On the second Saturday in December, the stars were out across the country in college basketball.
A day that was anticipated for its matchups ended up being a showcase for some herculean individual efforts. Several players delivered huge, memorable performances that reminded us once again that the sport will never lack for talent to step up, no matter how many players leave early for the pros.
Villanova guard Josh Hart showed why he was on many preseason All-America teams with one of the best regular season performances seen on national television in recent memory. The Wildcats looked to be in trouble against Notre Dame, falling behind by 11 and repeatedly getting burned by the Fighting Irish’s wonderful player movement and passing, but Hart finished with 37 points, 11 rebounds and four assists as Villanova rallied for a 74-68 win. The senior was terrific doing so much of his work from the high post and circle area, mixing in drives, pull-ups and three-pointers and drawing fouls to get to the line and get the Wildcats another gut-check win early in the season.
Hart had an incredible game against a top 25-caliber opponent. Northern Iowa’s Jeremy Morgan had what could be the best single half by a player this decade. The senior forward scored all 38 of his points in the final 20 minutes, pretty much single-handedly leading the Panthers to a 78-70 come-from-behind win over North Dakota. Morgan also added 11 rebounds, and he is increasingly showing he’s capable of carrying UNI-he scored 36 in their NCAA tourney loss to Texas A&M last year-and with performances like this the sky seems like the limit for the Missouri Valley’s preseason player of the year.
George Mason guard Marquise Moore did not enter the season as much of a household name with the possible exception of inside the Atlantic 10, but good luck finding anyone playing better so far this year. Moore posted a triple-double with 17 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists as the Patriots won their seventh straight game, winning at Pennsylvania 79-60. Moore-a 6-2 senior guard-is averaging 18.3 points and an eye-opening 10.3 rebounds per game, and has led a turnaround for a team that got off to an ugly start but now looks capable of contending in the A-10.
Lehigh forward Tim Kempton is a two-time defending Patriot League player of the year and undoubtedly the favorite to win the award for a third time this year. The senior set a new scoring career and tied his career best for rebounds, finishing with 31 points and 18 rebounds in the Mountain Hawks’ 90-71 win over Mount St. Mary’s.
Denver’s Daniel Amigo-a candidate for anyone’s all-name team-scored a career-high 33 points and added 10 boards in the Pioneers’ surprising 77-65 win at Air Force. Tracy Abrams tallied a career-best 31 points for Illinois in its 92-73 win over Central Michigan. Lipscomb’s Garrison Matthews notched a new career high with 36 points-including eight three-pointers-in the Bisons’ 98-84 win over Morehead State. And Marshall’s Jon Elmore scored 35 points and added 10 assists as the Thundering Herd outlasted Toledo 111-105 in overtime, with Elmore outdueling the Rockets’ Jonathan Williams (28 points, nine rebounds).
Even in loss, some teams received superb individual efforts. Texas Southern lost handily at Louisville 102-71, but TSU star Derrick Griffin finished with 15 points and a haul of 26 rebounds, including 15 offensive boards.
- There’s a likable matchup at the Barclay’s Center with St. John’s at LIU (Noon Eastern, FS1). Though it probably should be at Madison Square Garden, it is fun to see these two historic programs playing again in New York.
- A resume-building game has Mississippi at Virginia Tech (Noon, ESPNU). The Rebels are playing their first road game but have been good away from Tad Smith Coliseum the last two years, especially with opportunities in games like this.
- The second half of the Barclay’s Center doubleheader features Hofstra against Kentucky (3 p.m., ESPN). Another top 10 team in action is North Carolina, which hosts Tennessee (5 p.m., ESPN).
- Florida plays at Florida State (4 p.m., ESPNU) features two squads that look like NCAA Tournament teams now. Will they in March?
- Minnesota looks to continue its good non-conference run when it hosts Northern Illinois (5 p.m., Big Ten Network).
- New Orleans recently won at Washington State, so the Privateers shouldn’t be taken seriously by Northwestern (7 p.m., BTN).
- Saint Mary’s attempts to bounce back from its first loss when it hosts UC Irvine in a nice regional matchup.
- Unbeaten USC plays for the first time in eight days when it hosts Pepperdine.
Have a great Sunday. Those in the Midwest, stay safe during the snow.