Patric Young – The Massive Leader of Florida’s 2014 Final Four Run

patric-young-florida-2It was all too tempting for Patric Young to leave Florida three years ago. After all, he was a guaranteed NBA Lottery pick…at least that was what everybody was telling the Hercules-looking, 6’9″ center. Before coming to Florida, Young was always known for his physique and potential above anything else. The imposing, 6’9″, 249-pound center was even compared to Dwight Howard during his days as a lottery prospect.

However, Young made a decision that would turn out to be a great one for both he and his school – he came back to Florida for his sophomore year. Then, he made two more great decisions by returning as a junior and senior.

The 22-year-old is no longer projected as a lottery pick in the NBA Draft. In fact, DraftExpress predicts that he’ll go 39th overall in their 2014 mock draft, with a slew of underclassmen and foreign players projected ahead of him. But with his Gators team playing seventh-seeded Connecticut later today when the Final Four kicks off, NBA Draft positioning is about the furthest thing from his mind.

Instead, Young is worried about leading Florida to their first national title in seven years. The key word here is “leading,” a testament to how he’s polished both his game and patric-young-floridamental skills during four seasons in Gainesville. Now, what he does for the Gators goes beyond just his solid numbers, 10.8 PPG, 6.2 RPG and 1.1 BPG. The heavily muscled postman has also helped the younger Gators develop their games too.

Take freshman Chris Walker, for example. Much like Young, he was a McDonald’s All-American who came to Billy Donovan’s squad with much hype. However, he missed half of the regular season due to a combination of poor academics and improper benefits that he received from agents. When Walker finally suited up for Florida in early February, he didn’t have a clue as to what was going on – that is until Young took the 6’10” forward under his wing. Donovan discussed Young’s leadership with the following:

He (Walker) had no idea about anything. He didn’t know how we stretched, how we lifted weights. He did not know any drill in practice. He didn’t know what we were doing on offense, defense. Didn’t know how to guard a pick and roll…As a coach, we spent a lot of time with Chris trying to get him caught up on what we do. What was probably more impactful for Chris was the amount of time that Patric spent with him, explained to him why it’s important to stretch, how to go about stretching, how to get yourself ready to play, how to get yourself ready for practice, not showing up 15 minutes before we practice to get taped, but get here 45 minutes or an hour [early], get out on the court. Patric has spent a lot of time helping him. That’s just the way Patric is as a kid. It probably has less to do with Chris Walker and much, much more to do with Patric. I think if any player was here with the situation that Chris Walker was in, Patric would do it.

To see Young’s transformation as a project with amazing physical tools to somebody who’s leading others during Florida’s potential national championship run is amazing. This is especially the case when you consider how many things Young himself needed to learn when he first came to Florida.

As his mother, Benita Young, recalls, Patric had to learn that he couldn’t just get by with size and strength any more. “He was big enough and good enough that nobody ever worked on the fine points,” Bennita said. “Billy Donovan told us they were going to have to rebuild his game. What? Rebuild? That’s hard. Hard for anyone to hear that you’re not good enough.”

Coming into Florida, Young was expected to dominate right off the bat. However, he learned the hard way after a freshman season in which he averaged just 3.4 PPG and 3.8 RPG. He experienced a big jump in numbers after averaging 10.2 PPG and 6.4 RPG in his sophomore campaign. However, the education was far from complete as Donovan constantly challenged him, telling Young that he needed to put small injuries out of his mind and keep playing hard. Donovan also had a closed-door meeting with Patric during his sophomore year to light a fire under him.

patric-young-florida-1“He fought Billy a lot,” Bennita said. “I talked and talked to Billy. I have great respect for Coach Donovan.” Patric’s mother also spoke about his decision to stay at Florida for four years by adding, “It was absolutely the right thing for him to spend this time in school. He needed to get a little stronger and put his armor on. He would have failed as a 19-year-old playing with 25- and 30-year-olds.”

With his four-year journey at Florida nearing an end, Young will hope to cap his career off with a title. He, along with fellow seniors Will Yeguete, Casey Prather and Scottie Wilbekin, need to win just two more games to make it happen. Of course, this won’t be easy as they’re facing a traditional powerhouse in Connecticut tonight.

Provided they win, they’ll play the victor of the Wisconsin, Kentucky game. The latter is loaded with young NBA talent while the Badgers feature a very experienced squad that’s capable of grinding out victories against the best. But whether Florida wins it all or not. Patric Young can be proud of all that he’s accomplished in his four years with the Gators.

Why did Minnesota fire Tubby Smith?

tubby-smith-minnesota-firedLast night was all about admiring and celebrating Florida Gulf Coast’s historic run to the Sweet 16. The Eagles topped San Diego State to become the first 15 seed to make the round of 16. Of course for every FGC, which is riding a eurphoric wave into Arlington, Texas, there are dozens of teams that fall short of expectations.

The Minnesota Golden Gophers are one of these teams since they fired head coach Tubby Smith after six seasons on the job. The 61-year-old exits Minneapolis with a 124-81 overall record and a 46-62 Big-10 record.

What’s surprising about the firing is that Smith led Minnesota to its best NCAA tournament finish since 1996-97 – when the Golden Gophers made the Final Four, only to have this season wiped out by academic fraud. Sure they were ousted in the second round by Florida this year; but still, this is the best they’ve done in over a decade and a half. So the question is, why did Minnesota fire Tubby Smith?

This question seems especially hard to answer since the university signed him to a three-year contract extension in July, after Tubby guided the Golden Gophers to 23 wins and an NIT runner-up finish. However, it may not be so hard to figure out when you look at how Smith’s teams have performed once February starts.

tubby-smith-minnesota-fired-1This season was a perfect example because Minnesota bolted out to a 15-1 record and was quickly climbing the AP Top 25. However, they suffered through Big-10 play and went 6-12 over the remainder of the season. Their 20-12 record turned out to be just good enough to grab a controversial 11th-seed NCAA tournament bid.

From here, it looked like Tubby might have saved his job with a first round victory over 6th-seeded UCLA, which coincidentally also fired their coach. However, the Golden Gophers looked largely noncompetitive throughout most of their 78-64 second round loss to the Florida Gators.

Rather than go through another collapsing season with Smith, Minnesota chose to buy out his remaining contract for what could be worth up to $2.5 million. So can somebody else succeed where former national champion Tubby Smith has failed? Let’s discuss the prospects as well as who else Minnesota basketball will be eyeing as a head coach.

Pros and Cons

The University of Minnesota isn’t exactly USC or Miami when it comes to weather and scenery. This state sees heavy snowfall in the winter and temperatures that commonly hit below-20 or worse. So right off the bat, the basketball program has this working against them for out-of-state recruits.

tubby-smith-minnesota-fired-2Another problem with Minnesota is that they’re up against conference giants like Indiana, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan and Illinois. So this team is very rarely going to be at the top of the Big-10 – let alone a national powerhouse. And this also works against them when trying to land elite recruits from around the county.

But there are definitely some positive aspects to Minnesota basketball too. And they begin with top facilities, a strong desire to win, and, most importantly, money to spend.

Another big benefit to coaching at Minnesota would be that it’s the only Division I school in the state. Considering that the Land of 10,000 Lakes produces a lot of solid players every year, this is definitely a major plus. But is it enough to intrigue a sought-after, up-and-coming coach?

Who will replace Tubby Smith at Minnesota?

The rumored frontrunner for the Golden Gophers job is VCU coach Shaka Smart. He’s remained one of the country’s hottest candidates after guiding VCU to the Final Four in 2011, and taking the Rams to back-to-back Sweet 16’s. The reason why Minnesota has a chance with Smart is because their current AD, Norwood Teague, hired him at VCU. So the debate here will be if a previous relationship is enough to lure Smart away.

VCU v MichiganOdds are that it isn’t, especially considering that the 35-year-old has turned down several better jobs – including a $2.5 million offer from Illinois. And even if Smart decides to stay in Richmond, Virginia, he’ll receive a $1.36 million salary that includes plenty of bonuses.

Assuming he’s out of the picture, there are still plenty of other quality options such as Marquette’s Buzz Williams, former UCLA coach Ben Howland, and FGC coach Andy Enfield. Williams is being tabbed because of a good relationship with Teague, and a bad relationship with Marquette AD Larry Williams. Enfield is obviously a hot pick because of what we discussed before with FGC’s Sweet 16 run. And Howland had plenty of success at UCLA before succumbing to high expectations and a large number of transfers.

Whoever Minnesota ends up with, it’ll definitely be an accomplished coach who’s capable of leading them to success.

College Basketball Power Rankings for Feb. 8th, 2013

trey-burke-michiganComing up with a number one college basketball team has been extremely challenging this week. After all, most of the top 10 teams lost, so it’s not like one club shined over the others. That said, this week was all about defining potential and considering which teams have the best shot at winning the NCAA tournament. Indiana, Michigan, Duke and Florida have all been very impressive this season, so we narrowly gave the top spot in this week’s power rankings to one of these teams.

1. Michigan Wolverines (21-2) – At this point, some people might be wondering why we’d rank the Wolverines above Indiana following a recent eight-point loss to the Hoosiers. And the reasoning is two-fold: A) this game was on the road, and B) Indiana just lost to an unranked team. This being said, we think Michigan would be slightly better on a neutral court. Plus they looked good in their last game, which saw the Wolverines beat 10th-ranked Ohio State by three points.

2. Indiana Hoosiers (20-3) – Maybe not everybody will agree that the nation’s top two teams reside in the Big-10. However, we strongly think that both of these clubs are headed towards a number one seed when March Madness begins. As alluded to before, the Hoosiers lost to unranked Illinois by two points. But remember that this Fighting Illini team is 16-8 and was playing Indiana at home.

Duke v Miami3. Duke Blue Devils (20-2) – Here’s where things get even trickier. The Blue Devils could make a case for being ranked ahead of Indiana – especially based on their outstanding early season wins. However, it was only January 23rd when Duke lost to the Miami Hurricanes by 27 points. The Blue Devils appear to be righting the ship again though after four straight wins, which includes avenging an earlier loss to NC State. A February 13th home game against long-time rival North Carolina should be quite interesting.

4. Florida Gators (18-3) – Florida was in excellent position to grab the nation’s number one ranking; however, they lost to a decent 14-8 Arkansas team by 11 points. That said, we don’t think the Gators are quite THE top team, but rather at the edge of potential number one tournament seeds. It’ll be interesting to see how far senior guard Kenny Boynton (13.2 PPG) and junior center Patric Young (11.0 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 1.8 BPG) can lead this team come March.

C.J. Fair,  Lance Storrs5. Syracuse Orange (18-3) – Syracuse has really been up and down over the past few weeks. They grabbed wins over Villanova, Louisville and Cincinnati to close out January; then they followed this up with two straight losses to Villanova and Pittsburgh. However, the Orange bounced back with a dominating 63-47 victory over 25th-ranked Notre Dame. Junior forward C.J. Fair has really stepped up his production (13.9 PPG, 7.1 RPG) this season.

6. Arizona Wildcats (20-2) – The Wildcats jump several spots from last week after winning four straight games. None of their recent victories (USC, Washington, Washington State, Stanford) are extremely impressive, but they are all Pac-10 wins nonetheless. Looking ahead in the schedule, it’s difficult to see Arizona not winning their conference and grabbing at least a number two seed for the tournament.

gary-harris7. Michigan State Spartans (18-4) – Once again, Tom Izzo’s squad is back in the national title picture, despite being in the toughest conference this year. Some of the upcoming Big-10 landmines include Michigan (twice), Indiana, Ohio State and Wisconsin. Assuming Michigan State can win two or three of these games, they should remain in the top 10 throughout this year. Freshman guard Gary Harris has provided a nice spark for the Spartans with his 12.9 PPG, 1.2 SPG and 41.8% from three-point territory.

8. Kansas Jayhawks (19-3) – In our last power rankings, we were fully confident that Kansas was the top team in NCAA basketball. But back to back losses have changed this notion in a big way! First, the Jayhawks lost on the road to a respectable 16-5 Oklahoma State team. Unfortunately, they followed this up with a road loss to the lowly-TCU Horned Frogs (10-12). Coach Bill Self had nothing bad things to say about his team in quipping, “It was the worst team that Kansas ever put on the floor, since Dr. Naismith was there. I think he had some bad teams when he lost to Topeka YMCA and things like that in the first couple years. But for the first half, there hasn’t been a team play worse than that offensively.”

9. Miami Hurricanes (18-3) – An earlier 27-point win over Duke was no fluke – Miami is for real! Now this number nine power ranking isn’t based on the entire season because the Hurricanes have very ugly losses to Florida Gulf Coast and Indiana State (at home). But this Jekyll and Hyde club also has scored victories over Michigan State, North Carolina, Duke, NC State and Maryland. Throw in the fact that they’re 9-0 in the ACC right now, and Miami definitely belongs among the elite teams.

10. Gonzaga Bulldogs (21-2) – When it comes to mid-majors, we like both Gonzaga and Butler. However, with Butler losing to both Saint Louis and La Salle lately, it’s the Zags that crack our top 10 this week. Following their one-point loss on the road to Butler, Gonzaga has responded by winning five straight contests. Sure most of these were fairly easy opponents, but a 20-point win over BYU (18-7) is definitely a quality victory. 7’0″ forward Kelly Olynyk continues to improve his NBA Draft stock with another impressive year at Gonzaga (17.6 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 1.0 RPG).

College Football Power Rankings – 2012 Championship Week Edition

We’re now down to the final week before bowl games are decided and the BCS title matchup is figured out. As for the latter, we’re simply waiting to decide who undefeated Notre Dame plays for the championship. At this point, Alabama appears to be in control of their own destiny, but that destiny won’t be easy to reach with a game against third-ranked Georgia looming ahead. Let’s discuss these three teams and more in our latest power rankings.

1. Alabama (11-1) – Throughout most of the season, many people thought Alabama would never be beaten. However, they lost a close game against Texas A&M a couple weeks ago and were sent into a tailspin. But Alabama has since recovered and looked marvelous during a beatdown of rival Auburn.

Last Game: 49-0 win over Auburn
Next Game: vs. Georgia (SEC Championship)

2. Ntore Dame (12-0) – Is it fair that the Irish drop a spot from our previous power rankings following a road win against USC? First off, Notre Dame got a break when Matt Barkley was sidelined with an injury, leaving freshman Max Wittek to make his first career start. Secondly, the Irish have won most of their games in ugly, defensive battles. They get a chance to prove all of the critics wrong in the BCS Championship though.

Last Game: 22-13 win over USC
Next Game: TBD (BCS Championship)

3. Ohio State (12-0) – It’s never easy to cap off an undefeated season – just ask Oregon, Kansas State or Alabama. However, the Buckeyes did pull off this impressive accomplishment and deserve some credit. They probably would’ve been playing the Irish in Miami had it not been for NCAA sanctions.

Last Game: 26-21 win over Michigan
Season is finished

4. Oregon (11-1) – Just three weeks ago, Oregon was riding high and looking at a clear shot at the BCS Championship game. Now they won’t even get to play in the Pac-10 Championship game due to the Stanford loss. It’ll be interesting to see what bowl game the Ducks land in now.

Last Game: 48-24 win over Oregon State
Next Game: TBD

5. Georgia (11-1) – While we consider the Bulldogs to be just a little less good than the top four teams on this list, none of it means anything if they can win the SEC title. Essentially, this matchup with Alabama is like a big playoff game before the championship.

Last Game: 42-10 win over Georgia Tech
Next Game: vs. Alabama (SEC Championship)

6. Texas A&M (10-2) – If the season restarted today, A&M could possibly be the top team in the eyes of voters. Johnny “Football” Manziel took another step closer to winning the Heisman after throwing for 372 yards and three touchdowns against Missouri.

Last Game: 59-29 win over Missouri
Next Game: TBD

7. Florida (11-1) – Despite having one loss, the Gators dropped out of our top 10 rankings after some atrocious offensive performances. However, they leaped back into our rankings after beating ACC standout and rival Florida State. Now they could be Sugar Bowl-bound.

Last Game: 37-26 win over Florida State
Next Game: TBD

8. Stanford (10-2) – The Cardinals easily defeated UCLA to set up a rematch between these two teams in the Pac-10 Championship. Based on this road game blowout, we have to heavily favor Stanford in the rematch as well.

Last Game: 35-17 win over UCLA
Next Game: vs. UCLA (Pac-10 Championship)

9. LSU (10-2) – While the Tigers did nothing deserving of dropping two spots in our power rankings, other teams just shined more in the last week of the regular season. With Florida, Georgia and Alabama fighting over two BCS bowl bids, LSU is left out of the party.

Last Game: 20-13 win over Arkansas
Next Game: TBD

10. Kansas State (10-1)  – K-State is just one of those teams that got lost in the shuffle at season’s end. Of course, getting blown out by a mediocre Baylor team will do that to you. It’ll also put an end to any Heisman hopes that Collin Klein had.

Last Game: Bye
Next Game: TBD