When do recruiting ratings become relevant?

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When do recruiting ratings become relevant?

It's the first week of June and a consensus of the leading recruiting services in the country indicates that Michigan, Alabama, Texas, Florida, Ohio State, Florida State, USC, Georgia, Auburn and Notre Dame have accumulated the top 10 classes in the nation for 2013.

Rivals and Scout both rate Michigan No. 1 while ESPN favors Alabama, but Rivals rated Alabama No. 1 and Michigan No. 7 before its most recent update. Georgia has made a huge leap to No. 2 by Rivals, No. 4 by Scout and No. 5 by ESPN. Texas remains No. 2 with Scout, No. 3 with Rivals and ESPN.

"Michigan has the top overall class in the nation as June begins," reported recruiting analyst Chris Nee of Rivals.com. "The Wolverines lead the country in total commitments. Among their 20 commitments, 14 are rated four-star prospects. Seven of those prospects are members of the Rivals 100, led by the nation's No. 2 pro-style quarterback, Shane Morris."

But is any of this relevant? High school football players can make as many oral commitments as they want--until they sign binding letters-of-intent on national signing day in February. So does it make sense to take any surveys that are published in June seriously?

"No," said recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network, who has been evaluating high school talent for 33 years. "They are put together for people who go online, to attract people. The lists will be completely different on signing day because there are a lot more players still to commit.

"Why are they doing it now? Internet websites have to differentiate themselves from one another. It's something to do in the off-season. Recruiting is a 12-month-a-year occupation, so college fans are always wondering who is committing or who is recruiting whom or who is thinking of committing.

"But you an always expect certain schools to be on the list. And you can predict now that most of them will be on the list on signing day. It isn't brain surgery. You can always count on Alabama, Ohio State, USC, Florida, Michigan, Texas and Notre Dame. And now Florida State is back. And LSU will be there at the end."

In fact, Rivals, ESPN and Scout rate only a few wild cards on their lists. Stanford, Auburn, Clemson, Texas A&M and Missouri aren't usually included among the top 10, but they have fielded winning teams in recent years and have been threatening to break into the elite group.

There isn't a secret to all of this. The best players want to play for the best programs in football or basketball. They want to play for coaches and programs that have reputations for grooming players for the next level, the NFL or NBA, and for playing for national championships.

Critics complain about recruiting analysts who evaluate athletes according to 2-star, 3-star, 4-star or 5-star ratings, but history reveals they are right more often than they are wrong. And how many 5-star athletes enroll at Illinois, Northwestern, Purdue or Minnesota?

The SEC is the most dominant football conference in the country and there are reasons why. Conference schools pay their head coaches and assistant coaches more than anyone else. And SEC schools annually recruit the best players and the best classes in the country.

Ratings are based on scholarship offers. It doesn't take a nuclear scientist to figure out the formula that is used by most recruiting services. You don't see a 5-star player without a lot of offers from top 20 programs, do you? The offers come first, then the ratings.

"If the top 10 schools offer a kid, he is a 4-star or 5-star," Lemming said. "It comes down to offers, not ability. Look at the NFL draft. How many 5-star players are selected in the first round? Not many. Recruiting ratings are arbitrary, just one way to rate players."

Of Rivals.com's top 100 players in the class of 2013, Michigan and Texas have seven, USC and Ohio State have five, Alabama and Florida have four.

The nation's No. 1 player by most accounts, defensive end Robert Nkemdiche of Loganville, Georgia, is considering Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee.

Alabama has commitments from three of the top 35 players--linebacker Reuben Foster (2) of Auburn, Alabama, running back Alter Tenpenny (20) of North Little Rock, Arkansas, and tight end O.J. Howard (35) of Antauga, Alabama.

Foster is the nation's top-rated linebacker and Howard is the nation's top-rated tight end. Texas has the nation's top-rated quarterback, Max Browne of Sammamish, Washington, and USC has the nation's top-ranked running back, Ty Isaac of Joliet Catholic.

Georgia has 19 commitments, including the nation's top-rated athlete, Derrick Henry, safety Tray Matthews and Brandon Kublanow of Marietta, Georgia, the nation's No. 2 center.

According to Rivals, Illinois' class of 2013 ranks No. 20 in the nation based on new coach Tim Beckman's ability to land quarterback Aaron Bailey of Bolingbrook, the only four-star prospect in the fold.

Did Cubs start the tailspin by making Kyle Schwarber their leadoff guy?

Did Cubs start the tailspin by making Kyle Schwarber their leadoff guy?

MIAMI – Everything aligned for the Cubs to make Kyle Schwarber their leadoff hitter. Joe Maddon’s gut instincts told him to do it – so the manager asked the Geek Department to run the numbers – and the projections backed him up. A front office raised on Bill James principles endorsed the idea after Dexter Fowler took an offer he couldn’t refuse – five years and $82.5 million – from the St. Louis Cardinals.
   
It all looked good on paper and sounded reasonable in theory. But by the time the Cubs made the Schwarber-to-Iowa move official before Thursday’s game at Marlins Park, the slugger once compared to Babe Ruth in a pre-draft scouting report had devolved into the qualified hitter with the lowest batting average in the majors (.171) and an .OPS 75 points below the league average.  

If Schwarber had been batting, say, sixth since Opening Day, would the Cubs be in a different spot right now?   

“Obviously, I can’t answer that,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “It’s an impossible question to answer. We put him in a leadoff position and he struggled. We obviously moved him out of that position (and) that didn’t work either. I know that’s what people are going to point to, because that’s a variable in his career. 

“Obviously, hitting him leadoff in 2017 didn’t work. Whether or not it caused the tailspin, I have no way to answer that question.”   

[CUBS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

The Cubs also deserve credit for: drafting Schwarber when the industry viewed him as a reach with the No. 4 overall pick in 2014; fast-tracking his development to the point where he could help the 2015 team win 97 games and two playoff rounds; and overseeing a rehab process that allowed him to be a World Series designated hitter less than seven months after reconstructive surgery on his left knee.    
 
The Cubs will have their hitting instructors give Schwarber subtle suggestions, focusing on how he starts his swing and where he finishes, trying to reestablish his balance and confidence during this Triple-A timeout.
    
But deep down, this is a 24-year-old player who never experienced a full season in the big leagues before and wanted so bad to be a huge part of The Cubs Way.

“I do think a lot of the problems are mental,” Hoyer said. “These struggles have kind of beaten him up a little bit. Like anyone would, he’s lost a little bit of his swagger, and I think he needs to get that back. But I think when you look at what a great fastball hitter he’s been – how good he was in ’15, how good he was last year in the World Series – the fact that he hasn’t been pounding fastballs this year is a mechanical/physical issue that we’ll be looking to tweak. 

“This is a guy that has always murdered fastballs and he’s not there right now.”

Jimmy Butler trade presents more questions for futures of Nikola Mirotic, Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo

Jimmy Butler trade presents more questions for futures of Nikola Mirotic, Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo

Lauri Markkanenn will be a Chicago Bull once the trade between the Bulls and Minnesota Timberwolves is finalized sometime Friday when the trade call is sent to the NBA, as he’s the first domino to fall in what could be an interesting offseason to come.

A stretch-shooting big man from Arizona who shot 42 percent from 3 last season, Markkanenn is a native of Finland who’s more of an offensive threat rather than a defender and rebounder at seven-feet tall. He averaged 15.6 points and 7.2 rebounds for Arizona and has been regarded by many scouts as the best shooter in the draft.

With the Bulls bringing up the rear in that category, one assumes he’ll add a level of versatility if he can see the floor—which brings the Bulls to some offseason decisions they’ll have to make once free agency begins and even before. Markkanenn conceivably brings Nikola Mirotic’s future into question, as Mirotic is a restricted free agent this summer and Mirotic was on the trade block by the Bulls for the better part of last season as he had an underwhelming year trying to fill the role of a stretch-shooting big man.

But officials with the Bulls say Mirotic is still a priority for the Bulls and because he’s restricted, they control the process of his free agency. Mirotic shot 41.3 percent and averaged 10.6 points and 5.5 rebounds, as the Bulls still consider him an asset for the present and future as they’ll play a new style of basketball next season.

One would think Mirotic will command a salary at least around $10 million as the NBA’s salary cap will balloon to $99 million with a luxury tax line of around $119 million.

Rajon Rondo’s future has yet to be decided, as the Bulls acquired a point guard in Kris Dunn they’ve long eyed and presumably one they feel will be their future at the position.

Bulls officials stated they’ll wait until next week before making a decision on Rondo, but one wonders if they’ll go full youth movement, especially with wanting Dunn to succeed after a rocky rookie year in Minnesota and already having Jerian Grant and Cameron Payne under contract for next season.

Rondo has a $3 million buyout the Bulls can exercise that will make Rondo a free agent or they’ll pay Rondo $13.3 million next season.

[MORE: After trading Jimmy Butler, Bulls select Lauri Markkanen] 

And then there’s Dwyane Wade, who opted in to his deal of $23.8 million for next season. Wade came to Chicago for a number of reasons, notably the salary and chance to play with Butler. With Butler gone and the Bulls changing their direction of the franchise, one wonders how Wade sees himself next season and how the Bulls see Wade with their young players.

Unless Wade wants out, the Bulls are headed into the free agency period thinking he’ll be back next season, and considering the Bulls have to spend up to 90 percent of their salary cap, his money helps them keep their books afloat, even as Butler’s affordable max salary exits and the controlled rookie-scale salaries of LaVine, Dunn and Merkkanenn enter Chicago for a future unknown