‘A tough cover’: Ability to draw fouls helps Markus Howard shoulder heavy offensive burden


Photo by John Steppe

Markus Howard (0) dribbles the ball in Marquette's 81-80 loss to Providence Jan. 7.

A quick look at senior guard Markus Howard’s 25% 3-point shooting against then- No. 10 Villanova would hardly suggest an eventual win Jan. 4.

Yet Howard used a different element of his game to give the Golden Eagles their surprise win: his high volume of free throws. It’s nothing new for the 5-foot-11 guard. In fact, it’s been an increasingly reliable weapon for Howard.

Howard is third in the country with 8.0 fouls drawn per 40 minutes, per KenPom, a prominent college basketball analytics site.

Auburn’s Austin Wiley is the only other player from the six major college basketball conferences to have at least 8.0 fouls drawn per 40 minutes.

That type of success getting to the line is unmatched at the Al McGuire Center.

Since KenPom began tracking the statistic in the 2001-’02 season, no other Marquette player had more than 7.0 fouls drawn per game. The only other player to average at least 6.5 was Davante Gardner in 2012-13 and 2013-14.

Villanova head coach Jay Wright said Howard is as good at drawing fouls as anybody he’s ever seen.

Coaches across the BIG EAST attribute it to his shooting threat.

“You press up to try to get him off the (3-point) line,” Butler head coach LaVall Jordan said. “A lot of teams do that because of his shooting ability, and his ability to shoot from deep stretches you.”

Howard led the nation in his freshman season with 54.7% shooting from behind the 3-point line. While he hasn’t been as efficient since then due to an increased volume of shots, he led the country last season.

“He uses his shot to set up the rest of his game,” Jordan said. “Once he starts coming downhill, he’s a crafty, crafty guy, and he’s gotten a lot better finishing around the basket and smart enough to use his body to draw fouls, so he’s a tough cover.”

Wright specifically attributed Howard’s success at drawing contact to recognizing mistakes in the defense.

“He does a great job of creating contact intelligently when a defender is out of position,” Wright said. “He’s really smart about that. Rarely, if a guy is in position will he make contact. But as soon as he senses he’s got a guy off balance or out of position, he takes it right into his chest.”

Marquette head coach Steve Wojciechowski said his ability to draw fouls helps get other players to the free-throw line as well because the team can shoot in the free-throw bonus sooner.

“The fact that he gets fouled gives other guys opportunities to score,” Wojciechowski said. “You don’t really get credit for that, but it’s a huge play in the game because you want to win the free-throw battle.”

Howard hasn’t always been as effective at drawing fouls. Last year, he drew 7.2 fouls per game. In his sophomore season, he drew 4.2 fouls per game.

Providence head coach Ed Cooley said Howard has “worked on his craft on how to get fouled in certain situations on the floor.”

“He knows how to draw fouls,” Cooley said. “He has probably seen every possible scouting report on him — with size, with speed, with length, double teams, two to the ball on him.”

As St. John’s head coach Mike Anderson views it, Howard and fellow Preseason All-American Myles Powell “have been through the wars” of previous BIG EAST seasons.

Those previous BIG EAST wars and drawing fouls haven’t been enough for Howard and Marquette to get through a grueling start of BIG EAST play in 2020.

The Golden Eagles enter Wednesday’s contest against Xavier with a 1-3 record in league play.

While Howard has averaged 31.7 points in BIG EAST games this year, Marquette has lacked a consistent secondary scorer. No other MU player has scored 10-plus points in at least two of MU’s three conference games.

A particularly unforgiving BIG EAST slate exacerbates the problem. KenPom projects Marquette to win only one game between Jan. 22 and Feb. 17. Based on bracket projections and past results, eight BIG EAST wins are likely the minimum to be in consideration for a March Madness at-large bid.

The team is off to its worst four-game start in BIG EAST play since 2010. The team is remaining optimistic, though.

“We’ve only played four games, and we have a lot ahead of us,” sophomore forward Brendan Bailey said after the Seton Hall loss Saturday. “You just always have to be prepared.”


This article was written by John Steppe. He can be reached at john.steppe@marquette.edu and on Twitter @JSteppe1.