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Final Four: Virginia Commonwealth's Cinderella Status Motivates Coach, Players

VCU coach Shaka Smart would have you believe that the Cinderella tag doesn't apply to his team. He's wrong, but whatever he's using for motivation is working perfectly.

Smart's eleventh-seeded rams have gone through sixth-seeded Georgetown, third seed Purdue, tenth seed Florida State, and top-seeded Kansas to get to their first-ever Final Four appearance. Sometimes, they made it look easy. Other times they showed grit and poise in situations where you might expect a team of their stature to wilt, and just be happy to have made it as far as they did.

VCU uses two "devices" that are a bit overrated in terms of their impact on sports. Motivation, and momentum. It's hard to argue that the Rams haven't benefited from the momentum they've built in this tournament, but that's something that teams get over once you're well-into a game. Talent rises to the top, schemes settle into place, and gameplans are executed to perfection, or thrown out completely.

Smart seems to want it both ways. He fully admits that he uses every article, video, and clip he can possibly collect to motivate his team - yet claims they belong in Houston like the other teams who have earned their way. Well, okay. I guess. Your team is as deserving and good as the others, but you need to pump them full of people's skepticism to get them ready to play? Whatever works.

Like Butler coach Brad Stevens, Smart had his players loose during Friday's practice. There were synchronized chants, plenty of chest bumps, and nothing to indicate that these players don't belong in Houston.

Maybe VCU really is comfortable in this role. Their Tournament performance to this point certainly indicates that, but when you're playing basketball in huge Reliant Stadium, as opposed to the 7500-capacity arena where they play their home games - there are sure to be butterflies, even with their success to this point. 

It would be human nature if the Rams come out tight against Butler Saturday night. The question is, can they withstand the storm if they get down early, and can they continue to squeeze effectiveness out of their motivational devices that have apparently worked so well up until this point?

Images by eflon used in background images under a Creative Commons license. Thank you.