Men’s basketball hard to figure out

They say close only counts with horseshoes and hand grenades. They say an 11-7 record and the 12th-place position in the Big East aren’t good enough. They say this is a rebuilding year.

As it turns out, they are all wrong. Dead wrong.

Despite getting kicked around, shot down, ripped on, chewed up and spit back out by nearly every fan and critic in the Central time zone, the Marquette men’s basketball team is still alive and kicking. Actually, the Golden Eagles are doing a considerable amount more than that. Amazingly, they are succeeding.

It’s very easy to get distracted by the lonely win column and a starting lineup that probably couldn’t screw in a light bulb if they were standing on each other’s shoulders. This team is flawed, no doubt about that. There is no Jerel McNeal-esque scoring machine on this year’s squad, nor is there a Dominic James clone leading the troops into battle every night. Hell, the team’s starting center would probably play shooting guard on most teams. But you like people for their talents and love them for their flaws.

If you didn’t get excited when the Golden Eagles nearly upset the balance of the universe by almost knocking off top-10 teams West Virginia and Villanova — twice actually — then you must not have a pulse. And if you didn’t high-five your buddies until your palms were red when Buzz’s boys toppled Georgetown, you may want to relinquish your gold and blue apparel right now. Because for a team that wasn’t supposed to come close to contending this season, those games were something special. Those games were something to be proud of.

Yes, the team only escaped those four games with a 1-3 record. The three losses were by a razor-thin margin of five points combined and with a trifecta of endings that could send even the strongest of willed into cardiac arrest. It’s been apparent this season that the effort has been there every game, but luck hasn’t. And sure enough, Lady Luck was wearing a DePaul jersey on Thursday night as Mike Stovall drilled a game winner with pocket change left on the clock to seal Marquette’s fate once again.

A fan’s natural reaction might be to break a few hundred dollars worth of furniture or, God forbid, shed a tear or two. Losing heartbreakers will do that to a person. After further review of the situation, however, a different kind of emotion should flare up: pride.

I, for one, am immeasurably proud of this team. Way more so than last year’s 25-win, top-15 ranked team that boasted four professional players. That team, for all its talent and bravado, was a slight disappointment. The Big Three were supposed to rock the socks off the Big East en route to a conference championship, and they were supposed to waltz right into the Final Four. Obviously, what they were supposed to do didn’t happen. Instead, the team’s season ended like a bad Hollywood drama.

This year, the story reads a lot like the screenplay of “Rudy.” Undersized, undermanned and with zero understanding that they don’t belong with the Big East’s elite, the Golden Eagles simply outwork opponents into submission. They are grinders, tried and true. Look up “underdog” in the dictionary and you’ll find a headbanded Lazar Hayward staring right at you.

Don’t get it twisted, there won’t be any net-cutting or trophy-lifting at the end of this season. No ticker tape parades or endorsements for tennis shoes or energy drinks. This isn’t that kind of team.

But when this season comes to an end, the Marquette men’s team will have won something that every student and fan can appreciate and be proud of, and that is respect. And sometimes, on really rare occasions, that’s worth a whole lot more than a silly trophy.