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2019-20 Marquette Basketball Player Review: #0 Markus Howard

The greatest scorer in Marquette history nicely ended his career with his finest season.

NCAA Basketball: DePaul at Marquette Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

With the 2019-20 season long since in the books, let’s take a few moments to look back at the performance of 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 the roster in order of total minutes played going from lowest to highest, which means today we hit our penultimate edition with the All-American from Chandler, Arizona.......

Markus Howard

Senior- #0 - Guard - 5’11” - 180 pounds - Heaven, Clouds

Markus Howard Traditional Stats

Games Min FGM FGA FG% 3PTM 3PA 3P% FTM FTA FT% OReb DReb Reb Ast Stl Blk Fouls Pts
Games Min FGM FGA FG% 3PTM 3PA 3P% FTM FTA FT% OReb DReb Reb Ast Stl Blk Fouls Pts
29 33.2 8.2 19.3 42.2% 4.2 10.1 41.2%*** 7.3 8.6 84.7%*** 0.6 2.9 3.5 3.3 0.9 0.0 2.4 27.8

Markus Howard Fancy Stats

ORtg %Poss %Shots eFG% TS% OR% DR% ARate TORate Blk% Stl% FC/40 FD/40 FTRate
ORtg %Poss %Shots eFG% TS% OR% DR% ARate TORate Blk% Stl% FC/40 FD/40 FTRate
113.6*** 37.4%*** 40.3%*** 53.0%*** 59.3%*** 1.9% 9.1% 26.2%*** 15.2% 0.1% 1.6% 2.9 7.6 44.4%

What We Said:

Reasonable Expectations

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.

Potential Pitfalls

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.

We’re already over two months since the final basketball game of the regular seasons. There have been two Goodbye Markus articles (one on Senior Day, one on Graduation Day) and one Goodbye Markus podcast run through this site in that time and the world is too worried about the future of sports to be thinking about reflections of last year. Still, I haven’t quite moved on from him being gone. He’s my final connection to my personal Marquette career (his freshman year was my senior year) and also my favorite college basketball player ever. Let’s just say that I don’t want this to be a sappy love letter, but I’m merely a man with weak flesh.

Before every year of Markus’ time on the team there has been a cloud of uncertainty surrounding the expectations for the upcoming season. Going into his freshman year he was only 17 and not one of the elite members of his recruiting class at “only” #68 in the rankings. Fans were unsure if the light would be too bright and he responded by hitting 54.7% of his three point shots*,

*- [Alright I’m going to finish that sentence with one of the issues Markus had in his game as a freshman, but I need to make sure you all know that this flaw was not in equal opposition to his success. The kid was a star immediately. That 54.7% mark is the seventh best outside shooting season in the entire KenPom era. All 6 players ahead of him took fewer shots than his 150 attempts. All at the age of 17.]

but for a point guard he had terrible fouling issues. Remember the win over #1 Villanova in 2017? Markus played 7 minutes, missed his one shot attempt, and fouled out. His sophomore year, he fixed that by playing in only 3 games with less than 30 minutes played as a result of foul troubles, but on the other side of the court he wasn’t getting to the line nearly enough for how many shots he was taking at the rim.

Pause for a trivia question. On what date did Markus miss his first free throw during his sophomore season? The answer is January 24.

In his junior campaign, that problem got fixed, resulting in the fifth best Fouls Drawn/40 rate in the country AND he played less than 30 minutes only once because of foul issues. But the late season collapse fell mostly on his shoulders, or at the very least his injured wrist and leg, as he was not able to back up his insanely high usage rate late in the season. For the Golden Eagles to succeed in 2019-20, he would need to be consistent in his performance and avoid having games with a ton of shots but no success.

Boy was he ever.

When Howard was on the court, he represented one-fifth of the total Marquette players on the court. In an even playing field, each player would take that fraction of the total shots. Markus took two-fifths of the total shots, the highest percentage in the country, and let’s be honest: He probably should’ve taken more.

Was it good for head coach Steve Wojciechowski’s success this year to stake all the possibilities of the season to one player’s results? Of course not. Did that player step up to the plate in a hilariously comical way and bring the team to the highest level of success they could’ve had with the roster construction? Yes. I think that last question is the most important one. There isn’t a player in the country who would’ve made the team better by replacing Howard.

With the exception of Luka Garza and maybe Obi Toppin, Markus Howard was the best offensive player in the nation last year. That statement almost exactly met the expectations of the fanbase going into this year. In a given college basketball season, there are somewhere between three and five players who are assumed to be the stars of the sport and have the ability to follow through on those expectations. This season we got to watch one of those few players.

He had his lowest turnover rate this season, his second highest assist rate, his best free throw rate, and his second best three point percentage (lol he was never below a 40% three point shooter in a single season I love him so much). Wrap that all together with arguably his second best defensive season and that’s a Big East Player of the Year/All American season.

Admittedly, defenses mostly had him figured out if they weren’t fouling him at the rim (which was no small task). He was exceptionally poor at finishing inside the arc this year, shooting just 43% in this category (this was, somehow, not the worst mark on the team. Koby McEwen shot 38% on twos, which, what?). Thing is, that didn’t matter. When it comes to jump shooting off a dribble, he’s the greatest in this century of college basketball at a minimum. My god there’s nothing more aesthetically-pleasing than watching him make an impossibly difficult step-back three pointer look so easy. And he’s not even six feet tall!

Players had to hound him because of his shot, he could put them in a disadvantaged position because of his handles and speed, then he can either drive to the rim and likely get fouled or stop on a dime to pull up with a lightning quick release. There’s nothing one defender could do to stop it. Putting two guys on him was damn near the only way to limit the production.

This wasn’t a product of the system either. Wojo certainly has his preferred style but he doesn’t manifest that system through a bunch of set plays for Markus. He was the distributor on the team mostly by way of improvising his way to those opportunities. Hell, even on the set plays for him defenses would surround him so the ball would have to be given in an uncomfortable angle and he was still efficient.

If there was ever to be a season for him to have disappointing production, this would be the most understandable one. Coaches had three years (or more, given the Big East round robin) to plan for him, they knew his critical level importance to the offense, there wasn’t much that Markus could reasonably improve on, and the collection of talent around him was the worst in his career. Even taking all of that into account, this was still the best year of Howard’s time on campus. Before the team decided they didn’t like playing defense anymore, the senior had damn near singlehandedly dragged the team to a national ranking. It royally blows that his career ended with a debilitating losing streak while he was playing out of his mind and a grand total of zero NCAA tournament wins.

To avoid going into an uncontrollable tirade discussing the absurdity of Myles Powell being voted as the Big East Player of the Year ahead of Markus, I will dedicate this space to the rant you think I’d say. Here’s a highlight video of his performance against Buffalo instead. Yes I know this wasn’t this season shut up and watch it.

Best Game

Man. I’ve just been staring at the schedule trying to pick his best game. I can’t do it. It’s like trying to pick which 29 of my 30 children are going to be slaughtered for our new cannibal overlords. But alas, the Heading has summoned me. I pick his 51 point performance against USC. Markus has his normal stretches where he’s hitting most of his shots and taking over the game offensively, but he’s one of the few players in recent college basketball memory who has a consistent capability to hit any shot from anywhere for a whole half. This was one of those times. My favorite part of watching the Golden Eagles on ESPN is listening to analysts react to Markus in real time. It goes to show that for as much highlight watching and breaking down film as the analysts do, nothing can beat watching a special player in real time and in person. Hearing those announcers jaws drop after every bucket was like looking back into my own psyche when I first realized how amazing he is.

Season Grade, On A Scale Of 1-10

I think this is supposed to be on a curve of our preseason expectations. If I was doing it that way I’d give Markus Howard a 5/10 because he met his goals. I can’t do that, though. The assumed output is so high that it has to be taken into account. You don’t give a unanimous All American half the points available; he’s just going to take the rest anyway.

10/10. Stellar career. Have a ton of kids so Marquette can be stocked up on guards with wicked hair. I miss you,