Sometimes doing these Power Rankings can be a little bit of a grind, mostly due to the fact that it seems the same teams are always in the same spots. However, with the performance of Gonzaga, USD, and Portland, the WCC was officially fun this past week. In three separate tournaments, the WCC had one winner (Gonzaga) and two teams lose in championship games (USD and Portland). Slowly but surely, this conference is building depth and competition, and is doing a great job of building a solid national reputation with these performances. It was great hearing the national media gush over Portland the rest of the WCC. With that said, the most important thing for this conference is that there is improvement and consistency throughout the month of December. There will be some great match ups against power conference teams, and the more wins that everyone can pick up before WCC play, the better chance there will be for multiple bids in March.
1) Gonzaga (5-1): 76-72 win vs. Colorado; 74-61 win vs. Wisconsin; 61-59 win vs. Cincinnati
I really can't stress enough how impressed I was about the performance in Maui. I'm not as worried about the lack of bench production for the fact that I think that will develop throughout December and early January. However, this team better not be relaxing, because going up against Washington St. and Wake Forest this week will be incredibly difficult. If Gonzaga can get through this week unscathed, it's not unreasonable to expect to be 9-1 and facing a top 10 match up against Duke in the middle of the month.2) Portland (5-1): 74-47 win vs. UCLA; 61-56 win vs. Minnesota; 84-66 loss vs. West Virginia
Portland put together an absolutely terrific performance in the 76 Classic. Not only did they demolish UCLA, (I'm still waiting for a formal apology from Jeff Goodman for ranking that back court ahead of the Zags back court) but the Pilots won an impressive game over Minnesota. That amounts to knocking off a highly ranked team and one of the greatest programs in NCAA history in back-to-back nights. I definitely would have liked to have seen a better performance against West Virginia, but Bob Huggins might just have a top 5 team on his hands. For all of this to matter in March, Portland must take care of business against Idaho and Nevada later this month, and also must give Washington a great game.
3) St. Mary's (4-1): 100-59 win vs. California Maritime
Not a huge week from the Gaels, but I like where this team is positioned heading into a huge group of games against San Jose St, Utah St, and Oregon. St. Mary's needs to keep developing the young bench, as it will be very important for some of these big non-conference games and of course for WCC play. However, Omar Samhan is having a terrific season, averaging 20.6 points and 11.2 rebounds, and he will be tough to handle in January and February. However, we will really know a lot more about this team in the middle of December after they complete that tough stretch of games.
4) USD (4-2): 76-64 win vs. Oklahoma; 72-65 win vs. Houston; 93-56 loss vs. Washington St.
I was totally prepared to move USD up to the third spot in the power rankings. Even though Oklahoma is a shell of the team they were last season, it was still an impressive victory. Following that up with a win against a solid Houston team had me thinking that the Toreros finally turned the corner on their inconsistent play. However, there is no way a team is moving up this list when they lose a game by 37 points. I understand Klay Thompson put on an epic scoring display, but there is no excuse to lose a game by that much. For this team to compete during WCC play, they will need a couple of guys to compliment the terrific back court of Brandon Johnson and De'Jon Jackson.
5) Pepperdine (3-4): 75-66 win vs. Hampton; 82-73 win vs. Monmouth; 86-82 loss vs. Wyoming
It probably wasn't publicized much, but Pepperdine did come away the winner of the World Vision Basketball Challenge. This was a round robin tournament hosted by the University of Wyoming, and although it didn't feature elite competition, I truly think that this is just a team that needs to learn how to win. Not surprisingly, Keion Bell came away with the MVP award in this tournament, and I will be stunned if he doesn't compete for the WCC POY. Bell is currently averaging 22.8 points and 6.8 rebounds.
6) Santa Clara (3-3): 88-72 loss vs. NAU; 74-67 win vs. Fresno St.
The one thing I like about this team is the fact that Kerry Keating is starting to give some of his younger guys more playing time. Chris Cunningham, Niyi Harrison, and Ray Cowels are all starting to see some action, and that is a nice young core of guys for Santa Clara to build around. Kevin Foster seems to be back on track academically, since he scored 25 points in the win over Fresno St. However, I still think this group is another year or two away from being competitive in this conference.
7) LMU (2-5): 79-65 loss @ Tulsa; 89-84 loss vs. UCSB
Although LMU lost games against two solid teams, I think I jumped the gun last week by moving them up the list so far. Much like Pepperdine, the Lions have the talent and depth to start competing at a high level, but they still have a long way to go before they learn how to win close games. However, with Drew Viney and a solid three guard lineup, this team has a very nice core to build around, and will certainly be a team that will scare Gonzaga, Portland, and St. Mary's by the end of January.
8) USF (2-4): 76-65 loss @ UCSB; 70-66 loss vs. Montana St; 91-75 loss @ Colorado St.
While USF was competitive in all three of these losses, it doesn't seem like this group is quite on the level of the rest of the conference. Dior Lowhorn continues to be an elite guy, but the supporting cast still hasn't caught up with him and Kwame Vaughn. However, keep an eye on Rashad Green. The sophomore guard scored a season-high 21 points against Colorado St, and is doing a nice job with the extra minutes he has been seeing recently. He is exactly the type of guy that the Dons need to emerge throughout the season.