle Voepel (3:23 PM)
I'm not entirely sure one player can do that for the WNBA. If one can, perhaps it will be Brittney. But I still feel that WNBA's rise in terms of getting more of a spotlight depends on interest in the sport itself. Most of the greatest players in women's college hoops of the last decade-plus have gone on to be very good and even great pros. It's not like they step out of the spotlight, actually, it's that there isn't really a spotlight there for them yet. The timing of the league's season is always going to be somewhat problematic - finishing during NFL/college football season. But it's still the best timing overall. Maybe Griner will bring more highlights to TV, though, with the dunks. Because, let's face it, TV worships dunks. Even when they're in blow-out, unimportant games.
Lady Mary Crawley (Downton Abbey)
What's the best city for the Women's Final Four?
Mechelle Voepel (3:25 PM)
Personally, I love San Antonio. It's usually warm, it's nice to go for walks on the Riverwalk, and everybody seems to have a good time there.
Can UConn win it all?
Mechelle Voepel (3:27 PM)
Yes, they can. They have the personnel. They don't have to leave their state to earn a trip to New Orleans. They beat one of the No. 1 seeds and they played tight games, of course, with the other two No. 1 seeds. Frankly, UConn probably feels like they should have defeated Baylor and should have won all three times against ND. But they didn't, and that ability to close out games against their best opponents has been lacking this season. If they get that, then they can win another NCAA title.
Do you feel Tennessee is over ranked at a #2 seed?
Mechelle Voepel (3:32 PM)
No, I don't think so, especially relative the No. 3 seeds. Like Penn State, Tennessee won its league regular-season title and lost in the tourney semifinals. Texas A&M won the SEC tourney, lost to Tennessee in the regular season and beat Tenn in the league tourney. And the other two No. 3's - UCLA and North Carolina - didn't win their league's regular-season or tourney titles. So I think Tennessee was right as a No. 2.
kevin (macon ga)
WHo are the top candidates for the Ohio State job?
Mechelle Voepel (3:38 PM)
Depends on whether Ohio State is going to try to hire an already established successful head coach -like they did when bringing in Jim Foster from Vanderbilt - or will choose to elevate a high-profile assistant at a very successful program who is ready for the jump ... a Nikki Caldwell-type. I think perhaps Niele Ivey at Notre Dame might be in that pool of candidates. But there should be no shortage of interested candidates. This is the best job open right now in women's hoops, and I doubt any will be better this year. The key is, by parting with Foster, the school has made it clear that it expects big-time NCAA tournament results, not just Big Ten success.
Just curious how you feel about Iowa State's chances of make a run to the region final? They have proven they can pose problems for some teams with their three point shooting and the versatility of Anna Prins? What are your thoughts?
Mechelle Voepel (3:42 PM)
Indeed, Prins has played very well in recent weeks, and she is a matchup problem. Plus, the Cyclones always are hard to play for teams that are not very familiar with them because of their 3-point shooting philosophy. Obviously, Iowa State has a tough chore in trying to beat Gonzaga on the Bulldogs' home court, and then they could have face another group of Bulldogs in Georgia. But Georgia has been awful offensively at times this year, so they have vulnerabilities. So staying around in Spokane isn't impossible for the Cyclones.
JohnnySole (Carbondale, IL)
I am a broadcaster in the MVC. I have seen Creighton and Wichita St 3 times. Are Jays ready to beat Syracuse? As for Wichita State, tough draw in Texas!
Mechelle Voepel (3:45 PM)
It's nice for the Valley to get two teams into the Big Dance this year, even if one of them - Creighton - is leaving the conference for the "new" Big East. Of course, Johnny, you are very familiar with the Wichita State coaching staff, which used to be at Southern Illinois. Now Jody Adams is the head coach at Wichita, and it's been a breakthrough season for the Shockers. It likely will end pretty quickly in College Station, but still ... a breakthrough. As for Creighton ... I think they can compete with Syracuse.
Mechelle Voepel (3:48 PM)
Well, sorry again about the late start of the chat. Hope you all are enjoying the first day of the men's tournament. The women start on Saturday, and I'll be in College Station, Texas, that day. Looking forward to the start of another NCAA tournament. Chat with you next week.