With the 2016-2017 season now in the books, let’s take a few moments to look back at the performance that each member of YOUR Marquette Golden Eagles this year. While we're at it, we'll also take a look back at our player previews and see how our preseason prognostications stack up with how things actually played out. We'll run through roster in order of total minutes played (lowest to highest). Let’s continue and turn our attention to everyone’s favorite 18-year-old rising sophomore......
#0 - Freshman - 5’11” - 175 lb.
Markus Howard Traditional Stats
Markus Howard Fancy Stats
(* - denotes top 500 ranking via KenPom.com)
Howard, much like fellow freshman Sam Hauser, provides head coach Steve Wojciechowski with a tantalizing skill: Three point shooting. Now, that nearly 50% mark from the U17 World Championships can not be a baseline for what Howard can contribute to the team. Yes, he was far and away the best shooter on the team and still opponents couldn’t shut him down. There is a certain caveat to that, though: Howard shot a lot of pretty open threes because his teammates were finding him waiting on the arc because defenses weren’t into the idea of just letting the rest of Team USA dunk on them repeatedly.
However, it is reasonable to expect Howard to contribute a long range shooting number over the efficiency break even point of 33%. This is a welcome benefit for a team that ranked #210 in the country in three-point percentage a year ago at a barely useful 33.9%. If you load up a team with a bunch of guys who can hit the open jumper, then all of them will benefit by having that extra little bit of space on the floor. Look no further than the 2009-10 edition of YOUR Marquette Golden Eagles for an example. They finished the season as the fifth best three point shooting team in the country and had three of the four guys who attempted 100 triples shooting over 40%. Even Jimmy Butler, who did not have a rep as a shooter at that point of his collegiate career, went 16-32 on limited attempts.
Why You Should Get Excited
The maximum value for Howard could manifest itself as Marquette becomes a multidimensional attacking guard offense. If head coach Steve Wojciechowski is committed to playing 10 guys every night, then there will be minutes available for Howard to grab. The more he succeeds at what little he’s asked to do at the start of the season will slowly draw Howard into a more and more important role as the season continues. I’m a Traci Carter Believer, so I don’t think Howard can surpass or supplant the sophomore guard, and the same goes for Haanif Cheatham, too. Can Howard be a guy where you feel that everything is fine if Howard subs in for Carter? I believe he can do that. Heck, if Howard adapts to shooting long balls in college just fine, he might even be the better shooting option to Carter’s otherwise prolific point guard abilities.
Marquette’s biggest issue this season is size, and at 5’11", I don’t think anyone’s going to be asking Markus Howard to patrol the paint next to Luke Fischer. However, Howard is going to need to be able to defend someone on the floor while he’s out there. Marquette has four guards that measure in somewhere between 5’10" and 6’2", and while they probably won’t ever all play together, odds are that at least two of them will be on the court at the same time on a regular basis. Howard carrying his end of the defense will be crucial for however many minutes he plays on a given night. If he’s not able to do it, those minutes are going to go somewhere else, three point prowess or not.
The other potential issue is, well, to put it simply, Howard’s a freshman guard. Even more so, he’s a year younger than your average freshman guard. Last year, Marquette went with two freshman guards for a heavy dose of minutes, and they both turned the ball over on more than 24% of the possessions where they were on the floor. At a team turnover rate of 20% of possessions, Marquette was one of the 60 worst teams in the country in terms of turnovers. If the Golden Eagles have a postseason berth as a goal, they can not repeat that kind of performance, and if Howard can’t be trusted to take care of the ball, he’s not going to be getting a lot of floor time.
Well, there’s two sentences in that preview from back in October that stand out right away.
“Now, that nearly 50% mark from the U17 World Championships can not be a baseline for what Howard can contribute to the team,” and “Heck, if Howard adapts to shooting long balls in college just fine, he might even be the better shooting option to Carter’s otherwise prolific point guard abilities.”
The first one was correct at the time, even if it is funny to go back and react to it now. Expecting Howard to end up shooting 54.7% on threes this past season would have been a mistake at the time, just like expecting him to do it again next season would also be a mistake. The second one ended up being prophetic, as Howard’s ability to finish the season ranked #1 in the country in three-point shooting percentage probably played at least some role in Traci Carter electing to transfer at the semester break. Through the first eight games of the season, Howard was shooting 50% (16-of-32) from three and playing 17 minutes a night. While Carter may have said his reason for transferring was family related, the writing on the wall was obvious: Going forward, Markus Howard is going to play as many minutes as possible while he’s on the Marquette roster because head coach Steve Wojciechowski can not afford to take a 50%+ three-point shooter off the floor.
Wojo’s devotion to playing Howard this season resulted in the Arizona native setting records for both three-pointers made and three-point field goal percentage by a freshman, as well as the seventh most made threes by any Golden Eagle ever and the best three-point shooting percentage in program history. On some level, it’s shocking that he only scored 410 points this season.
With all of that said, Howard’s shooting did mask a couple of weaknesses in his season. He averaged more than two turnovers per game and had a turnover rate of 20.5% for the season. That TORate jumped up to 21.2% in just the 18 game Big East schedule, and 21.6% in Marquette’s 14 games against what KenPom considers to be adjusted top 50 opponents. It’s not the 24% that Haanif Cheatham had as a freshman and definitely not the 29% that Traci Carter had, but it was an issue. It was particularly noticeable when the 5’11” Howard would get jammed up in the trees in the paint and didn’t have anywhere to go with the ball. You get your pocket picked, hey, it happens. You get yourself trapped and end up coughing it up? Bad times, muchacho.
Howard’s other problem was fouls. It’s understandable that a player of his size is going to have trouble defending bigger players. I get it. What’s hard to deal with is the 4.6 fouls per 40 minutes and 5.2 per 40 in league action. Seven times, Howard finished a game with four or more fouls, including fouling out twice. He played just seven minutes in the home upset of Villanova. Think about that. Finished the season averaging a team high 13.2 points per game, but contributed nothing but five fouls, two turnovers, and a missed two point bucket in seven minutes as the team ended up knocking off the #1 team in the country. Doesn’t make sense, does it? Howard also fouled out of the ice skating trip to Providence, although he didn’t get the fifth foul until the very last seconds of the game. He scored 24 points in 24 minutes while shooting 6-of-8 from long range against the Friars. You can’t help but wonder if that game goes differently if Wojo doesn’t limit him to just 12 minutes in each half.
Best Game: It’s hard to overlook Howard’s season high scoring game as his best game. He had 34 points on 9-of-12 long range shooting to power Marquette to an 83-61 destruction of Xavier in the Bradley Center when MU desperately needed a win to stay alive for the NCAA tournament. He also found time to knock down all three of his free throw attempts, grab four rebounds, and dish three assists. All told, this ended up giving him MVP honors for the game according to KenPom, along with a season best Offensive Rating of 169. That is bananananananananas.
Season Grade, on a scale of 1 to 10: I don’t think I can go lower than a 9, and I’m really tempted to go with a 10. The expectation at the start of the season was “hey, maybe he can shoot it a little bit and at least make things interesting at the point guard position behind Carter.” Howard went WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY past that expectation, went right on past “hey, he’s pretty good for a 17 year old college freshman” and kept right on going into “he’s actually one of the most dangerous players in the Big East” territory. The turnovers and fouls thing is the only thing holding me back from a 10. The fact of the matter is that Markus Howard was so good this past season, our primary objective for next season is reminding everyone that he’s probably not going to shoot it as well as he did as a freshman, but that’s totally okay. I can get behind expectations of “hey, he’s probably not going to be other-worldly again...... right?”