Although it has been in a rather quiet manner, the WCC is off to a very solid start this season. Currently, six of the eight teams in the conference are above 500., with the other two teams showing some very nice signs of life. Saturday night would certainly have to be considered a banner night for the conference, as the WCC recorded two wins against Pac 10 competition. While many Gonzaga fans probably expected Portland to take care of business against Oregon, the fact that LMU was able to travel to USC and earn a big road victory came as a pleasant surprise. Even with the fine performance by Portland, I will continue to keep Gonzaga at the top of the rankings until one of these other teams proves they are a true contender for this conference.
1) Gonzaga (2-1): 75-71 loss @ Michigan St.; 90-55 win vs. IPFW
As anyone who has read this blog for the past year would know, I am not the kind of guy that believes in "moral victories". However, the toughness and grit that this team displayed against a hostile environment in East Lansing has made me believe that we could have a pretty darn special team on our hands this season. After appearing to sleepwalk through the first half against IPFW, the Zags turned up their game and completely dominated an inferior opponent. The biggest challenge for Mark Few this season will be his ability to keep this young team focused and hungry for every game on the schedule. If these guys can stay on task and take care of business when they should, it will be a very bright season.2) Portland (3-0): 98-81 win vs. Portland; 88-81 vs. Oregon
I will admit that I was a little worried about the expectations that I had for the Pilots after their opener against EWU. Although they won the game, Portland just didn't seem to play with as much execution as I had expected. This past week, Portland showed that they are certainly deserving of all the preseason hype, with two very nice wins. Nik Raivio continues to play like a potential WCC POY candidate, as he is averaging 19 points and 9 boards. The Pilots have a very nice trio in Raivio, T.J. Campbell, and Robin Smeulders. In the impressive win over Oregon, the trio accounted for 57 of the teams 88 points. With so much experience and talent on this team, the WCC has a great chance at two NCAA bids.
3) St. Mary's (2-1): 80-58 win vs. San Diego St.; 72-70 loss vs. Vandy
It's pretty darn clear that this St. Mary's program will not fade back to irrelevance with the loss of Patty Mills. In fact, St.Mary's came very close to making this an absolute banner week for the conference. After turning the most impressive performance of the 24 hour marathon on ESPN, with their 80-58 domination of San Diego St., the Gaels had an excellent opportunity to stun Vanderbilt. Even with 25 points and 18 boards for Omar Samhan, St. Mary's could not overcome the early double digit deficit and ended up losing by two points. However, with Samhan and Matthew Dellavedova, this team has a very formidable duo that will keep them in a lot of games.
4) San Diego (2-1): 56-55 loss @ Pacific; 84-65 win vs. Point Loma
The reason I rank San Diego in the top half of the conference is because they would be undefeated if not for an injury to Brandon Johnson against Pacific. In the one point loss to Pacific, Johnson played only 20 minutes because of a hurt hamstring, and he was out for most of the second half. Once Johnson is fully healthy, USD will have a terrific back court, with De'Jon Jackson playing at a very high level. Jackson is averaging 17.7 points and 5.0 rebounds for the Toreros. Even more important for this team is the continued solid play of Roberto Mafra. When Mafra plays well, he gives USD a legitimate post threat, which is huge because of how talented of a back court they have.
5) LMU (2-3): 84-78 loss vs. UC Irvine; 67-59 win @ USC
Ignore the win-loss record and the fact that this is the same program that took nearly two months to win a game last season. With the talent that this program has from transfers and recruiting, I can assure that LMU will be one team that nobody in this conference wants to face in January and February. This is a very balanced and talented team, with Oregon transfer Drew Viney leading the way for the Lions. Viney is averaging 17.2 points and 5.2 boards, and he is one of the more talented scorers in this conference. Once Viney and Larry Davis fully mesh with Vernon Teel and Jarred DuBois, this will be a very formidable team.
6) Santa Clara (2-1): 79-55 win vs. Menlo College; 86-53 loss @ San Diego St.
Consistency has just absolutely haunted the Santa Clara program over the past couple of years. After opening the season with a nice 2-1 start, the Broncos traveled to San Diego St. and got absolutely destroyed. Normally I wouldn't make too much out of a loss to a quality opponent, but this is the same San Diego St. team that didn't even belong on the same court as St. Mary's. The only reason I am willing to forgive this performance is because Santa Clara was missing Kevin Foster. Hopefully Foster can get his academic obligations in check, as his 20 points per game is a huge boost to this team.
7) San Francisco (2-1): 92-66 win vs. Dominican; 104-65 loss @ Arizona St.
I'm sorry USF, but getting destroyed against a mediocre Arizona St. opponent is no way to work your way up these power rankings. Don't be fooled by the fact that Arizona St. made the NCAA tournament last season, because this is a very average team, that just happens to be extraordinarily well coached by Herb Sendek. Both Dior Lowhorn and Kwame Harris have started the season very strong, with each averaging 18.7 points per game. However, there is no support for these two from the rest of the team. In order for the Dons to be competitive in conference, at least one more guy needs to step up and be productive.
8) Pepperdine (1-2): 67-58 loss vs. Long Beach St.; 72-70 win vs. Cal State-San Bernandino
In Keion Bell, Pepperdine has arguably the most explosive player in the conference. Bell is averaging 21 points and 7.7 rebounds for the Waves, and he literally keeps this team in most games. The huge problem that Pepperdine is facing is the fact that they have no one to compliment Bell. In fact, Bell is the only guy on the team averaging double-digit points per game. If no one is able to step up on a regular basis to help Bell, this team will remain in the cellar throughout the season.