Now that every team in the WCC has officially kicked off their season, we figured it was time to introduce the WCC Power Rankings. For those readers that are new to the site, every Sunday night I take a look at the past week of WCC action and put together a weekly power rankings of the conference. Last season, I made the mistake of not having Gonzaga at the top of my rankings on two separate occasions, and clearly that wasn't my smartest moment as a sports writer. Despite the returning talent at Portland, I am taking the approach that in order to knock Gonzaga off the top spot, these other teams must beat elite competition. I vow to longer be influenced by a great win-loss record when the competition is equal to my high school team (I'm looking at you St. Mary's). With that said, here is my take on how the WCC stacks up now that every team has opened the season.
1) Gonzaga (1-0): 94-75 win vs. MVSU
Like I mentioned before, until one of these other WCC teams goes out and beats some elite competition during the opening months of the season, I don't anticipate putting Gonzaga anywhere else. In the opener, the Zags looked very raw and very talented. It's clear that the skill and athleticism might be at the highest level in recent memory, but it may take a little longer for everything to gel. However, with Rob Sacre (17 and 9) and Elias Harris (18 and 7) playing so well in the post, this team will be able to handle nearly any front court they see.2) Portland (1-0): 64-58 win @ Eastern Washington
Although it wasn't the blowout that some may have assumed, Portland deserves a lot of credit for going on the road and picking up a victory. The back court of T.J. Campbell and Nik Raivio is going to be a handful for every opponent on the Pilots schedule. In the opener against EWU, Raivio scored a team-high 16 points and grabbed nine rebounds, while Campbell scored 15 and dished out four assists. This team will not have the growing pains that some of the other teams will have, but I still question how high the ceiling really is for this group.
3) San Diego (1-0): 77-64 win vs. Stanford
Normally a win over Stanford would be quite impressive, but the Cardinal are a long way from being a relevant team on the West Coast. The nice thing for USD is that it appears that the headaches and disruptions that really limited last season are officially out of the program. Brandon Johnson looked good in his return from injury, as he and De'Jon Jackson led the way with 18 points each. If the Toreros can receive any sort of consistent contributions from Chris Manresa and Roberto Mafra, this could be the surprise package in the WCC.
4) St. Mary's (1-0): 100-68 win vs. New Mexico St.
Just when you think that this conference is finally done dealing with great Australian guards, Matthew Dellavedova bursts on the scene and scores 19 points in his first game. This St. Mary's team will play a very European style of play, with a guy like Ben Allen, who at 6'11 is more comfortable scoring on the perimeter. Allen was a bit of a disappointment last year, but he scored 17 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, and had nine assists in the opening win. It will be interesting to watch this team develop, as the only guy who has really proven himself is Omar Samhan. However, it seems that this is still a very talented group who may surprise some people.
5) Santa Clara (1-0): 84-81 win @ Cal State Bakersfield
This is the team that I really want to see make the jump to the next level in the conference. Kerry Keating has done a nice job bringing in the guys that fit the mold of what he is looking for, and they did pick up a nice win on the road. Kevin Foster is one of the most explosive young guards in the WCC, and he scored a game-high 21 points in the victory. Much like USD, if the Broncos can find some depth and consistency in the post, they might finally be ready to make the move to push for a top three finish in the conference.
6) Pepperdine (0-1): 67-64 loss vs. Pacific
Despite opening the season with a loss, I came away pretty impressed by Pepperdine. Pacific is a traditionally solid program and this game went 2 OT's before it was decided. While I don't think he will win WCC POY because his team will struggle, Keion Bell might be the best player in the conference. Bell opened the season with a double-double, scoring 20 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Unfortunately, the Waves have not developed any guys to compliment Bell on this team.
7) USF (1-0): 73-62 win vs. Cal Poly
I hope people haven't forgot just how good Dior Lowhorn is. Lowhorn opened the season with a typically brilliant performance, scoring a game-high 22 points to help lead the Dons to a victory. However, unlike in the past couple of years, Lowhorn actually received help from his teammates. Sophomore guard Kwame Vaugh scored 15 points and pulled down seven boards, while Angelo Caloiaro added 15 more. If Lowhorn can receive this type of support every game, USF could be a nice team.
8) LMU (1-2): 90-87 loss vs. Boise St.; 83-60 win vs. North Dakota; 64-63 loss @ Montana
I can assure that LMU will not be in this spot towards the end of the season. Although they were a laughing stock throughout the 2008-2009 season, there is actually a nice core group of guys in the program. In fact, the Lions were just a couple of baskets away from a 3-0 start and a nice spot in these power rankings. Both Larry Davis and Drew Viney will produce well for this team after sitting last season because of transferring, and Vernon Teel is one of the better guards in the conference. Once this team gels and develops a nice chemistry, they will be a tough game for any team in this conference.