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March 7, 2:00 PM ET
Chat with Mechelle Voepel

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:00 PM)

Good afternoon. Whew! Had a hard time keeping up with all that scoring in the Miami-Va Tech game to open the ACC tournament. :) Nothing like a 45-39 game to get the blood pumping! OK, enough snark to start with. Let's get going.

Matt (South Bass Island)

Which conference tournament bracket is set up to provide the most intriguing match-ups this weekend?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:04 PM)

The SEC seems the most intriguing to me because there's at least the possibility that a few teams can win it. I think Tennessee remains the favorite, but clearly Kentucky, or TAMU or Georgia or South Carolina or LSU are not the beyond the realm of possibility. And maybe, since Vandy is the only team besides Tennessee that's won this title in the last several years, perhaps I shouldn't leave them out, either. I just think this is potentially the tournament that has the most legit contenders. That said, in terms of interesting match-ups throughout the tournament, the Big Ten is right there, too. With Penn State the favorite.

martina (san antonio)

Is it me or does the Silver Stars front office act as if they don't want to win? The rest of the league is getting younger and more athletic and the Silver Stars keep signing past-their-prime player (Milton-Jones, Tangela Smith, Tully Bevilaqua). What gives?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:10 PM)

The Sophia Young injury really threw a wrench in the SASS plans for this season ... she's been so healthy for her college and pro careers. I'd guess Dan Hughes sees signing DeLisha Milton-Jones as a stop-gap measure to help SASS for this season. He probably didn't see a lot of other options, even if she is old enough to join the hoops version of the AARP. I can understand some of the fans' frustrations in regard to the feeling that SASS hasn't had as big/strong/talented a team on the interior as you probably feel they need. But those players are kind of hard to come by. Ultimately, a lot of WNBA coaches - Hughes isn't the only one - seem more comfortable taking a chance that a player is going to be able to produce enough despite her advanced age than they are giving a chance to a more unproven younger player. I think that's because the WNBA season is so short and there's just not much time built in for player development in this league.

Ellen (I-town IL)

Who do you have favored to win the ACC? Duke, Maryland, could it be NC? Duke not having one of their top playes do they crack under pressure?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:13 PM)

I would still pick Duke to win the ACC tournament. They can't "replace" Gray, but they've done pretty well with their collective effort to make the best of things with her not out there. And she's still an active leader for the team from the bench, staying positive and upbeat for her teammates.

kevin (macon ga)

Is Atlanta's addition of Julie Plank a "coach in waiting" situation, preparing for a failure by Fred Williams?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:16 PM)

What a pessimistic question that is. :) I think it was odd that Plank was gone from the league as long as she was after the messy, complicatated exit from the Mystics. I figured it was past time for her to be back on the sidelines somewhere, and this makes sense, I think.

Steve (CT)

What does UConn have to do to beat Notre Dame!?!?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:21 PM)

Bria Hartley has to play well, they can't have a billion turnovers, and Stefanie Dolson can't foul out. I know a lot of people would question a couple of those Dolson fouls vs. the Irish. But ... turnovers and missed free throws - which are mental mistakes - cost UConn that game. Does this team remind any veteran UConn watchers just a little bit of the 1998-99 team that was talented, but lost freshman PG Sue Bird in for the season to a December ACL, and then never had quite the leadership or mental toughness that we are used to with UConn? I think this team is more talented than that one, but it keeps coming to mind.

Matt (South Bass Island)

Which team is your dark horse favorite to win the Big Ten Conference Tournament?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:25 PM)

Despite their very rough past month _ losing to Indiana! _ I will say Purdue. They have such a great history with this event, even if it's not in Indiana this year. And maybe a really, really dark horse would be .. Ohio State?

Sofia (Durham, NC)

Coach/GM Gary Kloppenburg has made some moves in the off-season that appear to give Tulsa more depth and more choices for the roster. Other teams might be actually be watching to see who they can pick up off Tulsa waivers for a change. Kloppenburg deserved COTY last year, imo. Do you think he'll be in the running again if Tulsa continue to improve? Do you think the 4th playoff spot is more than a pipe dream?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:27 PM)

If Tulsa makes the playoffs this year, then he'd surely be a strong candidate for COY. It's hard right now to be all that sure of many things in the WNBA until you see the final rosters and how different players adjust after their overseas seasons. But ... I don't think it's totally crazy to suggest that Tulsa could compete for that fourth playoff spot.

Alan (NY)

How many Big East Tournament games does St. Johns have to win to make it to the big dance.

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:30 PM)

I think if they win one, they will be OK. Charlie has them in as a No. 10 seed, and it looks like the Big East is going to get its top half of teams into the NCAA field.

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:32 PM)

BTW, I keep thinking about the Big East "breakup," and how that's going to impact women's basketball. The "new" league that UConn is slated to be a part of now is just ... well, what can you say? It's terrible in terms of interesting/competitive match-ups for the Huskies in women's hoops.

Michelle (Manchester KY)

Where would you rank A'dia Mathies nationally and what is UK's ceiling in the NCAA tournament? Thank you!

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:34 PM)

She's certainly one of the better guards in the country. And depending on their bracket, the Wildcats do have Final Four potential. They've got the players to do that. But they are a team that needs production and energy off the bench because of their style of play, and they can't go too cold from the perimeter. NCAA fate is so much about match-ups, but Kentucky does have a very talented team.

Shades (Minneapolis)

Will the transition to the WNBA be harder for Delle Donne than most people think?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:38 PM)

She's one of the most talented, versatile offensive players I've seen ... but obviously there is a BIG difference between CAA defenses and WNBA defenses. And the reality is we don't know emotionally how Delle Donne will like being in the WNBA or exactly how she'll handle it. Her personal situation with her sister is different than most any premiere player I can think of, and that's something she'll have to adjust to. Coaches will tell you that the emotional part of adjusting to the WNBA is more difficult that people might realize. I think she will be a great player, but she is going to face some obstacles that she hasn't so far in college.

Sofia (Durham, NC)

Is Notre Dame's Kayla McBride the most underrated star on a top 5 team? Diggins gets the attention but after watching ND this season, I think McBride is the player to watch. Is it just me?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:41 PM)

I think they are both terrific players. Being on the floor with Diggins does help the rest of the Irish, certainly. But what I really like about McBride is that she's so confident and so willing to step forward in clutch moments to make big plays. She is not going to just stand there and hope Skylar does everything when the pressure is on. McBride has shown many times this season that she's not afraid to have the game riding on her, and that's a mentality that a lot of players don't have.

Rock Hard (Milwaukee)

Do you believe Skylar Diggins will struggle her rookie year in the WNBA or will she have a successful transition to the pro league?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:44 PM)

I expect every rookie to struggle just a little. Everything is speeded up, everybody is playing for their livelihood. With just 12 teams, everybody is well-scouted and knows what each other is doing. So Diggins will run into some issues where teams very quickly force her out of her comfort zone. There are so many good defenders at that level, and they know every trick in the book. So, yes, she'll have some rough games and moments.

kevin (macon ga)

Which team got the best of the big trade?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:50 PM)

I really think each team got exactly what it wanted in the three-team deal with NY, Minnesota and Tulsa. The Liberty wanted cap space, and Laimbeer is trying to recreate what he had in Detroit. Somewhat literally, with several of the same players, and somewhat figuratively, with a mindset and style of play. He might be putting too much stock in some players who are older, though. We'll see. I think Tulsa got shooters who we know can be very hot and cold, but may respond well to a fresh start. And Minnesota got what they hope is a rejuvenated Janel McCarville, who should fit in well with what they do. So I really think everybody benefited. What I don't know is if Laimbeer's blueprint is really going to work.

kevin (macon ga)

Pessimistic? I look at the caliber of coaches who were apparently available (Thibault, Laimbeer, Donovan) and shake my head that the Dream didn't even bother doing a coaching search. Has there ever been a better time to need a coach than last fall?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:55 PM)

OK, but ... it seems pretty apparent based on what happened last season that the top requirement of whomever is coaching the Dream is to be able to deal well with both Angel McCoughtry and the rest of the team, and not lose the respect of either. Best I can tell, that is a hell of a tough tightrope to walk, and perhaps that's where Fred excels. Maybe the Dream management thought that they will get the best results from Angel with Fred in charge.

David (Hoopfeed)

Kelly Faris did not make first team All Big-East, they found 10 players not named Diggins or Mosqueda-Lewis better than her. REALLY?????

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:02 PM)

That seems unlikely to me. But ... what happens with the postseason honors is that big numbers get a lot of attention, even if they don't necessarily reflect how good a season a player has. It's kind of the nature of how she's been asked top play at UConn that Faris gets left out of individual accolades. She'll have to settle for being a UConn folk hero. :)

Steve (CT)

If UConn does not win the Big East Tournament, is there any chance they fall to a 2nd seed?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:04 PM)

I assume you mean if they lose to ND in the final? No, I don't see them getting bumped out of an NCAA No. 1 seed even if they fall for a third time this season to the Irish.

Steve (CT)

How important is it for UConn to beat Notre Dame in the Big East Tournament so that they can exorcise any demons should they meet in the NCAAs?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:08 PM)

Well, of course, UConn did beat ND last year in the Big East tourney and then still lost to the Irish in the Final Four. :) At this point, the Huskies probably just need to focus on why they've had struggles closing out close games, not just against the Irish, but Baylor, too. It's really about their own mentality, and maybe Geno Auriemma has to find some different buttons to push with this group. Maybe they need more confidence, nuts as that sounds for a team that is going to be a No. 1 seed. :)

Rich (chicago)

Mechelle- back in the fall, you had the Sky taking Delle Donne with the 2d pick and she has since stated that she would to come here. Do you still see that, or do you think that might take Diggins now?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:10 PM)

I am sticking with Chicago going with EDD ... her skill set is so rare at her size, and I think if she does play well at the next level - which I expect her to - she's is going to be very popular and somebody who does bring in new fans.

Mary (WV)

So far this season, WVU was at the bottom of the conference in turnout for women's basketball (less than 2,000 per game). Saturday night, Brittney Griner came to town and the attendance was about 13,500, the biggest crowd to see a women's basketball game in the history of the university. It broke the old attendance record by about 5,000. Has she been the catalyst for similar excitement everywhere else she plays? Or were we an exception?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:13 PM)

I think she's someone who people who don't generally watch or care about women's hoops actually know about. They know her name, they know she's "the one who dunks" and there is a curiosity factor about her. When Bowling Green hosted the early rounds of the NCAA tournament last year and Baylor was there (Bowling Green wasn't in the tournament), Griner was a great drawing card. And kids really seem to gravitate toward her. They think she's like a super hero, and that's pretty cool. I've seen that at arenas all over the country.

willy (orlando)

mechelle... it's the heat of the NCAA tournament... March Madness... conference championships... why are you answering questions about the WNBA...

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:19 PM)

I'm posting this because it baffles me how people who love women's college hoops aren't into the WNBA. The WNBA is so freaking great to watch now. It's so much fun. I remember it wasn't all that long ago when I'd be depressed as hell when college season was over, because I knew I'd never see most of the great seniors who'd just graduated ever play again. And now ... we aren't saying "goodbye forever" or "goodbye until we catch a glimpse of you in the Olympics" to the superstar seniors. We know we'll see them drafted soon after the Final Four and then we'll see them play this summer. If you are a college fan who doesn't watch the WNBA, no offense ... but you're missing out. I understand there is a lot of excitement about March Madness, but the WNBA is a very big deal to me, which is why I always take questions about both college and WNBA.

Rob (Indianapolis)

Looking at the new BE and the old BE (America 12?)..How do their future conference tourneys work? Will the XL be the correct venue with little draw from other teams and a UConn fan base that may not want to spend that kind of money for the basketball they offer? The new BE best fan draw is DePaul at under 3000 a game. Do they have their tourney in an empty gym on the east coast? Any chance either league give their bids to the regular season championship and skip a tourney that appears to be a logistical and financial nightmare?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:24 PM)

All good questions, and I'm really worried about the impact on women's college hoops of this split. The "new" Big East - the Catholic league - is a great collection of teams for men's hoops, but mostly a lot of "aren't-nows" and "never-weres" for women's hoops. And the league that UConn is apparently going to be in ... you might as well have randomly drawn a bunch of names of schools out of a hat to form a league. It just doesn't look appealing at all unless several programs in both these leagues suddenly have big surges in women's basketball.

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:26 PM)

Thanks for all the questions. Sorry for the ones I did not get to. We'll do it again next week. Enjoy the conference tournaments. I will be at the SEC tournament tomorrow through Sunday, but am looking forward to following the action all over the country. :)