For starters, I decided to have a look at Offensive Rating. The formula is extremely complicated, but seems to be accurate. For a player to be judged to have really carried the load for his team for the purposes of ORtg, he needs to have "used" over 28% of his teams possessions. In that list, Matt Howard doesn't appear in the top 100. (Kemba Walker is 4th, Jimmer Fredette 9th, Tu 10th and Norris Cole 11th for comparison). Simply tabulate the ORtg and allow all players in, and Howard is 60th in the nation. Xavier foe Noah Dahlman ranks 9th with and ORtg nearly ten points higher while carrying much more of the load for his team, but doesn't seem to be quite the media darling.
So if Howard isn't the elite player offensively, how does he compare defensively? Is that where his true value lies? Not really. Take the completely unheralded JaMychal Green of Alabama. He gets enough offensive touches to meet the 28% criteria and finishes 41st on that list. Green also manages two blocks and a steal and a half a game. Those numbers both outstrip Howard, and Green also manages a better FG% and the same number of assists.
Think maybe it is Howard's never-ending effort that gets him all the plaudits? It may be, but he's not top of the line in that either. Howard's offensive rebound percentage places him 283rd in the nation (Jamel McLean is 12th). If drawing fouls is more your cup of tea for measuring non-stop work, Howard finishes 81st in the nation there, a mere 39 places behind Tu Holloway.
So what then is the answer to what makes Matt Howard a great player? The answer, quite simply, is nothing.