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January 6, 2:00 PM ET
Chat with Mechelle Voepel

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:16 PM)

Sorry for a delayed start today, but we'll be here a while. We'll get started now.

jbb1985 (NY metro)

After watching Duke vs. UK, the Final Four looks like Baylor, Stanford, UConn and Tenn. Wow, what a FF with great games and great stories, past, present, and future if so. What's your prospective FF at this point nearing halfway, but still youngish part of season?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:20 PM)

I'd have to agree those are the four most impressive teams ... and if one were betting on a Final Four right now, those would be the picks. I hate to bring it up, but the wrench that is always there, potentially, is injuries. However, if those four teams can stay healthy - or get more healthy as is the case in some circumstances - they should be the favorites for Indy. I'm just unsure hat Duke's offense - which was hideous the other night against UK - can improve enough or be consistent enough to get the Devils into the Final Four.

Sue (Durham)

So the Twilight Zone new year's marathon is over...time for a real live twilight zone with Diana Taurasi's positive drug test from the lab in Turkey being reported. Nice round up in your column about how these stories play out as we women's bball fans don't have as much experience with this. How long does it usually take for a definitive ruling to come down which could impact all the teams Diana plays on? It's a sad story any way you look at it as Diana looked ready to push into the future starting with the beautiful photos this past fall. The teams will find other players, but how does Diana recover from this? Note, I am not assuming her guilt, but there is already harm being done with widely reported positive results.

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:27 PM)

As most folks have probably seen, her Turkish club terminated her contract. The timetable from here on is dependent to some degree on what sort of defense Diana and her attorney are going to present and then how far they will appeal a possible suspension. A big part of this if she gets a suspension, how long will it be? Then how will the WNBA respond to it? As I mentioned in my story yesterday, the World Anti-Doping Agency would "re-start" a suspension if an athlete competed in a league other than the one that suspended them before the suspension time was served. So there are just a lot of questions still to be answered.

Dana (Chicago)

What's your take on skeptics thinking that the lab in Turkey "fixed" Taurasi's samples because they don't want her to play in the Turkish league and Olympics?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:34 PM)

That's an extremely serious charge against the lab, of course. The lab was shut down for about three months in 2009 to be re-certified by WADA, but that doesn't necessarily mean there is any reason to doubt the lab after it was re-certified. I haven't seen a doping case yet where there weren't questions raised about the lab. That's usually a standard part of defense. I don't know how that will hold up, though ... typically, challenging the lab has not worked in many athletes' defense regardless of the sport or where the lab is located.

Mary (WV)

How would you characterize the WNBA's response to the Diana Taurasi situation? Responsibly prudent or lacking a proper level of attention?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:41 PM)

The WNBA has no president, of course. At this point, I don't know when they play to announce a new president. So in the meantime, even if they are not rudderless in this situation, they have the appearance that they are. My feeling is if I were the president of the WNBA, I would have flown to wherever DT was and had a conversation with her and her lawyer and tried to figure out the reality of the situation first-hand. Maybe it's easy to say, not being in charge of the league, but I have not been impressed with the passive response I feel like the league has taken to a number issues with individual players and teams. Not just this situation, but even when the league *did* have a president.

Casey (Los Angeles)

Can you tell me why so many Taurasi/WNBA supporters act like they're surprised that her "B" sample came back positive? For the most part, if the "A" sample is positive, isn't the "B" more than likely going to also have the same result?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:50 PM)

Yes, the "B" sample is virtually always going to produce the same result ... unless the testing process itself with the "A" sample was flawed. I think most people just want to hope this is all a mistake. That's usually the response in these situations.

Glenn (fresh meadows)

I know you hate these, but with OSU reaching 69 cubs and 07 mets levels with their collapase, do you see Foster in trouble?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:58 PM)

Seriously? In women's basketball? You think Ohio State is looking to fire Jim Foster for a sub-par start this season - after his team won the Big Ten last year? No, I don't think he's in trouble. Should he be? Should women's basketball have a quicker "hook" for coaches? Yeah, maybe so. Maybe that would force better perfomances. Maybe. But economically, I don't see it happening anytime soon.

Mary (WV)

Would it be appropriate for Donna Orender to do any of the things you mentioned? After all, technically she is still a consultant to the league. Wouldn't this be a good time for her to start earning her consulting fee? Lots of times people get called consultants and they just have nebulous titles and job descriptions. Is this one of those situations?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:04 PM)

Yes. I think the league should understand how important Diana Taurasi is ... if she's in real trouble in terms of a lengthy suspension, the league needs to try to figure out the best way to help her navigate her way through this. If the league welcomed Marion Jones after her admitted past steroid use, then no matter what it turns out has happened with Taurasi, the league should stand behind her to help her in whatever way possible. That doesn't mean "denying" anything happened if, in fact, she ends up suspended. It means supporting her through this. She has been hugely important to the league, and deserves that support.

Joan (Chicago)

Mechelle -- Maryland plays at Duke tonight. Who ya got? Also, any thoughts on the Tarheels so far? Seems like it's the same every season; weak non-conference schedule and the tarheels are exposed once its schedule get tougher.

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:10 PM)

I wouldn't pick against Duke at home, but I am interested to see how much the Terps have improved through non-conference play and how that might be reflected tonight. North Carolina's philosophy has been to go with the softer non-conference schedule for a long, long time now. I don't see that changing. I think Coach Hatchell believes one or two decent-to-good non-conf. games are enough along with ACC play. I don't necessarily agree, but ... it's worked in some years for them in terms of their Final Four appearances in 2006 and 2007. Other years, I think it may have hurt them. When I see UNC playing a team like NC Central, I just think it's a total waste of time ... it's like going to the gym and lifting a fraction of the weight you're capable of lifting and pretending that you're "working out."

tom (san francisco, ca)

Pac 10 questions. What do you think of Niya Butts and the Arizona program? They seem to be winning solidly. As things stand, could they be the fifth Pac 10 team (behind Stanford, UCLA, USC and ASU) to get in? Cal is a bit of a question mark at this point, correct?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:14 PM)

The Wildcats lost to Texas A&M in November but kept the game pretty close, which was a good sign. Another sign will be how they fare against Stanford tonight - not whether they win, which is unlikely, but how well they play. As for Cal, the vast majority of teams are still NCAA tournament "question marks" now, so they have plenty of time to make their case for a tournament bid. Will need to show more determination and fight than they did against Stanford over the weekend, which I'm sure Coach Boyle has been talking to the Bears about this week.

Rich (London)

From a purely playing perspective, are the Mercury going to have to make a move? If DT's out for 2011 and potentially even 2012, their frontcourt has Taylor, Dupree, Bonner, Braxton, and maybe Tangela Smith; their backcourt has Temeka Johnson... and Taylor Lilley? Yikes.

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:20 PM)

Certainly, the Mercury has to be on high alert right now about how this could impact their season. Like I said, there is still a lot to be determined with how this will play out from DT's standpoint, but the Merc has to have contingency plans for the various ways it could go down.

Dave (Detroit)

Is something special brewing at Michigan State?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:25 PM)

I guess we will find out during the course of the Big Ten season. Kalisha Keane is having a really nice year so far, but after that it's a really balanced group. Really looking forward to Sunday's game at Michigan.

Mary (WV)

Tara VanDerVeer said that losing the national championship to UConn in the spring prompted her to become a better coach. What noticeable steps did she take to do so?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:32 PM)

Coaches say things like this, but I have to wonder if this is just their control-freak nature trying to respond to things that they really can't control. I don't think Stanford lost that game because of some strategy issue. They lost in large part because Jayne Appel was very hobbled and unable to do much of anything to help them. And some may criticize TVD for leaving Appel in as long as she did, but it's tough when that's your first-team All-American playing in her last game. Plus, heck, you lost to a great player (Maya Moore) and great team. So ... I think TVD was already a very, very good coach. In her mind, maybe she's done things to improve in terms of how she breaks down games or prepares her squad, but she doesn't seem any different to me.

Blake (Kansas City)

Loved you column on excessive celebration. Because you and so many others have shined the spotlight on how bad a call was made against the K-State WR, do you think the Big 10 will do anything to the crew? I mean, look at the ending of the Florida-Penn State game. The defensive back intercepted the ball and was showboating 20 yards from the end zone, and you can see the ref running with him telling him to tone it down. That ref (also frm the Big 10) didn't throw a fan, because he understood that the guy just made a game-clinching play and was excited. What say you?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:38 PM)

My issue is less with the crew itself and with this rule about "excessive" celebration. To me, officials already have enough to do and enough judgment calls to make without monitoring something that nebulous. If players or teams are getting way out of control, that's one thing. To put officials in a position where they are supposed to determine whether a salute to fans is "excessive" ... it just seems pretty ridiculous. And the other point I was making was that other sports have big celebrations and nobody minds those at all. Football's a violent game, and millions of people seem to love the violence ... yet are offended by celebratory salutes and dances? This doesn't make much sense to me.

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:38 PM)

My issue is less with the crew itself and with this rule about "excessive" celebration. To me, officials already have enough to do and enough judgment calls to make without monitoring something that nebulous. If players or teams are getting way out of control, tht's one thing. To put officials in a position where they are supposed to determine whether a salute to fans is "excessive" ... it just seems pretty ridiculous. And the other point I was making was that other sports have big celebrations and nobody minds those at all. Football's a violent game, and millions of people seem to love the violence ... yet are offended by celebratory salutes and dances? This doesn't make much sense to me.

Tim (Detroit)

Going to Kansas City to visit and need you input ... Gates or Arthur Bryant's?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:43 PM)

Sorry, I am the worst person in the world to ask that question. I have been a vegetarian for 21 years and have never set foot in either place. Can't even stand the thought of it, frankly. But I imagine plenty of folks in KC will give you a recommendation. Hope the weather is nice for your visit. :)

Nick (Albuquerque)

Since it doesn't look like there's one dominant team out there, the NC may come down to matchups. Which of the big teams matches up against the others best?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:48 PM)

It could, and if you look at these four - UConn, Baylor, Stanford and Tennessee - all of them have certain strengths that are hard to stop. A lot of the attention for UConn will be on how the young post players develop through the Big East season. Stanford has given a pretty good answer to its guard questions so far, but will that hold up through a potential national championship? Tennessee's posts have been injury-plagued, but seem to be getting healthier, and it really helps when their big guards are hitting perimeter shots. And Baylor continues to watch Brittney Griner evolve along with the supporting players around her. So if this ends up being the Final Four - not saying it will, but "if" - their could be some really fascinating individual matchups. Maybe I'm wrong, but I really like Tennessee's personnel a lot if healthy. Of course I said that last year, too, and they didn't make it past the Sweet 16.

R (Lawrence)

Speaking of Kansas, thoughts on KU's WBB team this year? Bonnie's best? Chances of beating KSU?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:53 PM)

Good mix of younger players and older players, and they are off to a really good start. But ... their schedule was still middle-of-the road at best, in my mind. I will reserve judgment until after seeing how they perform the first couple of weeks in the Big 12. And they should have an edge over K-State, but that's been the case before and they just haven't played well against the Wildcats, especially in Manhattan.

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:56 PM)

Well, there were a *lot* of questions about the DT situation that I did not post. Will dig into some more specific information on that, as some queries were pretty technical and complicated to answer, especially on a chat. Will try to write again on this in the coming week with more specific answers about drug testing situations. Thanks for all the questions. Chat again next week.