Expectations are high for the Wildcats -- and that's the way they like it.
Picked first in the Big Sky preseason polls for the fourth straight season, Weber State plays its first public exhibition tonight against a team not wearing its own school colors.
The Wildcats tip off at the Dee Events Center at 8 p.m. against Divison II school Colorado-Colorado Springs.
"It doesn't mean anything, I guess," WSU point guard Damian Lillard said about being picked first again. "Once it happens so much, you feel like you've got to live up to it. That's the only way we can call ourselves the best team in the Big Sky, by living up to it. Rankings don't mean anything. I don't think they were picked first the year coach (Randy) Rahe won the (league) tournament and went to the NCAA tournament. Being first just puts a target on our back and we've got to work even harder to make sure we go out there and prove it."
The Wildcats played a closed scrimmage against Boise State on Nov. 1 in Boise, Idaho, but NCAA rules prohibit them from releasing the score or any details of the contest, which counts as one of their allowed exhibitions.
That makes tonight Weber State fans' only opportunity to preview the Purple Posse against an opponent before the Wildcats begin their highly anticipated regular season at home Friday at 8 p.m. against Northern New Mexico College, another Division II school.
Playing and beating D-II schools doesn't carry a lot of cachet in the college basketball world, but the Wildcats no doubt took note of the University of Utah's embarrassment at losing to Adams State in an exhibition at the Huntsman Center last Friday and will take great pains to avoid a similar slip-up.
Getting his squad on the same page on defensive is Weber State coach Randy Rahe's priority in the early stages of every season.
"We've got to get a lot better defensively," Rahe said after the Wildcats' Purple and White scrimmage. "We're making some progress in practice and then we get out in front of some people and I thought we slipped. I didn't think we played defense the way we're going to be capable of playing. We've got a long ways to go defensively to have a chance to stop a quality team. That's our No. 1 concern right now."
Rahe will have a chance tonight to evaluate how much his team has progressed since then, though the first major test will come Nov. 15 when the Wildcats take on in-state rival Utah State at the Dee Events Center.
Senior forward Kyle Bullinger says the Wildcats are focused on defensive improvement.
"The most important thing, without question, for us, is getting our defense installed," he said. "Everything from defensive mindset to the actual X's and O's of how our defense works, how the rotations are to be made, the importance of guarding the ball, the importance of playing good helpside defense."
Weber State's Wildcat Club luncheon will be held today at noon at the Ogden Marriott Hotel on 24th Street. Cost is $10 per person. The luncheons are open to the public. For more information, call the Wildcat Club at 801-626-6576 or visit WeberStateSports.com.
Roy Burton covers Weber State sports. He posts news about the Wildcats at blogs.standard.net/wsu-sports-blog and at twitter.com/RoyBurton.