The story of Riki-Tikki-Tavi, a short story from Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book, details a young mongoose who was brought into the home of a family in India to protect them against King Cobra snakes.
There were two cobras who were antagonistic towards the family for encroaching on their territory. Riki-Tikki-Tavi, the underdog mongoose, gets some help from animal friends and eventually kills the snakes, thus protecting the family.
One of the many lessons in the story is the courage and spirit of the underdog–keep fighting for a worthy cause. In 2011, VCU was the mongoose. In 2014, the Rams have spent 34 basketball games playing the role of the cobra. We enter the NCAA tournament a five seed for the second year in a row. The players know what being hunted is all about, so that is not a concern for Friday. It's about hunting.
Put a different way: lions are the kings of the jungle, and lions hunt. They smell, they stalk, the prey. They kill to eat. It's time to eat.
"The seed is less important than the matchup," Shaka Smart said yesterday. "When the ball goes up, there isn't a label on your shirt that says 'underdog' or '5-seed' or '12-seed.'"
Smart is clearly referring to the fact that SFA doesn't care what the seeds say, just like VCU didn't care what the seeds said in 2011. Remember one of Smart's best quotes, which came after the Final Four run on the stage at the ESPYs:
"They proved one important thing in sports, it doesn't matter what anybody else says."
You can see where Smart is driving the conversation. VCU cannot make the same mistake that certain teams made in 2011, looking at conferences and seeds and heights and weights. That isn't hunting–that's posing. VCU cannot be the overconfident cobra or the Rams will be struck down by the feisty mongoose.
You can bet SFA is blocking it all out, just as VCU has to block out whatanybodyelsesays. You see, it's time to hunt. That's what produces the focus and energy that allows a high level of skill to show through and win out. In 2011, the Rams took advantage of teams that maybe took some things for granted, or thought that by showing up they would beat that team from the CAA. You don't take things for granted when you hunt. You just hunt.
The opportunity to see an issue from a 360-degree perspective is rare. We are fortunate to have that advantage in this year's NCAA tournament second round. They learned, and more importantly VCU learned.
As Smart said yesterday, "Oliver Purnell used to tell me 'do what's next' and what's next is pretty exciting."
You'd better believe it.