"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Why Markus Howard is Not (Yet) the NPOY Favorite

Howard was the 2019 Big East Player of the Year | Photo from Big East

We've now examined all the data. Howard's historical season scoring prowess is on par with past National Players of the Year like Glenn Robinson, Kevin Durant, and Doug McDermott. His career scoring is in line with the accomplishments of past National Players of the Year like J.J. Redick and Tyler Hansbrough. His PORPAGATU! score and ranking, which has been the best indicator of NPOY winners since its inception, is similar to past National Players of the Year like Buddy Hield, Frank Mason III, and Zion Williamson. And the most common criticisms of Howard are actually strengths that his critics refuse to acknowledge because they haven't examined his improvement game since his freshman year.

So what is it that is keeping Markus Howard from being the clear choice with media members? It's very simple. Marquette only just entered the AP rankings for the first time this season. Here are the current AP rankings of all the NPOY candidates teams as well as their consensus projected NCAA seed according to bracketmatrix.com:

Player Team AP Ranking Consensus Seed
Devon Dotson Kansas 3 1
Malachi Flynn San Diego State 4 1
Jordan Nwora Louisville 5 2
Obi Toppin Dayton 6 2
Vernon Carey Duke 7 2
Myles Powell Seton Hall 10 3
Payton Pritchard Oregon 17 4
Markus Howard Marquette 18 6
Luka Garza Iowa 21 6
Cassius Winston Michigan State UR 5

That's it right there. When Mark Titus asks "why are only MU fans nuts about Howard then? What's the conspiracy?" we have an answer. If Markus Howard was averaging 27.9 ppg for a Marquette team that had been in the top-10 all year and was a consensus top-3 seed in the NCAA Tournament, he would absolutely, unquestionably be running away with the NPOY award the same way Zion Williamson did last year.

Gary Parrish from the Eye on College Basketball podcast | Photo from CBS Sports

Back on Friday, November 15, 2018, Gary Parrish and Matt Norlander were discussing their weekend picks and they had this exchange:

Parrish: Last game, Number 12 Seton Hall...
Norlander: WHAT?!? That's the game you're picking? <Incredulous> That's the game you're picking.
Parrish: Number 12 Seton Hall at St. Louis?
Norlander: Yeah. Why would you pick that game?
Parrish: SLU?
Norlander: No, why would you not take Marquette at Wisconsin?
Parrish: I don't even think I saw it...
Norlander: Oh my gosh, that's OBVIOUSLY the better game. Whatever. You've already, you've already picked the game. Just so people know, Marquette at Wisconsin, 1:00 on Sunday, it's the best game.
Parrish: It is, yes. I see it now.
Norlander: But you've already made your decision, Seton Hall at St. Louis is what we're riding with.
Parrish: Seton Hall at St. Louis, how did I miss Marquette at Wisconsin? This is the problem, when neither one of these teams that should be, that could be ranked in different seasons aren't ranked it gets off your radar a little bit. Which is another reason why, when people say the rankings don't matter, they DO matter, if one of these teams was ranked I would notice the game. Because neither is, I didn't even know it was happening.

The thing that has most harmed Howard's NPOY bid this year is Marquette's team performances in games where they were on the verge of being ranked and lost. Marquette has failed to seal the deal in three games this year (at Wisconsin, Maryland, at Butler) where they would've climbed into the rankings had they won. Their inability to do that has kept Howard out of the spotlight he deserves, reduced the time national media types like Titus and Parrish spend talking about his accomplishments, and increased the likelihood that when Howard was repeatedly willing Marquette to victories with mammoth scoring nights, voter eyes were focused elsewhere.

This week, Marquette climbed into the AP and Coaches' Polls for the first time this season. Ultimately that attention they garner and the seed Marquette earns will determine if Howard is able to capture the NPOY award he so clearly deserves. Let's look at the seeds of NPOY winners over the past 15 years:

Player Team NCAA Seed Year
Zion Williamson Duke 1 2018-19
Jalen Brunson Villanova 1 2017-18
Frank Mason III Kansas 1 2016-17
Buddy Hield Oklahoma 2 2015-16
Frank Kaminsky Wisconsin 1 2014-15
Doug McDermott Creighton 3 2013-14
Trey Burke Michigan 4 2012-13
Anthony Davis Kentucky 1 2011-12
Jimmer Fredette BYU 3 2010-11
Evan Turner Ohio State 2 2009-10
Blake Griffin Oklahoma 2 2008-09
Tyler Hansbrough North Carolina 1 2007-08
Kevin Durant Texas 4 2006-07
J.J. Redick Duke 1 2005-06
Andrew Bogut Utah 6 2004-05

Every NPOY winner came from a single-digit seed. Frankly, if Marquette is a 6-seed or better, Howard should be the winner, but even if they get up to the 4 line the award should go to Howard. The reason for that is simple. First, we already established that based on PORPAGATU! players like Carey, Powell, Nwora, Toppin, Winston, Flynn, and even Dotson would be historically poor choices for the award. That represents every player on the top three seed lines.

Getting ranked was easier for Marquette a year ago | Photo by Dylan Buell - Getty Images

Howard's scoring when considered historically and his PORPAGATU! score means that if things are relatively equal between him, Pritchard, and Garza (the only other viable candidates) then Howard is the most deserving of the NPOY award. To get there, Marquette needs to do two things:

1) Stay ranked: With Marquette being ranked, their presence in games will be enough that the national media personnel who drive the narrative will discuss the team's success. The good news is Marquette is favored (according to Pomeroy) in all six of their remaining games. The bad news is five of those projected wins are by just one possession, so essentially Marquette has to win their 50/50 games to maintain or improve their ranking & keep attention on their star.
2) Earn a single-digit NCAA seed: Right now, Marquette is forecast as the first 6-seed on bracketmatrix.com, just three spots ahead of Luka Garza's Iowa. In a year where the players on the top three seed lines simply are not worthy of the NPOY award, Marquette getting to the 5-line should be enough and earning a 4-seed or better should absolutely make Howard the unquestioned lock to win the NPOY award. But Marquette has to win the games to earn that seed.

And that's it. Win games, get ranked, earn a good seed, and Markus Howard, who is already the obvious NPOY winner based on merit and numbers, will draw the attention he needs to win the award that should already be his.

TL;DR Version:

  • Markus Howard hasn't received the attention he deserves because Marquette has been unranked all season.
  • As Gary Parrish says, "when people say the rankings don't matter, they DO matter."
  • If Marquette earns a 6-seed or better, Howard should win the NPOY award.
  • For Howard to win NPOY, Marquette needs to stay ranked and earn the highest seed they can.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Marquette Quadrant Watch

Despite the Villanova loss this week, Marquette fans have been thinking more positively about the NCAA Tournament as their consensus seed has moved to 6 on bracketmatrix.com, with them showing up as high as a 4-seed in some brackets, entering the top-20 in NET, and enjoying the #18 ranking in the AP Poll.

This time of year, many people will argue that aesthetic changes to the resume, such the 76th best team moving up one in the NET so your road win over them counts as a Quadrant 1 win, is minor and something the Selection Committee will see through. However, let's remember that the Selection Committee is looking at over 100 resumes to evaluate teams both for at-large and automatic selections. Where a win falls is where it falls and the primary difference will be the Quadrant it rests in. Like all metrics, the Quadrant systems form a sorting mechanism and raw numbers are going to determine which pile they are evaluating you with.

For Marquette to move on up, maximizing Quadrant 1 wins, wins over teams in the field, and minimizing losses outside Quadrant 1 are key because those are things that will stand out during conference tournament week. Here are the teams and games that are close to the cutlines and could determine Marquette's fate:

Quadrant 1A (1-6)

  • Seton Hall: The Pirates are the only Q1A team left on Marquette's resume. Getting that win is the biggest "marquee" opportunity available, making it the most valuable resume builder left.
  • Xavier: The Musketeers are currently #44 in the NET, if they improve to #40 they will qualify as an additional Q1A win. The X-Men moving up is the best chance for Marquette to add another Q1A win without having to do anything themselves.
Quadrant 1B (5-0)
  • Purdue: The Boilermakers are ranked #29, just above the #30 cutoff to stay in Quadrant 1. Cheer for them to keep the top-of-the-resume quantity high.
  • USC: The Trojans at #50 are literally the last neutral court Q1 opponent in the NET. Like Purdue, we want them to stay there.
  • Creighton, Providence, DePaul, and St. John's: Marquette has 4 additional Q1 games left on the schedule. Every one is valuable, though not as much as that Seton Hall Senior Day home tilt.
Quadrant 2 (5-1)
  • Georgetown: This is the only potential loss outside Q1 that can be added. This game might be the most crucial after Seton Hall due to not wanting to add any more blemishes to the resume. Any other losses look more "acceptable."
  • Davidson: The Wildcats were a Quadrant 3 win that have worked their way back into Q2 with a #90 NET. The combination of Q1+2 games is often a discussion point, so staying above the #100 cutoff is something Marquette will be hoping for. Getting to Q1 would require them to get to the top-50, which seems like a bridge too far.
Quadrants 3 & 4
  • North Dakota State: The Bison are currently co-leaders in the Summit and will be one of the conference tournament favorites. They are Marquette's only Q3 win and one of the best bets outside the top two tiers for a win over a team in the field.
  • Robert Morris: The Colonials are co-leaders in the NEC, but as the only eligible team up there they are the favorites to host all of their NEC Tournament games. Their only home conference loss is to that ineligible team, so they are putting themselves in good position to give Marquette a win over a team in the field.
  •  Loyola-Maryland: While Grambling and Central Arkansas are placed higher in their leagues, the Greyhounds just got Santi Aldama back from injury. He has moved into the starting lineup and they are 3-1 with him. Possible value pick in the Patriot.
Here's the full S-Cuve:

3-Seeds: 9-AUBURN 10-West Virginia 11-LOUISVILLE 12-Villanova
4-Seeds: 16-OREGON 15-Kentucky 14-Florida State 13-Butler
5-Seeds: 17-Creighton 18-Penn State 19-Marquette 20-Michigan State
6-Seeds: 24-Ohio State 23-Colorado 22-Lsu 21-Iowa
7-Seeds: 25-Michigan 26-Arizona 27-Illinois 28-Texas Tech
8-Seeds: 32-Oklahoma 31-HOUSTON 30-Byu 29-Wisconsin
9-Seeds: 33-Rutgers 34-Xavier 35-Usc 36-Arizona State
10-Seeds: 40-NORTHERN IOWA 39-Wichita State 38-Rhode Island 37-Georgetown
11-Seeds: 41-Indiana 42-St. Mary's 43-Purdue 44-Florida/45-Virginia
12-Seeds: 50-VERMONT 49-YALE 48-FURMAN 47-Arkansas/46-Stanford

Last Four Byes: Wichita State, Indiana, St. Mary's, Purdue
Last Four In: Florida, Virginia, Stanford, Arkansas

NIT 1-Seeds: East Tennessee State, VCU, Richmond, Cincinnati
NIT 2-Seeds: Minnesota, Memphis, NC State, Utah State

Multibid Leagues
Big 10: 11
Big East: 7
Pac 12: 6
Big 12: 5
SEC: 5
ACC: 4
WCC: 3
American: 2
Atlantic 10: 2

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Value Add and KenPom Agree on 3 of 5 All-Big East, and Markus as MVP

Markus Howard moved to MVP of the Big East in Value Add Rankings, worth an extra 9.72
points per game for the 7th best value in the country, while Myles Powell is 13th to also
qualify as an All-American. Ty-Shon Alexander of Creighton just misses All-American
at 18th Nationally, while the Value Add All-Big East team is rounded out by Sean McDermott
of Butler and Paul Reed of DePaul to give the Big East five of the 30 most valuable players
in the country, and Mitch Ballock of Creighton just misses as the 34th best player in the

While our rankings do not include last night's games, www.kenpom.com ratings are through
last night and he ranks Markus as the 2nd best player in the country, and agrees that
Myles Powell is the 2nd best in the conference and that Paul Reed is in the top 5.
However, he rates Kamar Baldwin of Butler and Tyrique Jones of Xavier in his All-Big East
calculations rather than Value Add's calculation of Alexander and McDermott.

Click for the updated Value Add Basketball Rankings. Due to a programming issue, the
www.valueaddbasketball.com website includes past years from 2002 to 2019, but this
season is only on the google sheet. Here are the All-Americans and All-Conference
players followed by an explanation:

Nat'l RnkPlayerTeamValue AddConfHtClass
1Malachi Flynn #22San Diego St.11.36MWC6-foot-1Jr
2Onyeka Okongwu #21USC10.45P126-foot-9Fr
3Devon Dotson #1Kansas10.35B126-foot-2So
4Fatts Russell #1Rhode Island10.1A105-foot-10Jr
5Jordan Roland #12Northeastern9.91CAA6-foot-1Sr
6Payton Pritchard #3Oregon9.84P126-foot-2Sr
7Markus Howard #0Marquette9.72BE5-foot-11Sr
8Loren Cristian Jackson #1Akron9.71MAC5-foot-8Jr
9Jordan Ford #3Saint Mary's9.63WCC6-foot-1Sr
10Daniel Oturu #25Minnesota9.49B106-foot-10So
11Luka Garza #55Iowa9.46B106-foot-11Jr
12Tyrese Haliburton #22Iowa St.9.45B126-foot-5So
13Myles Powell #13Seton Hall9.35BE6-foot-2Sr
14MaCio Teague #31Baylor9.23B126-foot-3Jr
15Devin Vassell #24Florida St.9.21ACC6-foot-7So

Other All-Big East

18Ty-Shon Alexander #5Creighton9.06BE6-foot-4Jr
25Sean McDermott #22Butler8.77BE6-foot-6Sr
30Paul Reed #4DePaul8.33BE6-foot-9Jr
34Mitch Ballock #24Creighton8.19BE6-foot-5Jr
51David Duke #3Providence7.65BE6-foot-5So
59Quincy McKnight #0Seton Hall7.56BE6-foot-4Sr
60Saddiq Bey #41Villanova7.54BE6-foot-8So
65Collin Gillespie #2Villanova7.4BE6-foot-3Jr
67Tyrique Jones #4Xavier7.32BE6-foot-9Sr
129Omer Yurtseven #44Georgetown6.11BE7-foot-0Sr
132Marcus Zegarowski #11Creighton6.04BE6-foot-2So
142Kamar Baldwin #3Butler5.89BE6-foot-1Sr
166Bryce Nze #10Butler5.66BE6-foot-7Jr

In the Notes field find the position of each player (PG, SG, SF, PF or C) which is based
on the position most played according to www.kenpom.com, or if they had not played
in the past five games to appear on his list, their position is based on height. Since we
added the positions since the mid-January ratings, we calculated the position-by-position
adjustment based on the average Value Add rating of the top 100 players at each position.
Therefore Point Guards (PG) Value Add calculations were then multiplied by 1.02, Shooting
Guards (SG) 1.25, Small Forward (SF) 1.07, Power Forwards (PF) 0.97 and Centers (C) 0.83.

This is similar to adjustments most years, however, the past few years the “freedom of movement”
rules seemed to level the ratings by position and there was no need for adjustment the last few

In the notes, we also list if each player is a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd team All-Conference player with
the MVP of each conference noted. Also in the Notes Field, we list the team’s record and how
many games the player had started when we ran the rankings so you can figure out if a recent
game was included. 

The overall Value Add indicates how many points per game the player would include an
average team if he joined, while the AdjO indicates how many points he would improve their
scoring and the AdjD indicating how many points he would take away from opponents if he
joined an average team (minus is good, taking points away, while a positive number is bad
indicating he would allow additional points).

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

The National Player of the Year Metric

Markus Howard, National PORPAGATU! Champ | Photo by Brian Fluharty - USA Today

In terms of advanced stats, the general consensus is that Ken Pomeroy's website is king. But while I'm a huge fan of kenpom.com, if you are looking for the National Player of the Year, the site to go to is that of Bart Torvik.

On barttorvik.com, players are sorted by PORPAGATU!, and no metric has been more accurate in picking NPOY winners than that one. If your response to hearing PORPAGATU is "God bless you" you can find a more detailed description at Big Ten Geeks. For a basic definition, PORPAGATU! translates to "Points Over Replacement Per Adjusted Game At That Usage!" with the exclamation point included to reinforce how much more difficult it is to produce high levels of efficiency at high usage rates. Essentially, it's the basketball equivalent of WAR, the baseball metric for Wins Above Replacement. It tells you how much better (or worse) a given player is than if you put the average player in their position and asked them to replicate their usage.

To first determine why PORPAGATU! is such a crucial metric when evaluating the National Player of the Year race, let's look at the history of the NPOY winners since the metric came into use in 2008. In the table, I will shorten PORPAGATU! to "P" to make it easier to read.

Player P Score P Rank Usage Year
Zion Williamson 6.9 1st 28.2 2018-19
Jalen Brunson 6.4 2nd 26.1 2017-18
Frank Mason III 6.9 1st 25.5 2016-17
Buddy Hield 6.8 1st 28.4 2015-16
Frank Kaminsky 7.4 1st 28.1 2014-15
Doug McDermott 7.5 1st 32.8 2013-14
Trey Burke 7.3 2nd 28.9 2012-13
Anthony Davis 6.1 7th 19.1 2011-12
Jimmer Fredette 7.4 3rd 36.6 2010-11
Evan Turner 6.2 4th 34.5 2009-10
Blake Griffin 6.4 5th 31.1 2008-09
Tyler Hansbrough 6.8 3rd 26.6 2007-08

Looking at that, it should be pretty easy to see why I refer to PORPAGATU! as the NPOY Metric. Five of the last six NPOY winners ranked 1st nationally in PORPAGATU! All of the past seven winners were ranked no lower than 2nd in the nation.There is simply no single metric that is better at predicting the NPOY winner.

The highest PORPAGATU! ranked player on a single-digit seed has won
7 straight NPOY awards | Photo by Jeff Hanisch - USA Today 

In the history of the ranking, no one has won NPOY with a PORPAGATU! score below 6.1 or a ranking worse than 7th. So how do this year's NPOY candidates stack up? Let's take a look:

Player School P Score P Rank Usage
Markus Howard Marquette 6.7 1st 37.9
Payton Pritchard Oregon 6.4 2nd 28.1
Luka Garza Iowa 6.1 4th 30.3
Devon Dotson Kansas 5.7 6th 27.2
Malachi Flynn San Diego State 5.4 15th 25.6
Jordan Nwora Louisville 5.2 18th 26.5
Obi Toppin Dayton 5.2 19th 25.7
Cassius Winston Michigan State 5.1 23rd 30.2
Myles Powell Seton Hall 4.7 44th 33.7
Vernon Carey Jr Duke 4.3 68th 30.3

Looking at this list, a few things immediately become evident. It's clear there are only three players can even make a case for the NPOY award: Markus Howard, Payton Pritchard, and Luka Garza. Anyone outside of those three would be historically bad NPOY choices. While it could be argued that NPOY is about a combination of individual merit and team success, it is also the award that goes to a player who can be agreed on as one of the best in the country. It feels like a pretty tough sell to argue 15th ranked Malachi Flynn, much less someone outside the top-20.

It's also worth considering the factors surrounding the NPOY winners in the past 7 years that wasn't the PORPAGATU! king. The 2013 leader was Erick Green, who played for a 13-19 Virginia Tech team that missed the tournament, which opened the door for PORPAGATU! #2 Tre Burke. The 2018 leader was Trae Young, who fell out of favor during a six game losing streak that dropped Oklahoma to a 10-seed and allowed Jalen Brunson to win the award. In the past 7 years, the highest rated PORPAGATU! player in the country that played on a single-digit seed won the NPOY award. Every single time.

It's also worth noting the importance of the "At That Usage!" portion of the metric. Remember, the higher the player usage, the harder that player is to replace. So while Payton Pritchard and Luka Garza are having nice seasons and would be difficult to replace, it is far easier to replace a player with their usage rates than a player like Howard who is carrying a bigger load for his team, commanding more defensive attention, and still managing to be more valuable than any other player in the country.

Fellow Marquette blog Paint Touches noted on Twitter yesterday "it feels like Markus hasn't really been himself the last month or so" with a link to the recent PORPAGATU! chart. One of the great things about Bart Torvik's website is the ability to focus in on exact portions of the season. Here are the PORPAGATU! rankings for the country from January 12 to February 12:

PORPAGATU! standings from January 12, 2020 to February 12, 2020

Over the past 7 games for Marquette, Markus Howard is playing at a level that exceeds that of any player in the history of the PORPAGATU! measurement. Not only that, but none of the other NPOY favorites have even been ranked in the top-10 over that span (Garza is closest at 12th). What Howard is doing borders on unbelievable, and he's posted those numbers while "only" posting 40+ points once in that span (admittedly, as many times as the rest of the NPOY field has posted 40+ combined).

I mentioned in the scoring article that Howard commanded more defensive attention than any other NPOY candidate. It's time for the evidence to prove that. This next PORPAGATU! table looks at the "next best" players on each of the teams with NPOY candidates. After all, winning is easier when you have multiple stars. Here are PORPAGATU! scores of the 2nd ranked player on each NPOY candidate's team (or in one case...the 1st ranked player).

Player School P Score Usage
Jalen Crutcher Dayton 4.8 21.9
Joe Wieskamp Iowa 4.4 20.9
Tre Jones Duke 4.3 24.6
Xavier Tillman Michigan State 4.3 21.8
Chris Duarte Oregon 4.1 23.4
Udoka Azubuike Kansas 3.8 21.9
Dwayne Sutton Louisville 3.8 14.7
Quincy McKnight Seton Hall 3.7 21.7
Matt Mitchell San Diego State 3.4 23.5
Sacar Anim Marquette 2.6 19.6

The first thing I notice is that Tre Jones has the same P Score as Carey, so if you aren't even clearly the best player on your team, how are you in the NPOY race? Regardless, every team has at least one player besides their NPOY candidate who has a higher PORPAGATU! than Marquette's second best player, Sacar Anim. If you dig into the barttorvik.com database, you will find that in actuality, every team here except Seton Hall has TWO players who have a higher PORPAGATU! than Anim.

Sacar Anim's 2.7 PORPAGATU! is the lowest for NPOY sidekicks | Photo from Marquette Athletics

Not only is Markus Howard clearly the best NPOY candidate based on the best predictive NPOY metric, but he is performing at this level without the complementary production level the lesser NPOY candidates have. While guys like Anim, Brendan Bailey, and Koby McEwen have been able to step up at times in isolated games, Howard simply does not have the level of a consistent complementary performer that every other NPOY candidate has.

When one considers the value Howard brings compared to everyone else mentioned for the NPOY award, there's simply no comparison. Howard is not only the most valuable player in the country, he's performing as such without the level of contributions from teammates that other candidates receive on a nightly basis. In addition to that, as conference play heats up, Howard is playing at a level no other player has been able to sustain over the course of a season. This year, he's the only player in the nation who can be mentioned in the same breath as players like Zion Williamson, Frank Mason, and Buddy Hield while keeping a straight face. There are certainly some other good players out there, but in a year when the consensus is that college basketball is down, there is only one truly elite player worthy of National Player of the Year, and that player is Markus Howard of Marquette.

TL;DR Version:

  • Howard's 6.7 PORPAGATU! score leads the country; the PORPAGATU! leader has won 5 of the last 6 NPOY awards.
  • The top PORPAGATU! ranked player for a single-digit seed has won NPOY for 7 straight years.
  • No one has ever won NPOY with a PORPAGATU! score lower than 6.1 or ranked lower than 7th; Howard, Payton Pritchard, and Luka Garza are the only players to meet that criteria.
  • Howard's 8.3 PORPAGATU! score over the past month is higher than the highest full-season rating in history and represents the only NPOY candidate listed in the top-10 in that span.
  • Sacar Anim's 2.6 PORPAGATU! is the lowest of the "next best" player on any NPOY candidate's team & every team except Seton Hall has multiple supporting cast players with PORPAGATU! scores higher than Anim.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Ten Lessons from the Reveal

I always use the Top-16 Reveal, which occurred this past Saturday, as a reset of sorts. For those of us that spend our weeks dissecting NCAA resumes and trying to interpret them, the reveal lets us know what we are getting right and what we are getting wrong. Here are the lessons I'm taking from the reveal:

1) We did better than last year: A year ago, Cracked Sidewalks had 14/16 teams correct. This year we nailed 15/16. We also placed 13/16 on the correct seed lines. What did we get wrong? We flipped #8 West Virginia and #9 Maryland and had #16 Michigan State out (#17 on our Curve) and Penn State in.
2) Quantity of quality is king: We had the 1-seeds correct, but had Kansas fourth. Instead they came in #2 overall, largely thanks to more Quadrant 1A wins than San Diego State or Gonzaga.
3) NCSOS matters... Kansas also had the #1 NCSOS, well ahead of San Diego State or Gonzaga. This also hurt Penn State, who had 3 Quadrant 1A wins but were left out of the top-16 due to their sub-300 NCSOS.
4) ...Except when it doesn't: San Diego State behind Gonzaga surprised me. The Aztecs are unbeaten and have the better NCSOS.
5) Name recognition matters: I'm sure the Selection Committee would deny it, but Gonzaga ahead of SDSU, Oregon ahead of Butler, and Michigan State ahead of Penn State seem based more on name than resume.
6) You have to beat someone: Arizona was ranked 11th in the NET but left out and not mentioned as an alternate. Every team in the reveal had at least one Quadrant 1A win except Dayton, who is 21-0 outside Q1A.
7) NET outliers: Like last year, 14 of the top-16 teams in the NET were in the reveal. #11 Arizona and #16 Colorado were left out while #18 Villanova and #25 Oregon were in. Both the Wildcats and Ducks had 3 Q1A wins.
8) Losses don't matter...much: Baylor had the only Q2 loss of the 1-seeds yet was first, Duke had the two worst (and only Q3) losses of the 2-seeds and was tops there, and West Virginia edged Maryland despite two Quadrant 2 losses to zero. Losses will only come into play to compare after wins are stacked up if resumes are close.
9) No one wants the East: With all four 1-seeds playing west of the Mississippi, no one is going to want to potentially face Duke, Seton Hall, Maryland, or Villanova at Madison Square Garden. If the 1-seeds hold, there's a good chance the 1-seed will be facing road environments in back-to-back games the second weekend.
10) Next teams up: Kentucky, Iowa, and LSU got the most consideration for the last Top-16 spot. Kentucky has four Q1A wins and the only Quadrant 4 loss in the top-40. Iowa had two Q1A wins which mattered more than a Q2 and Q3 loss. LSU had to be close based on NCSOS. It's the only thing on the team sheet that put them ahead of teams like Penn State, Creighton, and Marquette.

Bonus: Marquette has to be close: The Golden Eagles have as many or more Q1 wins and opportunities remaining (6+5) than Auburn (4+2), Michigan State (2+6), Oregon (6+4), Kentucky (5+3), and LSU (3+4). If they avoid any more Q2 losses (Georgetown, at St. John's) and finish with more Q1 wins than those teams, they should be a top-4 seed.

Here's the post-reveal S-Curve:

3-Seeds: 9-SETON HALL 10-AUBURN 11-West Virginia 12-Florida State
4-Seeds: 16-Oregon 15-Kentucky 14-Butler 13-Villanova
5-Seeds: 17-Iowa 18-Marquette 19-Penn State 20-Creighton
6-Seeds: 24-Illinois 23-Lsu 22-Michigan State 21-COLORADO
7-Seeds: 25-Ohio State 26-Arizona 27-Michigan 28-Texas Tech
8-Seeds: 32-Xavier 31-Byu 30-Rutgers 29-Wisconsin
9-Seeds: 33-HOUSTON 34-Oklahoma 35-Usc 36-Rhode Island
10-Seeds: 40-Stanford 39-Arizona State 38-Purdue 37-Georgetown
11-Seeds: 41-Wichita State 42-Indiana 43-Florida 44/St. Mary's 45-Arkansas/46-Virginia

Last Four Byes: Arizona State, Stanford, Wichita State, Indiana
Last Four In: Florida, St. Mary's, Arkansas, Virginia

NIT 1-Seeds:VCU, Cincinnati, Minnesota, Utah State
NIT 2-Seeds: Alabama, ETSU, Richmond, Memphis

Multi-bid Leagues
Big 10: 11
Big East: 7
Pac-12: 6
Big 12: 5
SEC: 5
ACC: 4
WCC: 3
American: 2
Atlantic 10: 2

Dispelling the Myths

Howard's game is more than scoring | Photo by Dylan Buell - Getty Images

In sports, reputations are often earned early on. Once a player is regarded as a defensive liability, a selfish chucker, or turnover-prone, fans and pundits tend to stick by those opinions throughout that player's career. That is especially true in college basketball where players stick around at most four years. If the truth behind those narratives changes, people rarely call those inaccurate takes into question. Howard has been regarded as all three of those things listed above, but all three are myths that are not supported by statistical evidence. Let's examine them in order.

Myth 1: Markus Howard is a poor defender

During Markus Howard's first two years at Marquette, the team defense was atrocious. While there are many factors that contributed to that, Markus Howard was absolutely one of the reasons for that. To be clear, Markus Howard most certainly was a very poor defender when he arrived at Marquette.

Ken Pomeroy uses Adjusted Defensive Efficiency to rank defenses, which calculates the number of points a team allows per possession adjusted against the quality of opponents they play. In 2016-17, Marquette made the tournament despite a defensive efficiency rating of 104.2, good enough to rank #165 in the nation. The "advantage" that team had was the ability to play one of the small guards alongside a bigger guard like Jajuan Johnson, Haanif Cheatham, or Duane Wilson. The next year the defense got worse as both Howard and Rowsey spent virtually the entire time on the court together, leading to a defensive efficiency rating of 105.6 and a rank of #182.

What many people missed in that decline was that Howard's individual defense actually improved significantly. Since his reputation was already established, the Markus Howard is a poor defender narrative was set in stone. And what those same people continue to not realize today is that Markus Howard has actually developed into a good defender. Here are the defensive points per possession numbers for Howard by season on Synergy:

Year Player # Poss. Points DPPP Percentile Rating
2016-17 Markus Howard 177 177 1.000 9% Poor
2017-18 Markus Howard 240 217 0.904 38% Average
2018-19 Markus Howard 301 220 0.731 85% Excellent
2019-20 Markus Howard 182 129 0.709 81% Very Good

There's no beating around the bush, Howard was one of the worst defenders in the country as a freshman. But despite playing alongside Rowsey (9th percentile in 2017-18) Howard was at least a capable defender his sophomore year. And with Rowsey being such a miserable defender, that also meant that Howard was likely taking the task of going up against the opposition's best guard on a nightly basis.

In 2018-19, Marquette's defense improved significantly. Howard no longer had to play alongside Rowsey, which also meant he didn't have to be saddled with the task of taking the best offensive guard, and he blossomed defensively. His 0.731 defensive points per possession allowed was in the 85th percentile and good enough to rank 7th among all players in the Big East with 150 or more possessions as the primary defender.

What makes Howard's performance even more notable is the number of possessions he is taking as the primary defender, especially when compared to where he stands among the other NPOY candidates.

Player # Poss. Pts DPPP Rank Rating
Devon Dotson 245 173 0.706 81% Very Good
Markus Howard 182 129 0.709 81% Very Good
Myles Powell 139 99 0.712 80% Very Good
Malachi Flynn 196 140 0.714 80% Very Good
Jordan Nwora 181 140 0.773 65% Very Good
Payton Pritchard 181 141 0.779 64% Good
Cassius Winston 199 159 0.799 58% Good
Vernon Carey 114 106 0.930 23% Below Average
Obi Toppin 159 150 0.943 21% Below Average
Luka Garza 158 156 0.987 14% Poor

If you scroll to the right side of the column, a few things become very obvious. First, Dotson, Howard, Powell, and Flynn are all relatively close to each other as a top tier defensively. Second, Carey, Toppin, and Garza are bad defenders. Bigs often get a pass when it comes to defense because blocks are exciting, but I admit I threw up in my mouth a little while watching an Iowa game on the Big Ten Network where the announcer said "Don't be fooled by his offense, Luka Garza is also a terrific defender!" The only world in which one could call Garza a "terrific" defender is one where we are going back to the original meaning of terrific, which shares etymological roots with terrible. Luka Garza is a slightly worse defender than Markus Howard was as a freshman when he earned his reputation as a bad defender. If defense matters remotely, Carey, Toppin, and Garza should all be eliminated from the conversation out of hand because while Howard is clearly more impactful on offense, he is also better on the defensive end.

While there wasn't room in the above table, it's worth noting the 182 possessions where opposing offenses were attacking Howard. This is in the 91st percentile of all players in the country. Opposing offenses are trying to exploit Howard but he still maintains his DPPP despite teams going at him

Howard's defense alone isn't a reason to vote for him for National Player of the Year, but it certainly should not discount him from the conversation. Players like Toppin and Garza, on the other hand...

 Howard has a top-200 Assist Rate the past two years | Photo by Dylan Buell - Getty Images

Myth 2: Markus Howard is a Selfish Chucker

While it's true that Markus Howard shoots a lot, there is a definite perception out there that he is a ball-hog who doesn't share with his teammates. I don't remember ever hearing the same about Myles Powell, Devon Dotson, or Luka Garza. However when you look at the numbers, Howard provides assists at a higher rate than any of those players. Using Synergy Sports, I was able to calculate not just the points scored by all of the individual NPOY candidates but also the points scored off assists those players created.

Player Games Usage Ast Rate Points Pts Assisted Total PPG
Cassius Winston 23 30.1 38.3 428 311 32.1
Payton Pritchard 24 28.1 33.9 467 357 34.3
Malachi Flynn 23 25.7 30.9 396 311 30.7
Markus Howard 22 37.9 26.3 603 171 35.2
Devon Dotson 21 27.4 26.2 397 311 30.7
Myles Powell 21 33.9 18.0 459 114 27.6
Obi Toppin 23 26.5 14.4 451 113 24.5
Vernon Carey 24 30.5 9.4 419 60 20.0
Jordan Nwora 24 26.7 8.4 467 74 22.5
Luka Garza 24 30.5 8.1 555 64 25.8

The chart above shows us a lot of data. Here are the key points. First, while Howard is highest-usage player, he is 4th in Assist Rate, which is the percentage of teammates made shots assisted on. So not only is Howard scoring when he's on the floor, he has a high likelihood of creating shots for others. Synergy allowed me to generate the total points created off assists for each of these players. By adding the points scored and assisted, we can see that Howard's total offensive contributions put him almost a full point ahead of the closest competition, Pritchard (who is the only other NPOY candidate worth mentioning, we'll revisit that in a later article), 7.6 points ahead of his closest Big East competition, Powell, and way out ahead of NPOY favorites Garza and Toppin.

As we mentioned in the last article, Howard is the main focus of every defense. By drawing that attention, he is making things easier on his teammates, which is why despite his high usage rate he also leads his team in assist rate.

Historically, Howard also fares well when compared to other high usage players of the kenpom era. The next table shows all the uber-high (34+%) usage high-major players of the kenpom era sorted by assist rate.

Player Team Usage Assist Rate Adj Ortg Year
Trae Young Oklahoma 38.5 48.5 112.1 2017-18
Evan Turner Ohio State 34.7 37.4 108.5 2009-10
Ethan Happ Wisconsin 34.9 35.6 102.2 2018-19
Mike Taylor Iowa State 34.2 34.6 86.7 2006-07
Ethan Happ Wisconsin 35.6 33.3 105.1 2017-18
Markus Howard Marquette 36.1 27.2 110.7 2018-19
Markus Howard Marquette 38.4 26.5 112.1 2019-20
Carsen Edwards Purdue 34.7 18.3 108 2018-19
Marco Killingsworth Indiana 34.2 16.6 97.2 2005-06
Luke Harangody Notre Dame 34 14.1 109.2 2008-09
Craig Brackins Iowa State 34 11.8 99.4 2008-09
Aleks Maric Nebraska 34.2 8.5 102.4 2006-07

While Howard falls in the middle of this list, it's worth noting that no player on the list has an Adjusted Offensive Rating higher than Howard's 112.1 and only Trae Young equals him. What this means is that more often than not, a Howard possession is going to be the best option at scoring and Howard is still creating for teammates. It's also worth noting that Myles Powell is very close to qualifying for the above list (33.9% Usage) but his Assist Rate and Total PPG lag far behind Howard.

 Howard shields the ball from a defender | Photo by Nati Harnik - AP

Myth 3: Markus Howard is a Turnover Machine

This myth is propagated by an over-reliance on counting stats. A player like Howard will regularly finish with a high raw quantity of turnovers because of how much he has the ball in his hands, which is why turnover rate is a better statistic. Simply put, turnover rate calculates how likely a player is to end a possession by turning over the ball. This next table will show the turnover rates for all of the NPOY candidates:

Player Usage TO Rate TO/Game
Luka Garza 30.5 10.3 1.7
Malachi Flynn 25.7 10.5 1.5
Myles Powell 33.9 13.8 2.6
Jordan Nwora 26.7 14.0 2.1
Markus Howard 37.9 14.4 3.2
Vernon Carey 30.5 15.4 2.1
Devon Dotson 26.8 15.6 2.5
Payton Pritchard 28.1 15.9 2.7
Obi Toppin 26.5 16.2 2.3
Cassius Winston 30.1 17.8 3.0

While Howard has the most raw turnovers of any player on this list, he is one of the less likely to turn the ball over on any given possession. Part of the reason Howard is highly efficient is because the vast majority of his possessions end with a shot rather than a turnover. Howard doesn't just impress when it comes to NPOY candidates. Let's again consider that list of uber-high usage high-major players from before. Here is how Howard matches up in the kenpom era:

Player Team Usage TO Rate TO/Game Year
Luke Harangody Notre Dame 34.0 9.1 1.8 2008-09
Craig Brackins Iowa State 34.0 13.6 2.1 2008-09
Markus Howard Marquette 37.9 14.4 3.2 2019-20
Carsen Edwards Purdue 34.7 15.5 3.1 2018-19
Ethan Happ Wisconsin 35.6 16.2 2.8 2017-18
Marco Killingsworth Indiana 34.2 16.6 3.9 2005-06
Ethan Happ Wisconsin 34.9 16.9 3.1 2018-19
Markus Howard Marquette 36.1 18.4 3.9 2018-19
Trae Young Oklahoma 38.5 20.0 5.2 2017-18
Aleks Maric Nebraska 34.2 20.3 3.2 2006-07
Evan Turner Ohio State 34.7 21.5 4.4 2009-10
Mike Taylor Iowa State 34.2 29.3 5.4 2006-07

I encourage readers to look at two things. First, the TO/game column shows that high usage players have high volume turnovers. Second, Howard's 14.4% TO Rate is the third best in the kenpom era by a high-major player with a usage of 34+%

None of this taken of its own accord is evidence that Markus Howard is the National Player of the Year. However, it is decisive evidence that anyone whose argument against Howard includes "he can't defend," "he never passes the ball," or "he turns it over too much" is simply wrong. Further, if you consider the DPPP rating, Assist Rate, and Turnover Rate of Goodman's top-10, Howard is one of only two players along with Malachi Flynn to be ranked in the top-5 of all three categories among these players. So if anyone is trying to make those arguments, they are not only wrong, they are talking about things that are actually strengths to Howard's game.

TL;DR Version:

  • Markus Howard is no longer the poor defender he was as a freshman and now ranks in the top-20% of Defensive Points Per Possession allowed in the country, and significantly better than NPOY favorites Obi Toppin and Luka Garza.
  • In addition to his scoring, Howard is top-200 nationally in Assist Rate and 4th among NPOY candidates; Howard's 35.7 Total PPG (Points Scored + Points Assisted) is the best of all the NPOY candidates.
  • Howard is tied for the highest Adjusted Offensive Efficiency for high-major uber-high (34+%) usage players in the history of kenpom.com.
  • Howard excels at holding on to the ball and has the 5th best turnover rate of NPOY candidates and the 3rd best turnover rate of uber-high usage players in the kenpom.com era.
  • The only two players to rank top-5 in DPPP, Assist Rate, and Turnover Rate (perceived to be Howard's "weaknesses") are Howard and Malachi Flynn.