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February 27, 2:00 PM ET
Chat with Mechelle Voepel

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:03 PM)

Good afternoon! Well, we are almost at the end of the regular season. Some conference titles still to be decided. Let's get started!

Sam (Lancaster, PA)

Did Penn State's loss to Nebraska reflect more of the Lady Lions running into a Nebraska team on fire or should Penn State fans have more underlying concerns with the Lady Lions inconsistent play this late in the season?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:06 PM)

I was at that game, and I doubt I ever saw a better offensive half by any Nebraska team than that first half. So part of it definitely was the Huskers being on fire. But ... I think there was a defensive malaise, too, that Coquese Washington will be addressing in practice this week. On one hand, you do have those nights where you run into a team that can't miss ... but then after a while, it seemed like Penn State wasn't giving the effort on defense that it needed to.

jbb1985 (Downton Regional)

One of the voting coaches in the recent USA Today poll broke ranks and gave ND their #1 vote. Do you anticipate some more voters in that poll and the AP poll move in that direction, or many more, despite both teams continuing their unbeaten ways?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:10 PM)

Possibly, and I can understand their reasoning. But I am keeping UConn No. 1. It's not the Huskies' fault they're playing in a conference where they drastically overmatch so many of the teams. They are still performing at a very high level in those games. Now, ultimately, the NCAA selection committee will be looking at all their criteria in order to determine an overall No. 1 seed, and that might indeed go to Notre Dame. But for the polls ... I think UConn will stay No. 1 until the Huskies lose. If that happens this season.

Irving Matchen (Washington, DC)

My heart just goes out to Duke with the injuries they have. They are projected as a #2 seed; do you think they'll come in seeded that high?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:14 PM)

Of course, that's going to depend on how they finish the regular season, and then how they do in the league tournament. With Chelsea Gray and Alexis Jones both out, it puts a lot of the point guard responsibility on Tricia Liston, who's been their leading scorer. So it alters everyone's roles, which is tough to do this late in the season. The Blue Devils have a strong veteran core, and they traditionally have done well in the ACC tournament (at least for the past two decades). But whether they can overcome both the emotional and on-court difficulties these two injuries have presented to Duke ... I'm just not sure. Not because I don't think these are really good kids who are trying hard ... just because it's a lot to overcome.

Jan(Kentucky) [via mobile]

Tennessee was preseason top five and at times has shown they can play very well but for the most part their season has been up and down. Why the inconsistencies and can they get everyone on the same page long enough to get to Nashville?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:18 PM)

That is *the* question for Tennessee, isn't it? Consistency. Which team will show up on a given night. I have theorized that they are up-and-down based on whether they are hitting perimeter shots (which then affects the guards' overall energy) ... but I'm not at all sure if I'm right about that. Clearly, they've been impacted by Ariel Massengale's injury, too. The truth is, I have no idea what to expect from this squad. At its best, I do believe they could make a run to Nashville. But at its worst, they may not make it to a regional final.

Will (Lubbock, Texas)

My heart goes out to the Texas Tech Lady Raiders. For a program, under Coach Sharp, that could sell out the United Spirit Arena on most any night, almost be guaranteed a trip to the Sweet 16, and be highly ranked in a competitive Big 12 year in and year out has really hit rock bottom.They are win less in conference play this season under first year head Coach Whitaker. Most fans understand that the team is in rebuilding mode; however, if not careful, a substandard culture could easily set in. My question: Is Coach Whitaker the answer or should the team try to find a more seasoned name?(similar to Coach Tubby Smith)

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:26 PM)

It's been a decade-long slide, if you will, for Texas Tech. I think a big part of it is that the recruiting landscape changed in Texas with the elevation of Baylor and Texas AM. In Texas Tech's best days (mostly in the 1990s, and into the early 2000s), Baylor and AM were largely non-factors even in the SWC/Big12, let alone nationally. Texas Tech got good talent from across the state, and the only in-state program that consistently would compete with them for that talent was Texas. Now, it's very different. Texas Tech's NCAA title is 21 years in the rearview mirror, other programs have elevated, and it's just a harder thing to win consistently. Candi Whitaker took over the program at a really tough time, and this year for Tech reminds me of the first year the late Kurt Budke had when he took over Oklahoma State. He didn't win a conference game, but he was working to make the program better. And it paid off. I hope the same is happening for Texas Tech, because that has been such a strong fan base. I think Whitaker needs some time to see where she can take the program, but I understand the concern about a "losing culture" setting in. That is an understandable fear.

Tives [via mobile]

What are your expectation for how far the Stanford team will go in the NCAA tournament?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:29 PM)

Depending on how well Stanford's guards play, I think they certainly have a chance to make it to the Final Four. Hosting the regional helps; there's no denying it. But I expect the Cardinal to make it at least to the Elite Eight.

Jan(Kentucky) [via mobile]

Do you think the outcome of Sunday's South Carolina/Tennessee matchup will have any influence on Aja Wilson's college decision?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:34 PM)

I can't imagine she would base her decision on the outcome of one game. But, heck, she's a teen-ager. :) You can never be sure what they are thinking. Some kids really want to stay close to home so family can see them play frequently. Others really want to experience living in a different place. Some don't really know for sure what they want, because they have several options that seem great. Some end up making a decision that they realize a year later was wrong, and they transfer. So ... what we know is that this is a very talented young woman, and her last four choices are all very good schools. I hope whichever she picks, she's happy and grows as a player and person. I hope that for every kid.

MediaMogul (Atlanta, Georgia)

Chloe Wells is no longer with the Duke team. She is not listed on the gameday programs, and she is not mentioned in the release about Senior Night. When players transfer and assistant coaches leave, McCallie does not put out press releases. Other schools always do, with the usual "wish them well in their future endeavors" language. Can coaches have it both ways - demand coverage and media attention, but then refuse to give any negative information or try to control the message?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:40 PM)

In regard to assistants leaving, not all programs announce that - or at least don't do so consistently. But usually, programs *do* announce when players are transferring or leaving the program. And, you are correct, they typically put in the "We wish Player X well in future endeavors." Again, not always, but usually. In this case, the situation with Chloe Wells has not been handled very well, in my opinion. Duke is very prompt on announcing most things, and has a very good sports information director. But it's kind of like Chloe has just "disappeared." The fact that she's a senior makes this more troublesome, because people are going to wonder. As to your question, I think coaches - in all sports - would prefer to have it both ways: To get coverage, but avoid negative stuff. However, as we see all the time, it just doesn't work that way.

J (washington, DC)

What are your thoughts on Rutgers this year? Are they flying under the radar? They are competitive and a potential tough out if they make it to the tournament.

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:44 PM)

I do think they are flying a bit under the radar, in part because UConn and Louisville have been getting most of the attention in the American, which is understandable. And because it's this weird transition year for Rutgers before moving to the Big Ten. I know it's the same situation for Louisville before going to the ACC, but with the Cardinals coming off a Final Four appearance, they came into this season with more acclaim and they're a top-10 ranked team. So ... this may work to Rutgers' advantage. I think C.Vivian Stringer kind of likes the underdog role, and it's worked for Rutgers in past NCAA tournaments.

jbb1985 (Downton Regional)

Another Conference rival game of note upcoming is SC going into Tenn? The South Carolina front line is getting many kudos of late. Early in the season, many Lady Vols fans were boasting their team's front line was the best in the nation. Does this game turn on the clash of the bigs?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:48 PM)

My first thought was, no, but ... maybe so. The guards may to some extent cancel out each other. In a good way - that both back courts will perform well. And then it may be about who can dominate the paint. For the past month or so, South Carolina has been the most consistent team in the SEC, with both its inside and outside attack. This could be a heck of a game.

Seth (South Dakota)

What are your thoughts on South Dakota State. The played one heck of an ooc schedule and beat Penn State and only have 1 loss in conference which happens to be on the road. Do you think they could make some noise in the NCAA tournament?

Mechelle Voepel
  (2:53 PM)

They played a very good non-conference schedule and really did everything they could to boost their resume for the NCAA selection committee and to prepare for what they might face in the NCAA tournament. The issue - and I know people probably get tired of me saying this, but it's unavoidable - is what draw you get in the tournament. It's so hard to speculate on how a team will do until you see what matchups it has. Some years, we've had very, very good so-called mid-major teams who just get hosed on seeding and placement (in my opinion) and they don't have a particularly fair chance to advance. Other years, they get a better path. So that is such a big part of it. But ... I think this program, as I said, did all it could in scheduling to help itself.

Lisa (NYC)

What do you think of released excerpts from Brittney Griner's book? Do you think Kim Mulkey will address her comments?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:10 PM)

I really don't know if Kim Mulkey will address it or not. I know she has been upset and hurt about all of this - dating back to this past summer and various articles _ because she feels she has been portrayed in a way that is inaccurate. But whether she will address that publicly, I don't know. I covered Brittney's Baylor career, and she seemed happy - at least to an outsider - during her time at Baylor. I also experienced that Mulkey was very protective of Brittney in regard to what reporters wrote about BG. I think the loss to Louisville was very hard emotionally on the entire program, and it hurt various relationships between people. And when Brittney was finished at Baylor, there were a lot of people who were interested in telling her story, or getting involved with it in various ways. So then we are seeing their influence on what's transpired since that loss to Louisville, too. Ultimately, I do *not* think Kim Mulkey is homophobic at all; she's played against, been teammates with, and coached plenty of gay players and I think she treats everyone equally. But Baylor as an institution does have a public and stated stance against homosexuality. How that plays out in regard to athletics in the coming years will be interesting to see. Ultimately, if you work for Baylor, can you really separate yourself from that policy? It's been my experience that a lot of people who work there - and fans who cheer for the team - will say they separate themselves from that policy. But how do people outside of Baylor see that? I hope that Brittney is finding more happiness and peace with who she is; she deserves all of that. But I am also sad - I'm just being honest - that there is a rift now between her and some of the people at Baylor who I think loved her and vice versa. I'm not laying any blame for that, I'm just saying it's sad.

Barrett (Winter Park)

Mechelle. I'm sick of hearing about the Gay issue in sports. I just want to read about basketball. Football. And your stats - field goals - not body parts. Do you think some writers risk losing us by their continually pushing the sexuality issues of athletes in our faces? I never wanted to know that Kareem slept with 20,000 women anymore than I want to know that Brittney Griner has a girlfriend. Drop it.

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:18 PM)

It was Wilt Chamberlain that had the 20,000 women claim, not Kareem. :) Anyway, I realize that there are people who are "sick of" stories about gay people and gay rights. Well, when gay people have the same rights that everyone else has, then maybe there will be less talk about this. As for not wanting to hear about whether Brittney has a girlfriend, are you equally irritated to read about *any* mention of heterosexual relationships? If a story about Coach K mentions his wife, does that offend you? Is any reference to the personal life of an athlete or coach a problem? Or only when that athlete or coach is gay?

jbb1985 (Downton Regional)

As Nebraska was nearing the end of its thrashing of PSU, the student section starting chanting "We want UConn". There is little like college students' enthusiasm and Midwestern glee in victory, but mightn't they be better focused on last game with comparably ranked Purdue than wishing for something that might show up in their Regional with more bite than the Lady Nittany Lions or Boilermakers?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:21 PM)

Um ... they are college kids. :) I know they weren't thinking through the "reality" of facing UConn. Let's put it this way: I guarantee that Connie Yori wasn't encouraging that chant. That said, though, I don't think it's unhealthy to have a positive attitude about the idea of facing UConn. Yes, you better have a very strong respect for them. Who doesn't? But what good does it do to be "afraid" to face any team, even one as great as UConn?

Irving Matchen (Washington, DC)

In my mind UCONN is still the team to beat come Nashville; if you were the coach of UCONN would you use what?s been/being said to motivate an already lethal defensive team to play even better? Not harder, better!

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:24 PM)

I'm pretty sure most people still feel UConn is the team to beat. Even with KML's current illness. As for "motivation," it's pretty clear that the Huskies have never lacked that, even when they are beating teams by 50 points. Geno Auriemma has been really amazing in how he's typically gotten his teams to improve even when it already seems like they are great. So I would expect the same this postseason from UConn.

George Patrick (Beaufort, S.C.)

Is South Carolina a National Champion contender truly ?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:28 PM)

Yes, I really do think they have a chance, again depending on how the bracket works out. Maybe I'm too bullish on the Gamecocks, but I admit I've just been really impressed with how they've played and their depth. They have a good mix of younger and older players, and they can depend on the versalility of their lineup. Admittedly, though, this is a group of kids who don't have the experience of going to a Final Four or anything like that. But .... the coaching staff does. At any rate, even if it the Gamecocks aren't a Final Four contender this year, I think it's on the horizon. They don't lose any starters or key players to graduation. And, of course, we'll see what A'ja Wilson decides.

Howard (washington, DC)

Do you think JPM's job is secure at Duke?

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:31 PM)

Yes, because I think the administration is behind her and she has a very good record. And she has a contract extension. How many schools are going to buy out a women's basketball contract when a coach wins as much as McCallie has? Now, I know very well that there is some serious fan discontent with her, but does that constituency have an real power? I think it's an unfortunate situation, and I don't know how that fracture between some of the Duke fans and McCallie will be remedied. Or if it ever will.

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:33 PM)

I'll add this ... obviously, Louisville joining the ACC is going to make it harder for Duke, just as Notre Dame has. But will Duke slide out of the top four in the league in the next few years? Even if that happened, would that cause the university to pull away from JPM? I don't know. It just seems unlikely.

Mechelle Voepel
  (3:35 PM)

Thanks for all the questions. Sorry for the ones I didn't get to. May chat earlier next week, due to start of league tournaments. Will update via twitter. Thanks!