Ja Morant and Markus Howard will face off on Thursday in the first round of the 2019 NCAA tournament.
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The No. 5 seed Marquette Golden Eagles will tip off against No. 12 seed Murray State on Thursday, March 21 at 4:30 pm. ET in the first round of the 2019 NCAA tournament. Bigger than the matchup itself is the meeting of two of this season's most prolific scorers: point guards Markus Howard and Ja Morant.
Morant, a 2018-19 SI First-Team All-American, and Howard, an SI Second-Team All-American, will go head-to-head in the first round of the Big Dance. With 16 30+ point games and four 40+ point games between them both, it is certainly worth getting to know these two key players before they clash.
Here's how their stats from this season compare:
|Category||Markus Howard||Ja Morant|
|Minutes per game||33.6||36.5|
|Points per game||25.0||24.6|
|FG%||42.4% on 7.4-of-17.4 shooting||50.3% on 8.1-of-16.2 shooting|
|3PT%||40.8% on 3.5-of-8.6 shooting||33.6% on 1.6-of-4.8 shooting|
|Assists per game||4.0||10.0|
|FT%||89.2% on 6.8-of-7.6 shooting||81.0% on 6.7-of-8.3 shooting|
|Season-high||53 points (in OT)||40 points|
|30+ point games||10||6|
|40+ point games||3||1|
With an average of six additional assists per game—more than double Howard's—Morant tends to play as a pass-first facilitator in comparison to Howard. He's dominant from the field where he's shooting over 50% but not as strong from the arc—though his 33.6% three-point percentage is not noticeably poor by any means. Carolina's Coby White is shooting .362 from deep and none of Duke's freshman four are shooting higher than Zion Williamson's .327 from three.
Howard, on the other hand, leans more toward pure shooter than a traditional point guard. He shoots relatively evenly from two and three-point range but makes far fewer assists and takes more threes than Morant attempts. The other big point of difference is in consistency. Howard has dropped as many as 45 points in a regulation game (His season-high 53 came in overtime) but has also had as few as six points against in Marquette's regular season loss Seton Hall and scored just eight in their January loss to St. John's. Morant's production has fewer extremes.
Morant is averaging a few more minutes per game than his Marquette counterpart. His 115.7 offensive rating, per kenpom, lands him as the No. 15 most individually efficient player in college basketball this season as he handles 36.6% of the Racers' offensive possessions.
Howard slots in at No. 31 in the same category with an offensive rating of 111.2. Howard uses 36% of the Golden Eagles' possessions.
This is expected to be one of the most unpredictable games of the first round. Both teams rely heavily on the contributions of one player—Murray State's second leading scorer is 11.6 points per game behind Morant, Marquette's is 10.9 behind Howard. Thursday's clash will depend on which team's star gets the most going offensively, and who's support steps up. Personally, I picked Marquette to advance but Murray State could pull off the upset. It all depends on how much the rest of Racers' team contributes.