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January 26, 2:00 PM ET
Chat with Mechelle Voepel

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:04 PM)

Good afternoon! We have No. 1 Baylor at Oklahoma - will anyone stop the Bear Brigade? - Penn State-Michigan and Delaware-Hofstra as some of the more interesting games tonight. So let's get chatting.

Matt (Sandusky, OH)

ESPN should change the name of Big Monday to Big "Blowout" Monday due to recent margins of victory. Do nationally televised games like these hinder the growth in popularity of women's college basketball?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:10 PM)

I think we always have that fear that a lousy game on television will turn people away from giving the sport a chance. But if people are willing to judge an entire sport on one game they see, then maybe there's not that much chance they are open to becoming regular fans anyway. That said, I know it's a frustration for everyone when there are these terrible games in more marquee TV windows. I might jokingly say TV can't allow any UConn home games on Big Monday because they are just too good at home and the games are always lousy. :) But seriously, even the best plans on the TV side can go awry in terms of matchups they hope will be good. And the other issue is that they set this schedule long before the season starts, so if a team gets really hot and wasn't necessarily high on the radar - such as Nebraska in 2010 - TV can seem like it's missing the boat on some teams and overestimated others. It can be risky business in some ways with all sports programming because of what you're hoping will happen but can't be sure of.

Shades (Minneapolis)

Who is more worthy of a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, Stanford or Duke?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:12 PM)

Right at the moment ... I'd still say Stanford. But let's see how the Blue Devils do Monday against UConn and throw that into the evidence pool.

GP (NYC)

Have you heard about the "Letters to Janel" campaign from the Liberty? Does this mean Whiz regrets the decision he made last year regarding her arrival date? How does she help them this year?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:17 PM)

Lots of questions today about McCarville and the Liberty. When I talked with Janel's agent last year, he was not putting a lot of "blame" on the Liberty for her not playing. He said she was pretty tired and non-committal toward the Liberty, and Whisenant - having no real relationship with her - had to move ahead. In other words, if they'd know each other, maybe they could have worked something out better that would have been OK with both parties. I've never been one to hold out on criticism of the Liberty, of course, but I didn't get the sense this was something they just botched. Does McCarville want to come back, and will she fit in with the team now and Whiz's philosophy? We'll see. One thing in pro sports is that grudges and hard feelings can pop up quickly, but they can also go away - or be put aside - when everybody clears the air and realizes both sides can be beneficial to the other. Whether that's truly the case with McCarville and Liberty is something we'll see.

Matt (Ann Arbor, Mich.)

If you were the Fever, would you consider breaking up your core, or do you think they have another run in them?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:21 PM)

One of the biggest factors in this is being sure of the health of everyone involved, and how the Fever thinks they can hold up in a season broken up by the Olympics. I would not lean toward totally breaking up the core, but at the same time, Indy has to look hard at what it is that has kept them from winning a title and if that's really something they can seriously address with personnel moves. I'm sure the concern of Fever fans is holding on too long and the team going "over the hill," so to speak.

Matt (Ann Arbor, Mich.)

Is it just me, or is Notre Dame playing a lot better at this point in the semester than they were earlier when they lost to Baylor? Or is it just that all teams look bad when playing Baylor?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:24 PM)

Both are factors. I agree Notre Dame is playing better; there's a crispness to their offense and a confidence overall that they have already reached in January this year, as opposed to closer to NCAA tournament time last year. But, yes, because of the Brittney Griner matchup nightmare, the speed and athleticism around her, and the fact that Baylor is *not* going to let up, the Bears can really make teams look worse than they realistically are.

Kelly (Maryland)

After watching Notre Dame completely dismantle the Lady Vols I was wondering if you think this is the best Irish team ever?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:29 PM)

I have thought about this ... the 2001 team was the group of "iron women," and they had the perfect fit at every position: the dominant center, the tough power forward, the lithe small forward, the 3-point whiz shooting guard, the play-making leader PG. Each starter on that team matched her position as it's classically defined to a T, and you don't really get that too often. That said, this current Irish team has some greater star power and some more depth. Not sure you could ever say best-ever, though, until they match what the 2001 squad was able to do with winning an NCAA title.

Chris (Houston)

How is Keitha Adams still at UTEP? And why so little love for the Lady Miners this year? They're 5 points away from being undefeated. Thanks.

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:37 PM)

I believe Coach Adams is going for her 300th career win tonight, so congrats to her whenever that does come. She was a very successful juco coach in Kansas, and has had some good results in her 11 seasons with UTEP. I think maybe there is a comfort factor for her there, although I don't know for sure how many opportunities she's had to move elsewhere. And part of how she's evaluated nationally may be that in general, I feel like Conference USA still struggles with having an "identity" in women's basketball. It gets overshadowed by the Big 12 and SEC in particular. And, of course, the changing membership of C-USA over the years has impacted this, too.

Matt (Ann Arbor)

After the top three teams (Baylor, A&M, KSU), the rest of the Big 12 only has three out-of-conference wins over the RPI Top50. How much will that hurt the conference come Selection Monday? How much SHOULD it hurt them?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:42 PM)

I have always said that in general, the selection committee has been good to the Big 12 most of the time, and has given the league the benefit of the doubt. That's over several different committee compositions, too. There are some exceptions of years where a team or two felt it wasn't treated as well, but again in general the league has had little to complain about. The facts you state *should* come into play in team evaluation, but the league may still get the benefit of the doubt. This could finally be the year that Kansas gets back into the tournament (last appearance was 2000), and a team such as Oklahoma State is going to have at least some emotional factor in how it's evaluated. Not in an unfair way, though. If the Cowgirls continue to get wins like those they have so far, they will earn their place in the NCAA field.

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:42 PM)

But overall, this isn't a big powerhouse year by any stretch of the imagination for the Big 12, save the Green Giant.

jbb1985 (ny)

You may be too young, but Kerry Bascom was UConn's first star player and is still its 4th highest scorer all-time. Yet she played in 1988-1991 period. Might you have seen her play? If so, what type player was she and which contemporary player would remind you of her?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:49 PM)

Nah, I don't qualify as "young" anymore. Haven't for a while. :) I started covering women's basketball when I at Missouri in 1984. So, yes, I do remember Kerry Bascom, even though I obviously didn't see nearly as many of her games as I have with UConn players over the last 17 years. Kerry was a scoring machine, and the player she kind of reminds me of was Texas AM's Danielle Adams, now with San Antonio Silver Stars. I am a little leery of talking about this in a way that would offend anyone, but obviously Danielle has a large physical presence, and yet has skills I think surprise people who see her and expect she would not have them. Kerry was not physically as large as Danielle, but she was stout and strong, while still with good body control. I recall there was a picture of her in past UConn media guides - not sure if it's still in there - where one defender is falling over trying to guard her, while another has her hand basically on top of Kerry's head trying to stop her... and Kerry is still going right to the basket. She could shoot the 3 and penetrate; she had just a ferocious will to score. That's my memory of her. Really quite a player.

Matt (Sandusky, OH)

When McWilliams-Franklin recently re-signed with the WNBA Champion Lynx, the following question popped into my head: Which current post player is most comparable to Taj?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:53 PM)

I am not sure this comparison is right, but it's just one that came to mind: Crystal Langhorne. I say that because Taj has always been a bit undersized, and yet can usually get the job done no matter who's trying to stop her. She doesn't "rush" as a post player, she has a deliberate way about her. It's not slow, it's measured. I think Crystal has worked very hard as a pro to develop that kind of consistency no matter what kind of defense is thrown at her, and she has tried to become a better defender herself. There may be other better comparisons, but that jumped to my brain first.

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:54 PM)

Of course, I should say Taj *IS* a current post player. :) She's still trucking. But I assume you meant a younger player closer to her prime years as someone to compare to Taj.

sportsfan0360 (IN)

At what age do you think the great coaches, like Geno and Tara, might think of retiring -- 60's or 70s?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:59 PM)

It may depend in part on how they feel physically. The sad thing we've all learned this year with Coach Summitt is that we may think someone is a "rock" who will be there forever, but health issues can come up that we never expected. Coach Auriemma and Coach VanDerveer both really still love what they do ... but will they get a desire to get out of the rat race of recruiting when they get a little older? I would guess for most coaches, that's the part of the job they look forward to not having to do. The teaching part is something Geno and Tara might like to do as long as they can. And they both love the school they're at and area of the country they're in. But both are also people who may have other aspirations in life that have been put on the back burner and might still be something they want to achieve outside of coaching.

Matt (Sandusky, OH)

Does Duke cause any match-up problens for UConn, or do we just have to look forward to yet another Big "Blowout" Monday?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:03 PM)

The eternal optimist in me looks at this matchup on paper and says, "Duke should be able to guard UConn pretty well, and if the Blue Devils can just not be total clunkers on offense, it could be a good game." But I've thought this before with hope, like last year, and both games were total blowouts. So ... Duke must, must, must hit some shots early and not fall victim to UConn going on those first-half runs they use to bury teams before halftime. And Elizabeth Williams must stay controlled while aggressive and avoid foul trouble, which can be hard for a rookie in a marquee game ... even a freshman as calm and mature as she is.

sportsfan0360 (IN)

Of the various stats for teams, which seems to predict success in tight games between top teams -- shooting %, PPG, PPG allowed, or Free Throw %?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:07 PM)

I do not have the empirical evidence calculated to say I'm right about this ... but anecdotally, just from having watched a lot of hoops, I'd say both shooting percentage AND turnovers are the key in tight games between top teams. I know you didn't list turnovers, so I kind of cheated on the question. I just think they are incredibly important.

Kassie (US)

I was a little surprised at how entertaining the MD-Duke game was this past weekend. Mainly because despite all of the talent, Duke has struggled offensively whenever I watch. Will they finally be able to challenge UConn?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:11 PM)

Duke's struggles on offense despite having a lot of talent - that's a topic that drives a lot of Blue Devils followers nuts. And I acknowledge I have hammered the Duke coaching staff on that the last couple of years. Some of the really close Duke-watchers I know have told me that they feel there's been some incremental progress on that, but they don't know if it will hold up when it's a really high-profile game against a really good team. It's one thing to trust your players more when you know you're going to win, but another thing to be able to loosen the reigns a bit and trust in them when you're in a real battle. So I honestly have my doubts about Duke challenging UConn only because they have not shown that ability against the Huskies in a while. But ... I'd love to see it happen because we all want a good, fun, competitive Big Monday game, regardless of who wins.

GP (NYC)

Since the TN-ND game, I'm hearing a lot of criticism of Holly Warlick and doubting she can be the leader of the Lady Vols. Is that fair? This situation has to be so much tougher than being outright handed a team.

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:19 PM)

What the Tennessee staff is going through this year is extremely difficult. Holly Warlick is trying to do a balancing act that is so professionally and personally challenging that I don't think we really can get a fair evaluation of what her head coaching skills might be. As you said, it would be hard enough to be first officer for so long, and then become captain of the ship in the most ideal circumstances. Warlick is trying to do several captain duties while still being the first officer. I want to give Tennessee, Coach Summitt and the rest of the staff every benefit of the doubt that they are all working to do the best they can for the team. Also, I think it's difficult because there is so much scrutiny of Coach Summitt's every move, non-move, facial expression, etc. I don't know her personal health status day-to-day, obviously, but with this disease people have good days and bad days, and some of that may be reaction to different medication, too. What I'm saying, ultimately, is that I trust Tennessee is handling this the best it can, and whenever the time comes that Coach Summitt may step aside, the athletic department will try to make the best long-term head-coaching decision possible to keep the program at the level at which it's been for so long. But you don't "replace" legends. Tennessee will never have another Pat Summitt. But UNC men will never have another Dean Smith ... that doesn't mean the program can't continue its success.

kevin (macon ga)

Will Azarenka-Sharapova be the noisiest Grand Slam final ever?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:25 PM)

I think ESPN ought to consider the current big success of the film "The Artist" and broadcast the Aussie Open women's final like a "silent" movie with a musical score. That would save all of our eardrums from the shrieking/grunting/squealing that accompanies every strike of the ball from these two high-decibel noise-makers. Or ... I guess we can all just use the mute button. :)

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:26 PM)

Thanks for all the questions ... there were several on the WNBA that I just didn't get to, but I hope to tackle more of those next week. Chat with you then ... at which time we'll know if Duke-UConn was fun or another dud.