Markus Howard’s case for Big East Player of the Year

Markus Howard

(Photo by Ryan Messier/Paint Touches)

With Marquette sitting under .500 in conference play, and a 5th place Big East finish being the best result available with only 1 game left in the regular season, it seems like many Marquette fans have all but cancelled Markus Howard from being in consideration for Big East Player of the Year.

And even nationally, it does seem as if the current is going away from Markus and all-in on Myles Powell.

Instead of responding individually to these statements, I’d like to pull an Alan Bykowski and go through some of the stats and misconceptions in one easy to find post.

The award traditionally goes to the best player on the best team?

I’m not picking on Zags here, because this is a misconception I’ve seen all over. It’s simply not true. Here are the past winners since the reformation and where their respective teams finished in the Big East standings.

2019: Markus Howard – Marquette 2nd
2018: Jalen Brunson – Villanova 2nd
2017: Josh Hart – Villanova 1st
2016: Kris Dunn – Providence 5th
2015: Kris Dunn – Providence 4th
2015: Ryan Arcidiancono – Villanova 1st
2014: Doug McDermott – Creighton 2nd

So while it is valid to say no player has won it in recent history with his team finishing in the bottom half of the conference, it’s completely wrong to say that it usually goes to the top player on the top team.  When 70% of the recipients don’t win the conference title, it would probably be safer to say that the best player on the best team usually doesn’t win it.

Markus’ stats are inflated by inefficient chucking

Markus Howard leads the country in scoring, putting up 27.6 points a game, an incredible feat in its own right. No Big East player has ever averaged over 27 points a game in the history of the conference.

I know points aren’t the end all-be all for awards, but the fact that Markus has maintained this pace against the 22nd most difficult schedule in the country, per Ken Pom, is something to be marveled.

Instead, many critics will point to the inflated shot totals. Of course he scores so much, no one else on the team gets to shoot.

And sure, Markus does lead the nation in usage, using up 38.0% of Marquette’s possessions when he’s on the court, but even at that tremendous usage, he’s the most efficient player in the Big East. Just look at this chart.

Capture.JPG No other Big East player that has used 24% of their team’s possessions this season has topped Markus for offensive rating (the amount of points they’d score per 100 possessions).

And the difference between 25% usage, which Tyrique Jones has posted and 38%, which Markus has posted, is an enormous gulf that can’t really be compared equally. The higher a player’s usage, the lower the expected efficiency on the offensive end. Myles Powell is the only Big East player to top 30% usage this season, and he is almost 10 full ORtg points behind Markus.

So yes, Markus does shoot a lot, but he is still doing it more efficiently than any other mid-to high usage Big East player. You don’t get to penalize a player for making analytically sound decisions and any other player that tried to shoot as often as Markus would have a much steeper downward curve in terms of diminishing returns.

It’s not just a this year feat

If you aren’t impressed by the 2020 season’s comparisons, lets take a look at the last 12 years of data, filtering for uber usage players, those taking 32% or more their team’s possessions.

Capture.JPG

Only Doug McDermott has been more efficient than Markus under those parameters, in his National Player of the Year campaign. (And that season deserves much more love, he was even better than we remember.)

Of the 4 completed individual seasons where a player finished with usage over 32% usage and 110 ORtg, only Luke Harangody’s 2009 campaign wasn’t crowned as the best in the Big East. McDermott (2014), Harangody (2008) and Howard (2019) each claimed the crown.

He hasn’t gotten any better

I think this is the one that bothers me the most. Markus was fantastic last season, even with the injury-plagued efficiency dip included. And he has been even better this season.

On a team with fewer offensive options, he’s carried a bigger load and improved in almost every facet on a campaign that saw him be the clear Big East Player of the Year.

Capture.JPG

You know who can’t say the same thing? Mr. Powell

Capture.JPG

This is what an increase in usage is supposed to look like. Much worse ORtg, eFG% and 3P%.

So you are telling me, that even though Myles is a worse offensive player than he was last season, he merits more credit for his team being better? It just doesn’t make sense to me to base it solely on team criteria, when the statistical output is drastically inferior.

Marquette’s slide negates his play/shows his limitation

There is no denying Marquette is in freefall, and as such, any legitimate standing that Markus did have for National Player of The Year has gone down with those hopes, but if you want to point a finger, you have to get miles away from Markus. He’s been better than his average self during this 1-5 stretch.

2020.JPG

That 7.8 PRPG! rating since Feb. 12 is tied for the 3rd best mark in the country in that timeframe. It’s not only the best in the Big East, the difference between first (Markus 7.8) and second (Alpha Diallo 6.4) is as large as the difference between 2nd and 7th.

In this stretch, Markus is shooting 44.1% from 3 compared to the 40.3% he shot the first 23 games.

On the other hand, his teammates are now shooting 29.6% from 3 compared to the 37.2% the first 23 games. Did I also mention that Markus’ assist rate is almost a full point higher now than before?

Markus has been better than ever, even if the team results have not matched his output.

He has no help

This is true, and the last point I’ll make. If you want to prevent artificially inflated stats from dominating end of season awards, and feel team results do matter, I’d be 100% in agreement. Paul Reed has put up a monster season but won’t come close to sniffing the BEPoY, and may not make the All Big East First Team. It does make sense.

But at some point, you have to be willing to examine the evidence and see that he is being given less help than anyone else in the conference.

I keep coming back to this chart, which shows the PRPG! of individual players by team, basically charting how balanced a team is in terms of offensive talent.

Capture.JPG

Not only does Marquette not have a 2nd banana, most of the Big East teams have 3rd bananas ahead of where MU’s No. 2 comes in. Of course, PRPG! is based on usage, so you can argue that Howard’s enormous usage artificially inflates that, but then look at Seton Hall’s lineup of logos even with Powell’s domination of possessions.

Basically, there is no offensive efficiency on Marquette outside of Markus. That teams know this, game-plan for this, and he still puts up the numbers he does is truly amazing.

Why do you care?

And this is the question I’ve been left pondering the most since last Saturday, and really struck the morning after the Demon Doodoo. The team is playing poorly and not getting results. The mood of the fanbase is as bitter as I’ve felt it and ready to cast the season, and the coach, away.

Not winning BEPoY won’t take away the specialness I felt watching Markus all season, or even all 4 years. It was still a privilege to watch him work his magic on a regular basis.

But with the team struggling, it’s like these ephemeral distractions, like a BEPoY, are the last vestige that we can hold on to to salvage the year. Sure we saw one of the all-time greats, but if the season ends as all signs point to ending, rapid exits in the Big East and NCAA Tournaments, there will be so little positive to remember on.

And that seems extremely unfair to a player that specifically came back to complete unfinished business. I’m sure he’ll give you the correct answer, that all he’s focused on is getting the team’s results turned around, and he probably means it. But this team has been poor for a almost a month now, expecting a quick reversal is foolish.

So we’re left with things like this to grasp to.

Now let me be clear, Markus may not win the award for the second straight year, but it’s not just sentimental either. He’s the best player in the conference, by far, according to basic and advanced stats, and is putting up historic numbers that will never be touched.

He is the most deserving recipient of the honor.

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