SEEMAN: Golden Eagles turn in satisfying season

Every missed shot during Friday night’s Sweet 16 game — all 40 of them — acted as 40 separate hammer blows driving the final nail through the coffin of the Marquette men’s basketball season.

As easy as the North Carolina Tar Heels made the pounding look, that’s how difficult characterizing this season is. It’s like trying to eat clam chowder with a steak knife.

The “what have you done for me lately?” axiom further complicated matters because Marquette had been playing impressive basketball until arriving in Newark, N.J.

Against Xavier, senior forward Jimmy Butler put Tu Holloway — the Atlantic 10’s Player of the Year — on Alcatraz-style lockdown, allowing the stocky junior point guard only five points and one field goal.

The team effort in holding Syracuse standouts, senior forward Rick Jackson and junior guard Scoop Jardine, to a combined 13 points and seven rebounds was equally impressive.

With those two wins, Marquette reached the Sweet 16 for the 14th time in school history.

My initial compulsion is to declare 2010-’11 a success, and there’s probably plenty of people prepared to do the same. As great as the ending was, I think it’s important to take lessons from the tough times the team endured.

I think we can all agree the Marquette express offered a bumpy ride these last five months. Drifting into open waters with Chuck Noland and Wilson on their driftwood raft in “Cast Away” probably would’ve been less nauseating.

There were incessant grumbles about free throw practice, time-out strategy and potentially playing in the National Invitation Tournament.

Sometimes the grumbling was muted, like after the Notre Dame and Connecticut wins. Other times, it was fierce and noisy, like an empty stomach during an exam. Remember the Louisville and St. John’s losses?

Regardless of volume, there was always a palpable frustration among the Marquette faithful that stemmed from too-high preseason expectations.

It’s time to admit something that’s as hard for grown-ups to do as it is for 4-year-olds: We’ve been spoiled.

For the first time since 2001 — I was in sixth grade then — the team finished the regular season with more than 10 losses.

Despite the losing, Marquette still made the NCAA Tournament for the sixth straight year with arguably the least-talented players the program had during that span.

That’s not to slight the current team at all. It merely speaks to the quality of former players like Jerel McNeal and Lazar Hayward.

Would I have liked to see junior forward Jae Crowder step in and, in the same No. 32 uniform, fill all the voids left by Hayward? Or see junior guard Darius Johnson-Odom shoot 47.5 percent from three-point distance again? Or see freshman guard Vander Blue make an immediate impact in his first year? Of course. But things rarely happen as one hopes.

Instead, I learned just how great a Golden Eagle Hayward was. And how difficult it is to maintain a good shooting percentage. And how not all players can contribute right away in college like Derrick Rose or John Wall.

With those lessons in mind, I can relish the more immediate past.

Marquette was a Sweet 16 team. Coach Buzz Williams is a hot commodity on the coaching market, despite regular season calls for him to be fired. And senior forward walk-on and fan-favorite Rob Frozena hit the second 3-pointer of his Marquette career in an NCAA Tournament game.

All things considered, it was a good year for Marquette basketball. It might be too early to say, but 2011-’12 will probably be another.