Breaking Down the Preseason Mags…

Posted by rtmsf on September 12th, 2007

We’re heading into the middle of September already, literally thirty days until Midnight Madness, and the first batch of preseason mags are already proliferating on B&N shelves like West Virginians on crystal meth at a swap meet (no offense intended to the West Virginians not on crystal meth, of course). We know many of our readers are asking, “what’s a magazine?” To which we reply, “it’s what old people read while they’re on the toilet.” For our few readers here over 30 (present company excluded), we offer the first installment of our continuing series of reviews of the preseason magazines.

First in line: Athlon Sports.

Athlon Preseason Cover 07

I. Covers (5 pts) - are they cool? inclusive?

  • 34 regional covers seems like overkill, but we suppose having a Minnesota/Iowa/Iowa St. cover matters to someone.
  • Coolest Cover – for some reason, we particularly like the elated yet menacing look Patrick Beverly gives the camera on the Arkansas edition.
  • Say What? Athlon’s UCLA/USC cover (above) features Kevin Love and OJ Mayo in their Burger Boy unis – was it really too much trouble to shoot them with their correct jerseys on?
  • Total Points = 4

II. Ease of Use (5 pts) – how hard is it to find confs/teams?

  • Conferences and teams are arranged alphabetically, allowing for quick navigation assuming you know your conference.
  • Standard format otherwise – features & predictions; analysis of teams; recruiting, in that order.
  • Total Points = 4

III. Roundup (10 pts) – every mag has one – tell us something new!

  • 10 Things to Watch is ok, but we didn’t learn anything new (i.e., the Pac-10 is great, keep an eye on Love/Mayo/Gordon, etc.).
  • Hoops Madness is a little better, mostly because of its lists of emerging stars (hot sophs to watch), top transfers and coaches on the hot seat. Also enjoyed learning that Dayton’s band has become the band by proxy for the Niagara Purple Aces (since NU doesn’t have one).
  • Cool Stat Award. Memo to Adam Lonon (VMI) – shoot more! (31 starts, 26 FGs)
  • Total Points = 5

IV. Features (15 pts) – give us some insightful and unique storylines.

  • Next Generation is a decent article about the young brigade of coaches who have been successful so far (Donovan, Matta, JT3, Howland, etc.). It wasn’t unique, as we expect to see a lot of this in the rags this year.
  • The Fix relates the story of the Tulane pointshaving scandal two decades ago. Although the article briefly mentions the Tim Donaghy story, it focuses primarily (and misguidedly) on the people involved in the scandal. What we needed to see here was an article about the existence of gambling among college athletes and efforts to prevent it. Big swing & miss here.
  • The Scoop is three one-page interviews with Ronald Steele (Alabama), Bill Walker (Kansas St.) and Drew Neitzel (Michigan St.), none of which are very interesting.
  • Total Points = 5

V. Predictions (20 pts) – how safe are their picks? do they take any chances? are they biased toward the big boys?

  • Athlon uses the 65-team prediction model, eschewing the traditional Top 25 (they get pts for that). But Athlon goes waaaaaaaaay safe by predicting six of the elite eight the same as 2007 (Georgetown, Kansas, Memphis, UNC, Oregon, UCLA with Louisville and Tennessee added for good measure). UCLA defeats Carolina in the championship.
  • Big Conference Bias. 15 of its Sweet 16 are from BCS conferences – highly doubtful and incredibly LAME! NCAA Bids – ACC (5), Big Ten (5), Big 12 (5), Big East (9), Pac-10 (7), SEC (6).
  • Mid-Major Watch. Only Memphis from a mid-major conference (CUSA) into the Sweet 16. Mid-Major bids – 2 CAA (George Mason, VCU), 2 MVC (Bradley, S. Illinois), 1 A10 (Xavier), 1 Mountain West (BYU), 1 WAC (Nevada). We’ll bet anything Athlon’s editors choose that those six conferences will get more than eight bids next March.
  • All-Americans. Athlon really likes Drew Neitzel for some reason. He joins Psycho T, Chris Lofton, Roy Hibbert and Darren Collison (?) on their first team. They took a big flier on putting oft-injured Ronald Steele on the third team.
  • Boldest Prediction. It’s sad that we had to dig this deep to find it, but it’s probably their pick for Cornell to win the Ivy League over Penn & Princeton. The last time a team other than those two won the Ivy Championship was in 1988 with (guess who?) Cornell.
  • Total Points = 10

VI. Conference Pages (5 pts) – as a primer for the conference, how much can we learn here?

  • The major conferences get a predicted order of finish, a brief recruiting roundup, and three teams of all-conference selections plus a “superlatives” section, which is fairly weak compared to others we’ve seen (POY, DPOY, most underrated, newcomer).
  • The mid-major and small conferences only get a predicted order of finish, one team of all-conference selections and an all-time NCAA Tourney stat for the conference (which is interesting).
  • Total Points = 2.5

VII. Team Pages (20 pts) – how in-depth is the analysis? where does it come from? is it timely and insightful given this year’s squad or is it just a rundown of last year’s achievements?

  • All major conference and projected mid-major NCAA Tournament teams get a full page of analysis, including evaluations of the frontcourt and backcourt as well as a team roster (w/ stats) and a team-oriented stat.
  • Non-NCAA Tournament mid-majors and low majors get at most a half-page analysis and roster, but most only get a paragraph with a very brief synopsis.
  • Clearly much of the analysis is based on what coach’s interviews, which results in analyses from “glass half full” perspective. We would have liked to have seen more contrarian viewpoints.
  • The depth of analysis is solid if not spectacular for the major conference teams, but largely lacking for the others.
  • Total Points = 14

VIII. Recruiting (5 pts) – we want to know who the top players are coming into college bball, where they’re going and who to watch for next year.

  • Four pages of recruiting information, including the top 100 (Scout.com) of 2007, the next 200 players, and the top 20 by position. Solid raw data.
  • It also includes the top 25 classes, but only as a list, with no additional details.
  • The top 100 in the class of 2008, top 25 in 2009 and top 10 in 2010 are also listed.
  • Total Points = 3

IX. Title IX Guilt (aka Chick Ball) (5 pts) – the less the better…

  • Only two pages worth, and at the very back of the magazine.
  • Total Points = 5

X. Intangibles (15 pts) – what’s good and bad about the magazine as a whole?

  • In the past, Athlon’s mag hasn’t always looked as professional as some of the others. This is no longer the case. Its layout looks great, the photos and graphics are solid, and the writing has improved.
  • Because it comes out so early, the advantage it gains in being one of the first published is mitigated by other temporal factors. Most notably, there are no schedules within the magazine – for that reason alone, Athlon cannot be your “go-to” preview issue during the season.
  • Additionally, its early publish date means that it misses late summer news involving injuries, transfers and coaching changes. While they did get the Skip Prosser news in there, they did not, for example, consider how Andy Rautins’ knee injury will impact Syracuse.
  • As a nontraditional magazine (i.e., not Street & Smith or TSN), Athlon should have taken more risks with their predictions – going all chalk won’t separate it from the pack.
  • Total Points = 8

RTC Grade for Athlon = 60.5 pts

Basis: Athlon is on the lower side of quality with the preseason magazines, but they have gotten better, and there is some value in their analysis. Its best use (given its early arrival on the newstand) is simply to refamiliarize yourself with the names and faces of the upcoming season. We wouldn’t recognize purchasing it unless you simply cannot wait for the better ones to come out.

Grading Scale:

  • 90-100 pts - exceptional quality in all areas – must buy and keep on-hand all season!
  • 80-89 pts - very good quality mag – worthy of purchasing and reading cover-to-cover
  • 70-79 pts - average, run of the mill magazine – some value in certain areas but weak in others – tough call as to whether to purchase it
  • 60-69 pts - magazine on the weaker side, but may still have some positive attributes – probably not worth the money, though
  • 0-59 pts - such a low quality magazine that it’s not worth any more than the five minutes you thumbed through it at the store
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Yippee! Another Silver Medal for Team USA

Posted by rtmsf on July 23rd, 2007

We continue to track the Tim Donaghy saga, and we’re putting together a take on that situation as it relates to sports and basketball in general, but we wanted to make brief mention of the following score from Novi Sad, Serbia:  Serbia 74, Team USA 69.   Yeah yeah, we realize that the Serbs had home-court advantage and it’s probable possible that there were more than one Donaghy running around in FIBA gear out there, but once again a US team went into an international competition against its peers and came home with something less than the gold medal.  In fact, the last time Team USA won the Under-19 competition was 1991, which means that this year’s stars Deon Thompson and Patrick Beverly were still in diapers when we last won this event.

  National Flag of Serbia

All Hail Serbian Dominance in International Hoops

Is it too much to ask that the United States, a diverse country of over 300 million people where among Gen Y basketball is the most popular participatory sport (over 39M youth participants in 2001) , put together a group of the best 19-year olds in the world?  By comparison, Serbia has a total population of just over 10M and a youth population of just under 2.5M (or about the size of the Denver metro area).  So, to recap, we have approximately 16 youth basketball players in the USA for every single one of Serbia’s kids, and we still can’t beat them in the game that we invented and honed in our tried and not-so-true-anymore system designed to produce the world’s best players.

Darko and Friend

How Embarrassing to Lose to These Serbs

If we’re sounding a bit like an old fart, that’s fair.  Sometimes we sure feel like one.  We certainly realize that the world is catching up in hoops, and the days of any Team USA (from the junior teams all the way up to the Kobe-led Senior Team) rolling roughshod over cowering foreigners (see: Frederic Weis below) are over.  But it seems lately that we can’t win any of these competitions, and the same old tired excuses of “different style of play” and “national teams” are falling on our deaf ears.

Vince over Frederic Weis       

Rather, we believe that there’s a serious problem with our shoe-company driven AAU youth system that stresses 1-on-1 play over team basketball.  To borrow from Rick Barry, it is incredibly frustrating to watch an amazing athletic talent and product of our “star system” like Lebron James play the game at such a high level yet still not know how to properly rub off of a basic screen – nobody ever took the time to teach him how to do it!  Unfortunately for the game, fundamentals and team basketball fell by the wayside in the last generation, and we think that fact, more than any other, contributes to our continuing struggles in today’s international competitions.  The thing is, much like our health care delivery system, we never hear anyone within the industry say anything good about the broken AAU system, but rare is the man who actually steps to the plate and offers a viable alternative.

Well, at least we know to expect that Michael Beasley, Patrick Beverly and Deon Thompson will have breakout seasons next year. 

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International Incidents

Posted by rtmsf on July 17th, 2007

The real dog days of summer are here, and that can only mean one thing to hoopheads – international basketball.  Yes, we know that you’ve all missed the trapezoidal lane and goofy emblazoned unitards preferred by our international friends.  Harkening back to the days of our youth when we trotted amateurs out there and still actually won these events, we should take solace in the knowledge that, even though the world has indeed caught us in team basketball, we still own the patent on And1-style showmanship.  If only there was an international competition that allows four steps after picking up your dribble followed by random acts of dancing with the crowd.

Skip to my Lou

A Team USA Led by S2ML Could Win This Competition

The Senior Men’s National Team will get most of the hype this summer (will Kobe play?  will Team USA qualify for the Beijing Olympics?), but there are two other international teams filled with collegians that we’re keeping an eye on – the Pan Am team and the Under-19 World Championships team (see rosters below).   

Pan Am Team USA Roster

 Pam Am Team USA

The Pan Am team (coached by Villanova’s Jay Wright) begins play in Rio de Janeiro on July 25, and at least half of the roster is filled with players who will be NCAA All-Americans next season.  What’s most interesting about this roster is the names of some of the players who were left off the squad.  Preseason first-teamer Chris Lofton apparently counterbalanced global warming all by himself as he froze up the gym with his shooting stroke during the trials and was left home, as were Kansas guards Sherron Collins and Mario Chalmers and Duke sharpshooter Jon Scheyer.  It was also peculiar that Wisky’s Brian Butch was left off the team, as it leaves Roy Hibbert as the only true center available – let’s hope he stays out of foul trouble.  Jay Wright realizes that the four-guard offense that he employed at Villanova was out of necessity, yes?  Nobody asked us, but this team seems heavy on shooters and wings and extremely light in the middle.  That’s probably not a strong recipe to win in international competition against stronger, older and more experienced players.  We’ll see…

Seth Davis gave his insights after watching the trials here.      

Under-19 World Championships Roster

U19 Team USA Roster

The Under-19 Worlds team, coached by the Undertaker, has already won its first five games in pool play heading into a showdown with 4-1 France tomorrow.  K-State’s incoming freshman Michael Beasley (14 ppg; 6 rpg; 70% fg in only 17 mpg) and Davidson guard Stephen Curry (11 ppg; 3 apg; 61% fg) have led a balanced attack for the high-scoring (99 ppg) American squad.  Arkansas guard Patrick Beverly is the only Team USA member earning more than 25 mpg thus far, while Donte’ Green and Damian Hollis appear to be the only two Americans not getting substantial minutes.  From what we’ve seen so far, it appears that Beverly, David Lighty and Deon Thompson are poised for breakout years at their respective schools, while Big 12 fans should just hang on for the one-year ride watching Beasley and DeAndre Jordan perform.  The eight-team medal round begins on Friday in lovely (especially as compared to Rio) Novi Sad, Serbia.

Beasley Team USA

Michael BEASTley

We’ll be checking back in periodically with these teams to see how they finish in their respective competitions and, more importantly, whether any particular player(s) shows what to expect next season. 

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