The 2019-20 college basketball season is right around the corner, so let’s get into the Marquette Golden Eagles basketball roster and take a look at what to expect from each player this season. We’ll be going through the players one by one: First MU’s freshmen, then the lone graduate transfer, followed by the two guys who were on the team but sat out all of 2018-19 for one reason or another, and then wrapping up with the returning players, going in order of average minutes played per game last season from lowest to highest.
We’re going to organize our thoughts about the upcoming season as it relates to each player into categories:
- Reasonable Expectations
- Why You Should Get Excited
- Potential Pitfalls
With that out of the way, we shine a spotlight on the greatest scorer in Marquette history.....
Senior - #0 - Guard - 5’11” - 180 pounds - Chandler, AZ
The golden calf of the Wojo era for Marquette burst onto the scene as a 17 year old freshman and took the Big East by storm. The offensive dynamic he shared with Andrew Rowsey and Sam Hauser created a three headed monster of shooters that the college basketball world had not seen before. When Rowsey left, the question loomed as to whether or not Markus would be able to shoulder the majority of the scoring load left over from his fellow 5’11” counterpart. He would need to become the distributor that Rowsey was previously known for and would have to prove that the team’s shady defense was at least mostly due to him drawing bigger assignments as a result of being played with Andrew.
Both calls were answered. Markus increased his assist rate from the 72nd percentile to the 95th percentile in the country. All this while keeping turnovers at a rate below league average. His defense also did not get nearly the credit it deserved. In the 2018 season, pick and roll situations befuddled the guards to seemingly no end. Wojo would counter this by hedging Matt Heldt in an effort to give the primary defender an opportunity to recover. Doing so created an open passing lane directly to the basket and teams feasted. This needed to change last year, and Howard improved dramatically in his ability to get past screens and keep ball handlers from getting easy penetration.
Of course, the story of Howard’s 2019 season cannot be told without the injuries. Our Lord and Savior/Cult Leader Brewtown Andy wrote an amazing breakdown on the impact Markus’ groin and wrist injuries, but if you want a quick summary, things were bad. When he was on the court possessions would end in his hands around 40% of the time at the end of the season and he was nowhere near as effective as he had been throughout the year, especially in the turnover department. The combination of his bulldog mentality and the relative passiveness of the rest of his teammates compounded on itself to create a disastrous end to the season. No one should ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ask the greatest scorer in program history to completely change his attitude based on a 7 game stretch, but finding that balance heading into his last year will be a key to the team’s success.
The easy thing about writing about seniors is the lack of guessing needed to project their production. Markus Howard has three years of consistent data to tell us that he will rack up points at an efficient rate and a high usage. Bullet points 1, 2, 3 and 7 on the opposing scouting report will be directed towards MU’s leading scorer and he will still be able to get the buckets of his choosing. He can finish at the rim through contact after driving in isolation, his release is as short as Fran McCaffery’s fuse, and he is one of the deadliest outside shooters off the dribble in college basketball history. Not an exaggeration.
He has head coach Steve Wojciechowski’s full trust and the team will go in just about any direction that Markus wants them to go. He is an excellent representative for the program and has displayed his value on and off the court. If he wants to become more adept in his passing abilities to show off to future scouts, he will have that freedom.
The question of his usage will be a topic of discussion as well. He was fourth in the country in usage rate last year, which is an indicator that he is really good* and the team needs someone else to take defensive attention away from him. The addition of Koby McEwen will give an ideal candidate for the second scorer that the team desperately needs following the departure of the Hauser brothers. He is a gifted athlete who is not afraid to take the ball into his own hands when the time calls for it. Getting another aggressive scorer on the team will take a huge weight off the senior’s shoulders.
* Brief sidenote. You don’t have to read this if you don’t want to. Intuitively it makes sense that if one player takes on a lot of usage then other members of the team will play better since they have less attention. Therefore if one were to look at a highly used individual’s Offensive Rating, it would likely be below his team’s offensive rating. Ideally that gap shouldn’t be huge as long as the team’s offense is good, since having a low individual Offensive Rating in conjunction with a low team Offensive Rating indicates that the individual really needs to give up the ball some. There were 4 major conference players that ranked in the top 25 of usage rate last year: Ethan Happ, Carsen Edwards, Jarrett Culver and Markus Howard. Marquette’s Team Offensive Rating (113.2, good for 32nd in the country) minus Howard’s individual rating (110.7) was the smallest gap among those players. As long as Markus is healthy, there aren’t many usage rates that are too high for him.
As much as his defense improved last year, Howard still is incredibly limited by his inability to close out effectively on outside shooters and recover well when drivers get past him. Staying true to the defensive principles he learned last year will be important to at least keep the defense afloat. The injection of higher tier defenders like Greg Elliott and Brendan Bailey will help raise the team’s ceiling; Markus is the one who can keep the floor high.
Reasons to Get Excited
This is the greatest scorer in Marquette history. Beyond wins and losses, the focus this year will be on how many records Markus Howard can break. The season will be a mere continuation of what he’s shown us for 3 years. Yes, the defense can be improved and he can show a better ability to get steals, but he’ll never be Briante Weber or Jevon Carter. Yes, he can become a much better passer and rack up assists, but he’ll never be Cassius Winston or Trae Young. The reasons we should get excited are the same reasons that we’ve enjoyed watching him since 2016.
The prospect of walking into the season as a Final Four contending team being gone still ties a knot in our collective stomachs, but this can still be a team that gets a decent tournament seed and maybe even sneaks into the second weekend. If that happens it’s all on the back of the 5’11” sniper.
Hell, even if the season results in an 8 seed and a 6 point first round loss to Colorado, there will still be around 5 games with that 10 minute stretch where Markus Howard has that deadly look in his eyes and everyone watching knows nothing will stop him from launching treys like a clumsy waiter. Think about the Buffalo game. Or the Villanova game on NMD last year. Or one of the two times that he dragged Marquette into overtime on the road in conference play. Or any time that Marquette plays on CBS Sports Network. I’ve been watching a bunch of clips for a half hour just because I miss watching him play. There was no research involved in that process, despite the fact that I am currently writing a season preview dedicated to him. Those are the special moments that fans won’t fully appreciate until he moves onto the pros, so there should be a sprinkle of sentimentality when it comes to watching Markus this season.
As much as the reasoning behind the italicized sidenote above is true, there is still an upper limit to how much a player gets used before it’s a detriment. That specific number isn’t relevant for the discussion right now, because it’s more of an issue of seeing it happen. If Markus Howard has 40% usage next year and the team is doing well, then there shouldn’t be any worry. But the usage at the end of last year exceeded that while Howard was injured, and it went disastrously. The pitfall lies less in his own decision-making and more on the team around him. If there aren’t guys around him taking control when opponents are honed in on the leading scorer — and Marquette seems to have guys who should be able to do that — then we will see a lot more games where turnovers and bad shots lead to the team’s demise.
There is another issue with his offensive game, while not nearly as pronounced as his usage. In transition opportunities, Markus has always struggled. Pull Up Jumpers In Transition (PUJIT) will always fall for him, but getting to the rim in a rush would often result in turnovers and silly charges. If the defense is planning to put a higher emphasis on turnovers (they should) then the transition offense will need to improve overall as well. If he can’t unlock that level...then he’s still a really good player with one flaw that will cost the team like 10 points over the whole season.
I don’t want him to leave.