"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 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.

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