Does Randy Rahe have the blueprint to get the 2020-21 Wildcats back to March Madness?
Updated: Feb 16, 2021
Weber State's men’s basketball has, arguably, the best program history and tradition of any school in the Big Sky. The Wildcats have won a lot of games and trophies while they’ve been in the conference, and the man who has won more games than any other coach in Big Sky history, Randy Rahe, is at the helm for his 14th season in charge.
During his successful tenure at Weber State, Rahe has led the ‘Cats to the NCAA Tournament on three separate occasions: 2006-07, 2013-14 and 2015-16. How do those teams compare to each other? And can their similarities and strengths lay out a blueprint for the 2020-21 Wildcats to use as a guide for getting back into the Big Dance?
The first thing to consider is what appears to be the strength of this year’s team: experience.
Last year, Coach Rahe mentioned on several occasions that the team was youthful and lacking "big game" experience. As a result, he raided the transfer portal in the offseason and brought in nine new transfers, many of whom have significant playing experience at big-time schools and in big-time conferences. While the three aforementioned Wildcat teams averaged four Juniors and/or Seniors who saw significant playing time, this year’s team will potentially have six who will be constant fixtures on the floor. That bodes extremely well for WSU and is part of the reason why hopes are high in Ogden this season.
Another hallmark of Rahe’s championship teams is their lockdown defense. In each year that Weber State has gone to the NCAA tournament under Randy’s watch, the team was either first or second in scoring defense in the conference, giving up a combined average of just 67.5 points per game in those three seasons. The 2020-21 Wildcats certainly appear to be stout in the paint and have the athleticism to shut down their opposition from the perimeter. Defense, as with Rahe’s most successful squads of the past, will need to be this team’s calling card.
Rebounding is an often-overlooked aspect of good about team defense. You can play fantastic defense for 40 minutes, but if you never get a defensive rebound then you’ll almost never end a possession. Rahe’s best Wildcat teams are phenomenal at controlling the glass, ranking at or near the top of the Big Sky in every season that Randy has guided them to March Madness. It should be noted that two of those groups were led in rebounding by the school’s all-time leading rebounder and glass cleaner, Joel Bolomboy. The current version of the Wildcats has more athleticism and size than most teams in years past, so it can be expected for WSU to rank near the top of the conference in defensive rebounding this season. The prior three crews who have made it to the dance averaged 25.8 defensive rebounds per game. Weber State should be aiming to match that if they aspire to reach the top of the conference again.
The Dee Events Center has been a nearly impenetrable fortress for the Wildcats during their most successful seasons. Rahe’s best teams win at an 88-percent clip during the 06-07, 13-14 and 15-16 campaigns. In contrast, each team from that trio has been either at, or below, .500 on the road. In a podcast with Weber State Weekly, starting point guard Isiah Brown said, “We’re going to play every game like it’s the one circled on the calendar.” That kind of mentality will be vital for this year’s team to follow the footsteps of Rahe’s best groups, as they’ll have less games than they would in a typical year. The three teams that we have been looking at all won at least 13 conference home games, which would translate to nine conference home wins (out of ten conference games) this year. It’s a tall task, but they’re going to have to defend the Purple Palace with everything they have.
There are a few other interesting similarities to keep in mind. Each of the three prior teams that advanced to March Madness had a Big Sky Conference MVP on it (David Patten, Davion Berry, Jeremy Senglin). None of these three teams created takeaways or took care of the ball particularly well. As a matter of fact, two of the teams ranked rock bottom in the Big Sky in turnover margin, the other team finished in sixth.
This year's Weber State team appears to be vastly improved from last year’s massive disappointment. In the Big Sky preseason coaches’ poll, Weber State was picked to finish third in the conference, while the media had the Wildcats pegged as the fifth best team. This team has the potential to finish in second or third in the conference’s regular season, and with that kind of seed for the Big Sky tournament, anything can happen. This season could very well be the one that sees Weber State make their return to the NCAA tournament.