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Markus Howard: NCAA Tournament Player To Watch

(CBS Chicago/CBS Local) -- Markus Howard is an unlikely scorer. Standing tall at 5'11", and tipping the scales at 175 pounds, the junior guard is generally the smallest person on the court who isn't a referee. And yet he has the biggest impact. Howard is the main reason his Marquette Golden Eagles could make some noise as the fifth seed in the West region of the NCAA Tournament.

Howard was a scoring machine all through high school, first at Perry High, in Gilbert, Arizona, where he averaged 32.2 points per game his sophomore season, and then at basketball powerhouse Findlay Prep in Henderson, Nevada. The 14th-ranked point guard prospect, first committed to Arizona State, and then decommitted his sophomore year. Later he reclassifed from the 2017 class to the 2016 class to play for Marquette instead. Howard graduated from high school in three years.

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The young freshman came out firing -- and hitting -- from long range. Howard averaged 13.2 points per game and saw his minutes increase as the season progressed. While that's a solid contribution from a first-year player, it's far from the most impressive stat. He also made an NCAA-best 54.7% of his three-pointers (82 of 150) that season. In his best game, a late-season 34-point outburst against Xavier, he went nine for 12 from three.

Projected as a starter going into his sophomore season, Howard wasn't going to surprise anyone. Any defense that left him alone at the arc before wasn't going to make that mistake again. As expected, his three-point shooting percentage came back down to earth (40.4%), as his playing time and attempts increased, and as defenses kept a hand in his face. It didn't matter though. Howard improved his scoring output, averaging 20.4 points per game. That included six games of 30+ and one of 52-point outing that Providence won't soon forget. He was the fifth-leading scorer in the Big East.

Expectations were sky high for Howard going into this season, and yet he is somehow exceeding them. Marquette's offense flows through him. And while everyone knows that, no one can stop it. Averaging 25 points per game, and shooting 42.4% from beyond the arc, Howard has become a scoring machine. Season highlights (so far) include 53 points, on 10 of 14 shooting from three, against Creighton, and 45 points, on nine of 13 shooting from three, against Buffalo. He has 10 games of at least 30 points and 23 games of at least 20 points. Unsurprisingly, Howard is the Big East's leading scorer.

Focusing on Howard's three-point shot, which he sometimes puts up from NBA range, overlooks the fact that he's an offensive threat closer to the basket as well. He can drain the mid-range jumper off a screen; he can hit the runner and create at the rim. And he does it all with the opposing team's best defender all over him. Possibly best of all, he still puts in the work to improve.

Already named Big East Player of the Year, the Marquette phenom is in the running for the Bob Cousy Award, given to the best collegiate point guard, and national player of the year. He'll be a possible NBA Lottery pick in May. Marquette doesn't have the supporting talent to be considered a legitimate NCAA Tournament contender, but they do have one of the game's most exciting scorers. He was hampered by an injured wrist in Marquette's Big East Tournament loss to Seton Hall. But if healthy, Howard gives them the kind of lights-out threat that can keep them in any game. If he gets hot, watch out.

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