For Villanova, it’s a new year, another trip to Marquette, and another chance to try to defend Markus Howard and his dazzling array of shots, from drives to floaters to step-backs to 30-foot three-pointers.
Howard, the Golden Eagles’ 5-foot-11 senior guard, leads the Big East and is third in the nation in scoring with a 25.6-point average. He is now the program’s all-time leading scorer with 2,262 points. And to hear Jay Wright tell it, he’s tougher to defend than ever.
“What makes him more difficult this year is they’ve got all shooters around him, so they’ve always got three other shooters on the floor, sometimes four,” said Wright, whose 10th-ranked Wildcats (10-2, 1-0 Big East) will play Marquette (10-3, 0-1) Saturday, their eighth game against Howard.
“Offensively, he’s got deep range, and the further you guard him out, that gives him more space to operate off the dribble, and he’s really good off the dribble. Then I think he’s passing the ball a lot better this year, probably got more assists. So he’s just become more of a complete player this year.”
In his seven games against the Wildcats, Howard has averaged 22.4 points. His high game of 38 came last season in a 66-65 victory in Milwaukee, and he scored 37 at the Wells Fargo Center during his sophomore season. Believe it or not, he also has a scoreless game against ‘Nova, fouling out in seven minutes on his home court as a freshman.
Collin Gillespie, one of a host of players who will guard Howard given that Villanova switches a lot on defense, called him “a really versatile scorer.”
“He’ll hit a lot of tough shots,” said Gillespie, who scored 24 points in the Cats’ 68-62 win over Xavier on Monday night in the Big East opener. “So it’s just trying to contain him and control as much as we can.
“We’re going to guard him as a team. But he’s a great player. We know that. We played against him last year and the year before, so we know what to expect. He’s a great player.”
Marquette is fourth in the nation in three-point percentage, hitting 41.9%, and leads the Big East with 10.2 threes made per game. Howard is sinking four treys per game.
This will be the first conference road game for the Wildcats freshmen. They have played just two true road games, getting routed, 76-51, at Ohio State and surviving a scare at St. Joseph’s.
“It’ll be a crazy atmosphere,” Wright said. “But we’ve got to be focused on our scouting report. We’ve got to be focused on our defensive concepts and communicating. That’s on the road in a loud environment when things get tough, and that’s new for this team.”
The newcomers got their first taste of what it takes to win a Big East game Monday night at home. Now they’ll experience conference life on the road.
“I feel like talking about it and doing it are two completely different things because you don’t know what you’re going through on the court,” freshman forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl said. “I think going through that first game kind of sets the tone for what we need to do for the rest of the season.