Athlon ($5.99), Grade: C+ While this one usually hits the newsstands much earlier than every other preview magazine, it was only on sale for a week before Lindy's and the rest followed suit. While Athlon has improved on updating its information, it still lags behind the others in this area, as is evident by the fact that they don't even list schedules. Still, the team profiles are very detailed, as are the rosters, which include players' jersey numbers – something that can be useful while watching the games. And Athlon's is still the only magazine that gives a full page of coverage to every team in the 10 power conferences. I'm still not too crazy about they're projections of the NCAA Tournament, but the features writing is decent. The "Hoops Madness" intro by Mike Waters is entertaining, and features by Mitchell Light on Cinderella teams and Andrew Maraniss on "Working the Refs" are good reads, but none of them really hit on the driving issues. Also, fans of women's college basketball may be disappointed to find that they only have two pages of coverage. Overall, it's a decent purchase if you are the impatient kind, but chances are you'd be better off waiting a few weeks for the others.
This one generally hits the newsstands earlier than everyone else's, and this year was no exception. Even though some of the information is a little outdated due to the early release (i.e., Jason Parker still on Kentucky's roster), the team profiles are very detailed, as are the rosters, which include players' jersey numbers – something that can be useful while watching the games. This year, they even had a little blurb about the popular college drinking game in which you must imbibe every time Dick Vitale mentions anything about Duke basketball during a game between two other teams. The only thing this magazine is really missing is a listing of team schedules. Nevertheless, it's the best purchase among the early releases.
Lindy's ($6.99), Grade: C+ Another early release (but only by a week), this magazine continues to get better from previous versions released by Lindy's. The "Scoping the Nation" intro by Frank Burlison is informative (he even rates the conferences) and the feature stories by Dan Wetzel, especially a look back at the Larry Bird/Magic Johnson rivalry, is some of the best copy I've seen on the shelves. The problem with this publication remains a lack of quality team profiles, especially for teams outside of the magazine's top 40. Heck, it doesn't even list the jersey numbers. It does have schedules in the back and an impressive recruiting feature by Van Coleman, but while it has made up some ground to others, it doesn't really justify the $1.00 price increase from a year ago.
Street & Smith's ($6.99), Grade: B-
This one has improved significantly from last year's version. The intro features are interesting, especially the "New Destinations" page and the article "Whatever Happened to…" by Jonathan Woog, which discusses the ultimate fates of the 20 members of Street & Smith's 1993-94 High School All-American Team. Their research is still a bit lacking (Nick Vander Laan is still listed on the Virginia roster), and they seem to be putting too much effort to include cheerleaders and mascots in the publication. They have full team pages for their top 25 teams (half-pages for everyone else), but while they include jersey numbers and a five-year wins trend graphic, there are no individual stats listed. The recruiting report by Doug Huff is decent and the junior college report by Tony Jimenez is even better. There is even a high school report on the top 25 boys teams and top 20 girls teams in the nation. And yes, it does have the schedules listed in the back, along with the preseason and in-season tourneys. It has improved, but not enough to give it a blue ribbon.
Basketball News ($5.99), Grade: D
Here is another one that increased in price by $1.00, but has not improved on its marginal quality. In fact, it's difficult to justify the price increase with cheap paper and black and white photos. The content was not overly impressive either. The intro section is average, although some features were questionable, like its list of possible Cinderella teams that included Florida State and Southern California (huh?). The feature article asking "Burning Questions" to college coaches about quality of play, NCAA sanctions, TV & recruiting, the globalization of basketball and NCAA Tourney changes is good, but still misses on the REALLY burning issues, like ethics and leadership within the coaching community. One article by Ken Bikoff looks at the top five programs over the past 20 years (Duke, Kansas, Arizona, UNC and Kentucky), but the next five were a little questionable (Syracuse, Indiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Temple). Again, its unimpressive conference and team pages could turn readers off before they even get to the recruiting section by Rob Matera. There are schedules in back, but not much else. Don't bother pulling out the wallet for this one.
The Sporting News ($6.98), Grade: A-
Once again, this one proves to be the standard by which all others are judged. It has an easy to follow format, informative articles by Mike DeCourcy, detailed team previews with current rosters and schedules, tons of stats, excellent features, recruiting profiles from Mike Sullivan of Rivals and just about everything else you could want in a preview publication. Some of TSN's team pages could stand to be longer in terms of copy, but all of the info provided is as up-to-date as any magazine you'll find. It's an excellent value worth holding onto all year ‘round, and it even costs a penny less than last year's version. Buy it!
Note: For more detailed information on ACC basketball, I recommend the ACC Handbook ($4.95) with recruiting articles by Dave Telep. It's another must-have for area fans, and I highly recommend it over Street & Smith's ACC Preview ($5.99), which has improved, but not enough to give it the green light over the Handbook.