By Brian Foley, Special to OnMilwaukee   Published Dec 31, 2018 at 6:46 PM

The Marquette Golden Eagles (11-2) are in the midst of their best stretch of the Steve Wojciechowski era, winners of eight straight – four of which came over top-40 teams. But the real story has been star point guard Markus Howard, who has scored 71 total points over his last two games and is averaging 31.7 a night in December. Though only a junior, Howard’s incredible pace has him set for rare air in Milwaukee.

MU has sent 12 numbers to the rafters in its history – nine players, one coach, one trainer and one space mission.

  • No. 3: Dwyane Wade

  • No. 11: Apollo 11

  • No. 14: Dean Meminger

  • No. 15: Butch Lee

  • No. 20: Maurice Lucas

  • No. 24: George Thompson

  • No. 31: Bo Ellis

  • No. 31: Glenn "Doc" Rivers

  • No. 38: Bob Weingart

  • No. 43: Earl Tatum

  • No. 44: Don Kojis

  • No. 77: Al McGuire

It’s not as if those men did not deserve the recognition. Meminger, Lee, Lucas, Thompson, Ellis and Tatum were all crucial members of the program’s most dominant era. Kojis was one of the program’s first great players and is still Marquette’s all-time leading rebounder. Wade and McGuire are probably the two most memorable people in Marquette history, and Rivers has been a featured character in basketball for decades. Weingart was the long-time trainer at MU. (Number 38 for his 38 years of service). The Apollo 11 mission landed the first spacecraft on the moon. (Yeah, this one doesn’t make a ton of sense.)

The problem is that Marquette has backed itself into a corner. For some reason, the NCAA rulebook states that players cannot don uniforms with any digit higher than five. (No. 55 is the highest available number in college basketball while, say, no. 19 is not allowed. The NBA has no such rule.) Only 36 numbers are available in the first place, and MU has already pulled nine possibilities out of circulation.

After initially retiring a spree of numbers, Marquette has been forced to slow its pace significantly, passing over several 21st century players other schools may have been inclined to retire – such as Travis Diener, Steve Novak, Jae Crowder and Jimmy Butler, to name a few.

That brings us back to the current Marquette team and Howard, who could have a reasonable argument to hang his no. 0 in the rafters someday, though it’s anyone’s guess if Marquette would want to further limit its numerical possibilities. (Double zero could still be available if MU did retire Howard’s single zero. Or Marquette could relax its retired jersey rules so that some players have their jersey honored, but their number would remain in circulation.)

With a clean bill of health (I can’t knock on enough wood while typing this), Howard is going to destroy the program’s current all-time scoring mark of 1,985 points set by Jerel McNeal.

Howard has averaged 21.7 points per game since the start of last season. If Marquette plays 21 more games this year and another 35 during his senior season (both are realistic but somewhat conservative estimates) and Howard hypothetically maintains that 21.7 ppg average, he will finish with over 2,600 career points. Tack on a couple more contests for a deep tourney run or a slightly improved scoring mark (he is averaging 25.1 per game this year), and Howard could certainly top the all-time Big East scoring mark, set by Boston College’s Troy Bell (2,632 points).

And it’s not as if Howard would merely be a four-year stat accumulator. He is doing things this program has never seen before. He has the three best single-game scoring performances ever (52 points at Providence last season, 45 twice already this year, both against top-15 teams), and his hot streaks – like his recent fire-breathing performance against Buffalo – captivate the entire country. On Friday, he casually dropped 26 points on 9-10 shooting in only 16 minutes of play, making him just the seventh player to score that many points in such few minutes in the last nine years. Oh yeah – he also did he did this.

Before Howard’s freshman year, the previous record for three-pointers made in a game was nine, set by Mark Anglavar in 1990. Howard has already matched or bested that total four times. He also owns the single-season marks for three-point percentage (54.7) and free throw percentage (93.8), and could set the single-season scoring and three-point makes records this year as well en route to a potential All-American campaign.

By the time Howard wraps up his career, this is the type of history he could hold at Marquette:

  • All-time leader: points, field goals, field goals attempted, three-pointers, three-pointers attempted

  • Top five: scoring average, free throws, free throw percentage

  • Top 10: three-point percentage, free throws attempted, assists

Holding the program’s all-time scoring record alone does not merit a retired number; team success is also vital. So far, the only postseason experience Howard has to his name is a one-and-done NCAA tournament appearance as a 10 seed in 2017 and a "run" to the NIT quarterfinals in 2018. Fortunately, Howard’s exploits this season already have the Golden Eagles well positioned for an NCAA tourney berth in the spring.

MU also enters the new year as slight favorites in the Big East. If Howard can helm a Big East title in one of the next two season (Marquette has only won three conference championship in its history) and/or propel the Golden Eagles deep into March, he will be able to cement his legacy with otherworldly accolades and team triumphs.

Of course, there is still a long way to go, and the Big East will chew up anyone who rests on his laurels for even a moment. But for now, Marquette is poised to awaken from its five-year slumber on the back of Howard’s heroics. He ultimately deserves to be honored for that, even from a program that is smartly stingy with its recognition.