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December 13, 2:00 PM ET
Chat with Mechelle Voepel

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:02 PM)

Good afternoon from Louisville, site of the women's volleyball final four. Hopefully, I'll have more luck with this chat than last week. If technology works against me again, I'll pull the plug a little sooner than last week. :) Forgive me for being a little more in volleyball mode than hoops this week, but the majority of questions are still on hoops. So that's what we'll focus on, with a few vball thrown in. Let's get started.

Susan ( Chicago)

What do you think of the new rules in the WNBA ... no flopping, defensive 3 seconds, 3-point line extended. I'm concerned about the last one because too many teams/players already struggle with their shooting.

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:05 PM)

I can see the reasoning behind the rules changes, but I do wonder -like a lot of you - if this complicates officiating, which already has its struggles. I think most would say the level of officiating hasn't reached the level of play in the WNBA, and I understand the reasons behind that. I hope the rules changes don't have a negative impact on the game, but I haven't had a chance to talk with some of the officials yet to get more an off-the-record but hopefully honest assessment.

Glenn (Fresh Meadows, NY)

How close are M. Cooper and Donovan to bailing on the college game and returning to the WNBA? Also do you see CT perhaps talking to a Rizzotti or Elliott about their opening closer to the end of the College season (Or perhaps Shea Ralph about moving up to an HC role)

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:07 PM)

USC's Michael Cooper, Oregon's Paul Westhead and Seton Hall's Anne Donovan are all former championship WNBA coaches who are not faring well in the college game right now, of course. I mentioned in the chat last week that all three are rumored to be interested in the two open WNBA jobs at Connecticut and Washington. As for Hartford's Jen Rizzotti or Cincinnati's Jamelle Elliott or Ralph, I don't know that any of them at this point are interested in a move to the WNBA.

Julie (Austin, TX)

Does anyone have a realistic chance of beating Penn State and winning the NCAA vball title.

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:09 PM)

Since Penn State did lose twice this season, there's always a chance they could lose here in the final four. But it doesn't seem that likely. They have been playing machine-like since their last loss, in October at Nebraska. Oregon does have some really good players, led by Alaina Bergsma, and the Ducks could match up well with PSU. But ... I think it's going to be PSU-Texas in the final, and maybe another loss to the Nittany Lions for the Longhorns.

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:10 PM)

You can see I'm not exactly going out on a limb with my volleyball prognostication. :) But I do have a feeling Oregon is going to give PSU a good match. The Ducks are riding a good wave of mojo, and they are talented.

Glenn (Fresh Meadows, NY)

Oregon: Are they Sitting Ducks BECAUSE Westhead is a Lame Duck, or did the team just Duck out for other reasons ;)

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:14 PM)

Speaking of Ducks, women's hoops version ... they are now 0-8 after last night's loss at Illinois, and it doesn't seem like the Westhead regime will be around after this season. Here's a program I think should *always* be good in women's basketball ... or at the very least not be awful. The coaching hires since Jody Runge have not really advanced the program at all. I realize Stanford presents a large "obstacle" for other Pac-12 women's hoops programs, but Oregon should be better. BTW, check out sophomore Liz Brenner for Ducks' volleyball team tonight ... she will again join the hoops team when vball season ends.

Ellen (Lusby, MD)

Looks like a lot of upheaval in the Big East. What are your thoughts about UConn being left without a Conference?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:16 PM)

Huskies fans have been worried about this for a while now ... that they were going to be left adrift with few good options while the Big East was coming apart at the seams. There are still more dominoes to fall - it almost seems like they never stop falling - but right now UConn appears to be in a really unfavorable position. Which is too bad, for what's been a well-run and successful athletic department.

Glenn (Fresh Meadows, NY)

Winter Meetings and so far no alarm bells about the Mystics folding...have we passed the danger zone or will they pull a Monarchs? Still will not be convinced until they hire a coach/gm

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:18 PM)

In the last week, a couple of sources in the league told me they feel optimistic about the Mystics' future ... as in, the Mystics will have a future. But I think you are right that we all will await confirmation - which might be coming in the next month - of the Mystics' hiring(s). The Mystics have talked to some coaches/GM candidates that I think can help. Or at least give the team/fans some hope.

Barry (Phoenix, AZ)

What is more likely to happen first...you joining the "Real Housewives of Kansas City" cast or Sheila Johnson engaging fans and the media while naming a competent new coach/GM?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:19 PM)

Sheila is not going to engage. But it's actually even more unlikely that I will end up in a reality show. If I do, it's really time for everyone to stop watching television. :)

jbb1985 (NY)

Do you expect Cal, UCLA or Colorado to actually and seriously challenge Stanford in the Pac-12 for the first time in decades?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:21 PM)

No, I don't think they will challenge Stanford in terms of winning the Pac-12 this year. I don't think any of them are ready to think that way ... but they can think about representing the league well in the regular season and postseason.

jbb1985 (NY)

Looking at some very good mid-majors in recent past, such as Xavier, Gonzaga, and Delaware, as well as Green Bay and S. Dakota State -- can you ever foresee a mid-major getting to the FF?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:24 PM)

Yes, I do think it *can* happen if the NCAA tournament draw works out the right way. It's a very tough road, obviously. The last mid-major to get there - Missouri State in 2001 - had to knock off Duke and Washington in the regional semis and final, and Wash had upset Oklahoma. We saw that Xavier really should have made it to the Final Four a couple of years ago, but just had that unfortunate (for Xavier) end of its game vs Stanford. A mid-major team in a strong season with a draw that it can work with ... it can happen. But a lot has to go right for it to happen.

5280 (Denver)

What are the Buffs chances of knocking off #8 Louisville in Boulder Friday?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:26 PM)

This is the kind of game that I'm talking about in terms of a team like Colorado helping the Pac-12, and it has nothing to do with beating Stanford. The Buffs should feel like they can compete well in this game, especially at home.

Matt (South Bass Island)

Is Michigan the first unseeded team to ever advance to an NCAA Volleyball Tournament Final Four?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:30 PM)

The Wolverines are the second unseeded team to make the NCAA women's volleyball final four. Santa Clara did it in 2005. The volleyball tourney has been seeding teams only since 1993, when the field went from 32 to 48. In '97, the field went to 56 (odd number, I know), and then to 64 in 1998. Volleyball only seeds the top 16, so an unseeded team making the vball final four is the equivalent of a team that is a "5" or worse seed making it in basketball, obviously. Michigan did it the hard way, too, taking out Pac-12 champ and No. 2 seed Stanford in the regional final in Berkeley. Big win to get the Wolverines to their first final four.

Judith (Cap City)

Here's your weekly Mystics question: it's now the middle of December, no GM, no HC... Any news on what the franchise is up to?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:31 PM)

Saving money, waiting to make the hire. The Mystics may feel there is no rush to have someone in place until January. It's not the best policy in terms of making the fans feel confident about anything, but that's kind of been the organization's MO, of course.

Todd (New Jersey)

any thoughts about the new women's soccer league set to launch in Spring 2013. Is the third time's a charm for a women's soccer league in the US?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:33 PM)

I certainly hope so. There is the involvement with the various national teams, which seems like a good thing ... more of a solidifying force. You'd like to think the sport has learned from some of the past epic mistakes.

kevin (macon ga)

LSU spent a lot to bring in Nikki Caldwell. With losses to Hampton and Tulane (again) are they getting their money's worth?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:35 PM)

It's still so early in her career there. In the long run, I still think she is going to be a success there. These were uncomfortable losses, though, no question.

kevin (macon ga)

Charlie Creme thinks the #1 seeds are already set: Stanford, Connecticut, Baylor and Duke. Can another team break through and steal one of those spots?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:38 PM)

The only one of those four that I think is possibly wobbly is Duke. The Blue Devils might get knocked off their perch ... although if Maryland were not so injury-plagued, that would seem more likely. But I can see maybe Duke having a few losses and ending up a No. 2. But the other three ... I think CC is right. He's probably right on all four, but like I said, there may be more chance to dislodge Duke.

Glenn (Fresh Meadows, NY)

Over the past decade, schools in the "catholic seven" have made great strides in bringing their WBB programs up to BCS snuff in the Big East, bringing us some exciting players and solid runs in both the NCAAs and NIT. Do you fear that a new "Catholic League" will allow these schools to scale back their (Underattended) WBB programs?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:41 PM)

If the seven schools do break away, as apparently it appears they will, you'd hope they would then really try to strengthen their basketball brand, both men's and women's. With everything that's gone on in the league-swapping, re-organizing and dissolving, it's really hard to envision exactly what their future looks like.

Mel (MN)

Any stories or observations to share from Whitney Hand's career at Oklahoma? It is a shame her career came to the way it did. It feels like this is said every year, but there are too many players out with season or career ending injuries.

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:47 PM)

I don't know that I would pin it down to one story. I will say, having covered the Big 12 during Sherri Coale's entire career thus far at Oklahoma, I can't think of another player who clicked with Coale any better than Whitney Hand does. They have such similar personalities in that relentless quest for perfection, but also such upbeat cores. They are natural-born leaders. If you were on the fictional ship Poseidon and survived after it flipped over because of a rogue tidal wave, you would follow Sherri Coale or Whitney Hand to try to get rescued. :) Hand is going to be successful at whatever she does, much like Coale has been. It's really sad that Hand got hurt, because it's a joy to watch someone who puts so much of her heart into every second she's on the floor. But she is the kind of person who will deal with this and make the best of it.

Ian (NY)

I know it's early but does Chiney Ogwumike have a legitimate chance to win Player of the Year over Brittney Griner?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:49 PM)

Obviously, BG has an edge like most "incumbents," but I think Stanford is impressing people who underestimated how they would play this year, and Chiney is a well-known player who isn't coming out of nowhere. So I do think she will stay in the mix for player of the year.

Mel (MN)

It is a positive move to have the 2013 WNBA draft in prime time. Is it a one time deal with the "3 to See" Campaign?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:53 PM)

Anytime you can be in prime time is a positive. I don't know if they'll maintain it after this year. Clearly, these three players captivate folks on the TV side at ESPN. I know some fans may think the "Big 3" are too hyped, but you know, frankly, whenever women's basketball gets hype, I think it's a good thing.

Mel (MN)

Since you love making picks, do you have any for the volleyball matches tonight?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:54 PM)

Oh, I took the easy way and picked Penn State and Texas. Or gave them the "edge," in my preview capsule. :) Deep down, I think Oregon can win tonight ... but it will take a great match by the Ducks.

jbb1985 (NY)

Do you think Geno and UConn could operate in WCBB like ND did in football as a very high profile, unique Indy?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:56 PM)

I really don't know if that feasible or possible.

kevin (macon ga)

If UConn remains outside the major conferences, does that open the possibility of Geno Auriemma going to another school or the WNBA?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:58 PM)

I've wondered if UConn ends up in a really difficult situation with its conference affiliation - or lack thereof - whether Auriemma would find himself needing to make what previously would have seemed like an unthinkable move. Or at least very unlikely. The way this continues to evolve, he might be going into unchartered territory.

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:00 PM)

Thanks for all the questions! Sorry for the ones I did not get to. Tonight, check out the NCAA women's volleyball semifinals on ESPN2: No. 3 seed Texas vs. unseeded Michigan at 7 Eastern, and No. 1 seed Penn State vs. No. 5 Oregon after that. The final is Saturday at 7 p.m. Eastern on ESPN2.