That plan centers on the full-court, pressure defense Smart learned as an assistant under Billy Donovan at Florida. VCU hired Smart two years ago when coach Anthony Grant accepted the Alabama job.
Smart, 33, is the fifth coach to guide the Rams to the NCAA tournament. The program's success began with J.D. Barnett in the 1980s, followed by Sonny Smith, Jeff Capel and Grant.
Barnett's teams won four NCAA games in five appearances, and in 2007 Grant and VCU upset Duke in the first round. But never had the Rams reached a regional semi.
"It's humbling for me and our players because there's been a lot of terrific players and coaches at VCU," Smart said.
And to think, less than two weeks ago, many decried VCU's inclusion in the field at the expense of teams such as Virginia Tech, Colorado and Alabama.
"It's just been weird," freshman Rob Brandenberg said. "Just last week we were getting murdered, people saying we didn't belong."
"We used the comments made by some in the media as an unbelievable fuel," Smart said. "Now it's important that we make sure that we still have that motivation."
Except that now folks are swooning. The Rams arrived home from Chicago at 3 a.m. Monday and found an entire city smitten with VCU and Richmond basketball.
"Stepchild to darling is what we call it," Smart said.
David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime, and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP