If you have been paying close attention to #mubb Twitter since the end of the Marquette men’s basketball season, particularly between @AnonymousEagle and @PaintTouches, what you’re about to read is probably not going to be breaking news to you. However, it’s important that we get these ideas down now to point at over the next 12 months.
To be clear: this is not a Player Review, although these same topics will probably come up when we get to that.
There are a few unassailable facts about how Markus Howard played and shot the ball in the 2016-17 season.
- Markus Howard averaged 22.0 minutes per game and, because he missed one game, he played in 53% of the minutes of the Marquette season.
- Howard attempted 150 three-point attempts in 31 games, the second most ever by a Marquette freshman. That averages out to 4.8 per game.
- Howard connected on 82 of those 150 attempts, the most made three-pointers by a Marquette freshman, and the seventh most in a season by any Golden Eagle.
- Going 82-for-150 gave Howard a three-point shooting percentage of 54.7%, the best ever by any Marquette player with a minimum of 75 attempts.
- That was the best shooting percentage IN THE COUNTRY in 2016-17, and not by a small margin, as Kennesaw State’s Nick Masterson shot 53.1%.
- According to College Basketball Reference, Howard had the fourth best three-point shooting percentage since 1993 amongst shooters with at least 100 attempts, and the best three-point shooting percentage since 1993 amongst shooters with at least 120 attempts. (Fun Fact: Nick Masterson has the 2nd best with 120+ attempts! Tough break for that dude.)
- According to KenPom’s list (minimum 40% minutes played and 2 attempts per game required), only three guys in the three-point percentage top 25 attempted more threes than Howard: Kansas’ Frank Mason, UMass-Lowell’s Tyler Livingston, and Providence’s Jalen Lindsey.
What follows will be conclusions and opinions based on the above facts from Howard’s freshman year.
1 - It is 100% okay if/when Markus Howard does not shoot over 50% on three-pointers next season.
And it really is “when,” as Howard is only the third Golden Eagle to ever crack 50% and only the second to surpass 51%. It is mathematically unlikely that Howard manages to shoot over 50% again next season, and it’s even more unlikely that he manages to improve on his shooting percentage from this past season, which would mean shooting 55% or better. There is nothing to worry about if he “only” manages to connect with a percentage somewhere in the 40s. If you shoot 33.3% on threes, it’s like shooting 50% on one-footers in terms of how many points you’re scoring per shot, so anything over that is fine. Over 40% is very good, equivalent to shooting 60% on one-footers.
To put it another way: shooting exactly 45% would have been good enough for 42nd best in the country on the KenPom list this past season, and anything north of 43% would have been good enough for top 100. You can be an amazing shooter and still miss an awful lot more than Howard did in 2016-17.
To put it yet another way: Creighton’s Cole Huff was the second best three-point shooter in the Big East this past season..... at 46.3%. Fellow freshman Sam Hauser was the 4th best shooter in the league, and he posted the ninth best three-point percentage in MU history to get there. Josh Hart was the 10th best shooter in the conference at 40.4%.
2 - Markus Howard needs to shoot more next season.
It is entirely possible that Marquette has the most prolific three-point shooter in a generation on the roster in Markus Howard. Remember when I said he had the best percentage on 120 or more attempts since 1993, which is as far back as CBR’s database goes? Two of the guys in the top six recorded their percentages in the 1992-93 season. There’s been 37 guys to shoot at least 50% on 120+ attempts in the database, and only 11 of them have come in this decade.
If Marquette does have something incredibly unique in Howard and his shooting ability, it is imperative that MU maximizes that ability, and that means that Howard has to shoot more than five three-pointers per game. As long as he continues to hit at least 40% of his attempts, I think it’s reasonable to expect him to shoot it at least eight times a game. If Howard is capable of staying north of 45% or even hovering near 50%, there’s really no reason why he shouldn’t be firing away 10 times a game.
Markus Howard shot three-pointers better than nearly anyone in the last 25 years. Marquette needs to create opportunities for that ability to shine through and keep right on going next season. That’s on Steve Wojciechowski and his staff to accomplish both an offensive system to get Howard the shots as well as a defensive system that allows MU to flourish with the 5’11” Howard on the floor.
3 - Markus Howard needs to play more.
While getting Howard the shots is the responsibility of the coaching staff, it’s the responsibility of Howard to make sure he can be out on the floor.
While his shooting was fantastic and his passing was pretty great (top 500 in assist rate!), his fouls and turnovers were a problem for the Golden Eagles. Howard had a turnover rate of 20.5% overall this season, and he turned it over on 21.2% of possessions in the 18 regular season Big East games. In MU’s 14 games against opponents that KenPom considered as top 50 foes, Howard’s TO% went up a little further to 21.6%. For comparison’s sake, Haanif Cheatham turned it over 24% of the time as a freshman, and Traci Carter’s TO rate hit 29.1% in 2015-16. Sure, Howard was better than they were, but as the point guard, turning it over on one-fifth of your possessions on the floor is bad.
Howard’s issue with fouls somewhat mirrors his problem with turnovers. His overall rate of 4.6 fouls per 40 minutes is no good. His rate of 5.2 fouls/40 minutes in league play was really bad, and his 5.4/40 minutes against KenPom’s collection of top 50 opponents is even worse. In retrospect, it is shocking that Marquette beat Villanova in the Bradley Center with Howard starting but fouling out in seven minutes of action.
The point here is that Howard can not be costing Marquette possessions with turnovers and he can’t be taking himself off the floor by committing ridiculous fouls. One thing or the other happened a lot this season, and if the Golden Eagles want to take a run at having one of the 10 most efficient offenses in the country next season, they’re going to need as many minutes from Markus Howard as they can get.
4 - It is completely realistic to to think Markus Howard can break Steve Novak’s single season three-point field goal records.
In 2005-06, Steve Novak connected on 121 of his 259 three-point attempts. Both of those numbers are all time single season Marquette records. Novak is the only Golden Eagle to ever hit more than 90 triples in a season, and he’s the only Golden Eagle to shoot more than 220 threes in a season.
Both of these records are within range for Howard.
This past season, Marquette played 32 games: 30 regular season games, one Big East tournament game, one NCAA tournament game. It’s reasonable to expect the Golden Eagles to play 32 games again next season. To get to 260 attempts in 32 games, Howard needs to average 8.2 three-point attempts per game, right in line with what we said earlier that he should be doing next year. To get to 122 makes on 260 attempts, Howard would need to shoot better than Novak’s 46.7% from his senior season, well off of his mark from this past year, but still seemingly reasonable for the Arizona native.
These are completely reasonable expectations. Howard is going to connect on a ton of shots. Even if he falls all the way back to just 47% from nearly 55%, he can still easily get to Novak’s records, and if Howard can keep his average around 50%, he absolutely needs to break Novak’s records. It would be a waste of the second season of a 50% three-point shooter to not have him surpass those marks.
Of course, there is a way to make it easier for Howard to get to Novak’s records. If Marquette plays 33 or 34 games — in other words, winning a game or two in either the Big East or the NCAA tournament — that’s just a few extra games to let fly from long range.