In college basketball, it’s easy to be Kentucky or Duke or North Carolina. Even if you don’t win your conference tournament, even if you lose in the first round of your conference tournament, you’re still making the NCAA Tournament, either because of merit or brand recognition.

Not so for Weber State. The Wildcats (26-8) went 21-3 after a 5-5 start but if they didn’t win the Big Sky Tournament, they wouldn’t be dancing. But they are, this after winning all three tournament games by a combined 12 points.

Weber State is back in the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years and the sixth time since 1984.

That isn’t lost on head coach Randy Rahe.

“Well, it means a lot (to make the tournament),” Rahe said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “Obviously it means a lot for your program. It’s source of great pride for your university and for your community. It also means a lot for recruiting. It’s nice to be able to walk into a kid’s home and say, ‘Hey, if you want to come to a winning program, we’ve been there and done that.’ It’s really valuable for that. But also within your program, you want to build a culture of winning. So when you do bring in new groups every year, they understand that, ‘Hey, this is a winning program. Look what these guys have done in the past. This is what the expectations are coming in.’ I think winning breeds winning. So there’s a lot of different variables to it, and all of them are very positive. There’s a lot of things you can take away from it for sure.”

Weber State, seeded 15th in the East region, plays No. 2 Xavier (27-5) on Friday at 9:20 p.m. ET. The Wildcats are seeking their first NCAA Tournament win since 1999, when they beat North Carolina by a bucket.

“That’s a tall task, there’s no question about it,” Rahe said of beating the Muskies. “What I want our guys to do, No. 1, is enjoy the experience. It’s a special time and it’s a special thing that they’ll remember for the rest of their lives. I really want them to enjoy the whole atmosphere and the excitement of it. But at the same time, when it’s time to prepare and lock in, we’ve got to do that. I’ve got four kids that played in the NCAA Tournament that are back – Joel (Bolomboy) and three other juniors. I’m going rely on those kids to tell our younger guys that, ‘Hey, this is how we do things. We’re going to enjoy it, but we’re coming here to prepare to play basketball and to try to win a basketball game.’ So it’s a nice balance. You got a balance between having fun but also, ‘Hey, this is also a business trip.’ We can’t ever forget that. We’re not just coming down to show up. We’re coming down to play well and compete our tails off.”

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