Chat with Mechelle Voepel
Welcome to SportsNation! On Thursday, women's basketball writer Mechelle Voepel will stop by to chat about the Final Four.
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 (2:07 PM)
Good afternoon. Well, who out there had Maryland in the Final Four in the first bracket you filled out? (Not me.) Terps grads excluded. Tomorrow, I'll be heading to Nashville. Let's get started.
Rich P (Statesboro)
Can Stanford score enough to beat UConn? Who has the best chance of beating UConn this weekend? A hobbled ND or one of forgotten two teams?
Mechelle Voepel (2:13 PM)
It's hard to see any of the three beating the Huskies IF UConn plays well both games. That is with Natalie Achonwa out. With her, I thought a potential UConn-ND matchup could be really quite close. I don't think there are any secrets left or great "insider" knowledge anybody has with any of these teams. We've all seen them for the past couple of weeks in tournament play. Can UConn lose to one of the three? Nothing is impossible. But ... when you consider that the Huskies have their top six kids looking healthy and sharp, it becomes difficult to envision realistic scenarios of how they might not win the title.
Matt (South Bass Island)
If the seeds play true, does Notre Dame have enough post depth to upset UConn in the national championship game without Achonwa?
Mechelle Voepel (2:16 PM)
On paper, no. But this is where sports is fun. I can sit here all day and say I can't envision it, but that doesn't mean squat. I'm not Taya Reimer or any of the other Notre Dame kids who is thinking, "I have to play better than I ever have now." We don't know how good Reimer can be, for example, because she was a freshman playing behind a really good senior and didn't have to do more than she's done. Now, she does. Let's see what happens.
This coming Saturday, UTEP women will have played in front of 43,000 fans in EIGHT days, Keitha Adams is 80-21 the last 3 years with 1 NCAA bid and WNIT Championship game, why have the BCS colleges with job vacancies, not hired her?
Mechelle Voepel (2:17 PM)
I don't know. I thought for sure she was going to be strongly in the running for the Kansas State job, and then Jeff Mittie got it. I am not sure how many jobs she's applied for, but whenever one comes up, I would assume she would be on people's short lists to at least talk to.
jbb1985 (alas, headed for snow not hoops)
Sheer speculation query: if UConn wins the 9th NC in Tennessee, does that make the powers-to-be at Univ. of Tennessee less likely or more likely to want to restart the long dormant series between the two legendary programs?
Mechelle Voepel (2:24 PM)
I think Tennessee should re-start the series. Playing UConn makes good teams better. But, of course, I never thought Tennessee should have stopped playing UConn in the first place. That's water under the bridge, though. All the UConn media folks I talked to when I was in Lincoln said that UConn is very open to doing this, so it depends on Holly Warlick. But it seems on the Tennessee side, Holly is still thinking it might be disrespectful to Pat Summitt in some way. I just think it's time to renew the series, but I don't know if/when Holly and others at Tennessee will decide to do it.
Are we one bit surprised that Liz Cambage has decided to entertain us this offseason again by saying she may or may not show up for the Tulsa Shock?? If feel so bad that the Shock have to go through EVERY offseason.
Mechelle Voepel (2:27 PM)
I think all of us who've followed the WNBA since Liz came in know she's not particularly committed to the WNBA or the Shock. I don't see anything changing about that, really. This year, it's the World Championship, next year it might be something else, the year after that the Olympics. Unless the Shock knows something about her commitment that isn't obvious to us on the outside, I think maybe they would want to move on.
jbb1985 (alas, headed for snow not FF hoops)
At 38-0 and potentially counting, has UConn performed up to your pre-season expectations, or less, or more?
Mechelle Voepel (2:28 PM)
How do you do better than 38-0 at this point? :)
Heard anything about the open Minnesota job?
Mechelle Voepel (2:29 PM)
Not really, but after some of the recent hires, I don't know if you can trust anything you hear anyway. :) That is a good job. A really good job. Minnesota certainly doesn't need to do something weird; they should have very good candidates interested.
Kacee (SW Missouri)
Mechelle, I have a comment and a question. First, even though ESPN.com has yet to write about the ongoing WNIT, UTEP sold out the Don Haskins Center Wed. night for their semi-final victory over a strong S. Dakota St. team, then turned around and in TWO HOURS sold out the Don for the Championship game Sat. against Rutgers! Coach Keitha Adams has literally taken the UTEP program from nothing when she took over to being the toast of El Paso. Hopefully ESPN.com will cover the championship game because that is truly a story worth following. Now for my question: Do you, or does anyone, really believe that Arkansas would have even considered hiring, let alone actually hire, someone who has not coached in 22 years for their MEN"S JOB? No way, not for a second. Yet they hired Mr. Dykes for their women's job at $450K per year. Your thoughts Mechelle??
Mechelle Voepel (2:36 PM)
We have tended not to do much, staff-wise, in regard to anything other than the Division I tournament. There are a few exceptions. To do WNIT at the same time as the NCAA tournament would have to be something philosophically decided by editors, and then they'd have to allocate the resources for it. I mean, it seriously wasn't really *that* long ago when I covered the NCAA tournament by myself for both the Kansas City Star and ESPN.com. Then for a while it was just Graham Hays and me. So ... it's been a gradual process in staffing women's sports events. I know people kind of assume ESPN just does whatever they want, whenever they want to do it, but we have a budget and staffing limits, too. So the answer is, sure, I'd love for us to do more coverage, including the WNIT, I just don't know if the resources will be allocated that way in the forseeable future.
Mechelle Voepel (2:38 PM)
As to the Jimmy Dykes question, it would be shocking for a Division I men's basketball team in a major conference to hire someone with his qualifications as head coach. It seems that Arkansas thought they needed someone with very strong Arkansas roots, which he has, and someone whose hiring would spark some headlines, which it has. But is that a long-term strategy for improving your program? It's on him now to prove it: He got the job, it got a lot of headlines, and now he has to produce.
Baylor bit by the official bug again. Why does this continually happen? a. There's a conspiracy between Mulkey and the ncaa b. Baylor is just a difficult team for the officials to work . c. Just a coincidence d. ncaa wants to see Notre Dame and Uconn in the finals e. none of the above.
Mechelle Voepel (2:43 PM)
Does it "continually" happen? Does Baylor get bad calls in every single game? I don't think so. But ... I think reasonable, objective people could look at last year's Sweet 16 game with Louisville and this year's Elite Eight game with Notre Dame and point to certain calls - or the way the game was called in general - and feel Baylor was impacted by them. That said, did that stop Baylor from winning either of those two games? I don't think anybody can really say that. I certainly don't think there's a conspiracy. But ... I do sometimes wonder if the fact that Kim Mulkey is SO dramatic on the sidelines so often does influence officials in spite of themselves. I would think they try not to let it impact them, but maybe it does. Sometimes in Baylor's favor, and sometimes against. I don't think Kim is going to change, though.
Mechelle Voepel (2:45 PM)
And let me add this: Everybody sees their own version of officiating when they watch a game. If you are passionately rooting for one team or another, you will see things through that lens. If you don't care, you will see it through that lens. So, the idea that there is ever going to be a consensus on how any one game was officiated? It's not going to happen. Notre Dame fans will say they had people in foul trouble, too. Baylor will say, "We had it worse." Until the end of time. :)
With the news of Achonwa's ACL tear, her stock has to drop now it would seem. How far to you expect?
Mechelle Voepel (2:47 PM)
I'd think she would still go in the first round, to a team that can wait for her to get healthy.
Hector (Norwich, CT)
Given the loss of Ochonwa, can ND advance against Md if Kayla McBride can't find her game? Particularly, when Md is playing like a team and not just an Alyssa Thomas show?
Mechelle Voepel (2:50 PM)
It's interesting ... we all did our national semifinal picks independently at ESPN.com, which is how we always do them. We send them into an editor, and I never know who everybody picks until I actually see it published. And I thought for sure that one of us was going to pick Maryland, but no one did. I think it would have been a close game with or w/o Achonwa, based on how well the Terps played the Irish back in January. The fact that Maryland did play so well as a team - as you mentioned - in the regional has to be a big concern for Notre Dame.
Mary Taylor (New Orleans)
Do you think the uproar over the recent coaching hires at Arkansas and La. Tech had to do with the coaches either being unproven or away from the game for a long time or them both being male who got hired instead women? Why is it that when schools think outside the norm, they get ripped?
Mechelle Voepel (3:02 PM)
In general in most situations, when moves are made "outside the norm" there will be critics. That's kind of human nature. In this case, I think the reaction to those two hires has been a bit different, generally speaking. I will be honest, when I first saw the Arkansas hire, I thought, "Seriously?" I was just really surprised. As for Tyler Summitt, I got the sense talking to him and to people who knew him that he was going to go after a head-coaching job at a VERY young age. I do believe his timetable was going to be fast anyway, but it became even faster when his mother became ill and he knew he would not ever get the chance to work for her at Tennessee. So Tyler's hiring surprised me a little less. In both cases, there are legit criticisms. But I think people may be less bugged - I could be wrong - by Tyler's hiring, in part because they know he's been invested in the women's game all his life. Is he too "young" to do this? Louisiana Tech clearly felt it was worth the risk. In Jimmy Dykes' case, I thought his press conference was long on platitudes that were rather insulting to the previous coaching staff, although that certainly may not have been his intent. It is weird - to say the least - to see an SEC job go to someone who's never been a head coach. But as I said earlier, now the heat is on. You got the job, do something with it.
Do the Gophers have a legitimate shot to get Niele Ivey as their next coach?
Mechelle Voepel (3:03 PM)
As I said earlier, I think Minnesota is a very good job. Both in terms of what talent is already there now, and the base that the Gophers can regularly and successfully recruit.
Can Notre Dame ride the emotion for two games to get it done or does the loss of Achonwa pretty much resign them to a defeat either Sunday or Tuesday? They beat Maryland without her for all intents and purposes in January.
Mechelle Voepel (3:08 PM)
Well, the Irish absolutely *won't* resign themselves to defeat. No way they will be thinking like that. Muffet McGraw won't let them, and neither will Natalie Achonwa. In the January matchup, Achonwa didn't have a particularly good game, so yes, the Irish can and should look to that. I think emotion only gets you so far, though, and that's where McGraw being the coach is an advantage for the Irish in really challenging situations like this. She is a technician and strategist who is not very emotional as a mentor. Inside, she's surely grieving Achonwa's injury, but she will not let that show on the outside.
Pat (Orange, CT)
Has UConn become too dependent on the threes? They seem to have the ability to go inside at will, yet they seem content to hoist threes and take their chances (which means fewer trips to the FT line).
Mechelle Voepel (3:12 PM)
I don't really see UConn as being a team that settles too much for lower-percentage shots. I know there are some examples we can point to where they might have been able to get to the rim more, but I believe in general they do that well. At this point, of course, foes are not looking for some major attack point against UConn - because there isn't any. I think whoever plays them has to focus on doing what that team does the abosolute best that they can, and then play percentage defense the best you can against a UConn team where every starter can hurt you.
How much pressure is now put on Carol Ross with all these "name" signings for the Sparks? It seems like it's championship or bust?
Mechelle Voepel (3:14 PM)
But the thing is, have the defending champions gotten any more vulnerable? I don't see that they have. Unless there are some injury issues I'm not aware of with the Lynx, I still thing they are the favorite in the West and to win another title.
I like the Tyler Summitt hire. But seeing that Kelvin Sampson just got hired at Houston, as well as Bruce Pearl, do you think that a women's program should take a chance on a fallen guy who can coach?
Mechelle Voepel (3:18 PM)
I don't know how many guys who've gotten in trouble - of varying sorts - in the men's game would consider going over to the women's game. I doubt many of them would. You can screw up big-time in men's college basktball in terms of rule-breaking and other shenanigans, and yet if somebody thinks you can win, you'll get another chance. In regard to women's programs taking chances on people who are "outside the box," sometimes I think - over the years - that's been done out of a true, brave decision-making process ... and sometimes I think it's because an athletic department's leadership just doesn't care enough or know enough to make a really smart decision.
jbb1985 (alas, headed for snow not FF hoops)
Which team's unexpectedly early departure disappointed you the most, whether due to mounting injuries, an off game, or seemingly coaching *shortfall*?
Mechelle Voepel (3:23 PM)
I was disappointed for West Virginia. They were in the same position as Penn State last year, playing at LSU and suddenly facing a late Tiger run and being defeated by it. I don't want to take away from LSU, but I think West Virginia was the better team and would have given Louisville a better game in the regional semifinals. I felt bad for the Mountaineer seniors; but that's the nature of the tournament. A brief stretch in one game can make or break you in the tournament. I was also disappponted for Nebraska not getting the chance to play in its regional. Kudos to BYU; it sure seemed like the Cougars were much better than a No. 12 seed.
jbb1985 (alas, headed for snow not hoops)
Did you think KML, despite a season tarnished by injury [her screams while lying on the court in a suddenly silent arena, whoa] and illness, should have been higher than a Honorable Mention? EDD retained her AA level while missing many games to Lyme Disease? The vote was taken pre-Tournament; if it was taken now after KML's past few games, might she have only dropped from 2nd team to 3rd team?
Mechelle Voepel (3:27 PM)
Elena Delle Donne missed some games, but she was in very good form coming down the stretch in her senior season. In the case of Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, she herself didn't think she played well most of the season. But you are right, if the vote was taken now - as opposed to before the NCAA tournament - KML is better than honorable mention.
Mechelle Voepel (3:28 PM)
OK, well, thanks for all the questions. The Final Four semis will be Sunday, the championship Tuesday, and the WNBA draft on Monday, April 14. Hope all of you who are headed to Nashville have a safe trip, and that everybody enjoys the games.