March 24, 2011
San Antonio, Texas – There is nothing new about a college coach playing the underdog card to his players. When young collegiate athletes think everyone outside their lockerroom is against them, it can be a powerful motivator. Florida State Head Coach Leonard Hamilton knows that. When asked about playing the role of the favorite for the first time in the 2011 NCAA Tournament his simple response was “We are?”
On the other side of the coin, the VCU Rams come in one-seed below the Seminoles but with just as much of a chip on their shoulder after winning a play-in game that allowed them to advance to upset sixth-seeded Georgetown and then third-seeded Purdue setting up the first-ever 10/11 Sweet 16 matchup in NCAA Tournament history.
“I saw somebody had us rated 16th out of the 16 teams still left in the Big Dance, although I think some of my friends in the media are starting to do it on purpose, just to give us something to use,” said VCU Head Coach Shaka Smart. “Thank you for those of you who are, because we do use it.”
If you don’t think both coaches are preaching the underdog roles to their teams, just listen to some of the answers given during Thursday’s media session.
“Actually I don’t think we’re the favorites,” said FSU Bernard James. “I’ve been watching ESPN and I’ve seen a lot of people think VCU has been under seeded. We’re not looking past them. We’re definitely taking them seriously. So we’re coming into this game fully prepared and ready to give everything that we have when we get out there on the court.”
“It’s been a lot of motivation,” said Joey Rodriguez was asked about the VCU doubters. “Whenever people doubt you like that, you want to come out and prove them wrong. I thought we’ve done a great job of that this first week of the tournament, and take it for what it’s worth.”
With both team’s coaches and players embracing the way their own team is being disrespected, that hasn’t stemmed the admiration each has for their opponent. Hamilton compared VCU to an “ACC-type” team numerous times during interviews on Thursday and his players echoed that feeling.
“We’ve got to take VCU just as seriously as we would Kansas or Duke or any other team,” said Michael Snaer. “We can’t put nothing past them. They made it this far. We’ve got to come out with the same intensity as we did, and knowing they have we can believe in ourselves, but we can’t think we’re a better team. We’ve got to bring that fire, that intensity, the same thing we’ve been doing all year that people have overlooked and just the brotherhood and camaraderie of this team. And we’ve just got to keep bringing it.”
The story sounded eerily similar from the Rams’ head coach when he was asked about their opponent. If the Seminoles are coming into Friday night’s game feeling disrespected, it sure isn’t VCU that is responsible for it.
“One of the media members made this comment, and I don’t disagree, someone said that they’re the best defensive basketball team in the college game in the last ten years,” said Smart. “So we’ve got a formidable task on our hands with Florida State.
“They’re extremely well coached. They’ve got great players. They’re not worried about numbers, and they’re playing better and better on the offensive end. So all that adds up to mean we’ve got a heck of a challenge on our hands. They’re a 10 seed, but they’re a 10 seed in number only. To me they’re playing like a two or three seed or even a one seed.”
The only game featuring two teams seeded 10th or lower will be the final game played in the fourth round of the NCAA Tournament. No matter what happens, the two little guys fighting for respect will be among the final nine teams left playing basketball before the end of their game slated for a 9:57 eastern tip Friday night. The only question left in the Alamodome will be which underdog gets another shot to prove their doubters wrong on Sunday.