WASHINGTON — Syracuse basketball and Jim Boeheim couldn't have scripted a better 10th-anniversary soiree than Saturday's.
A decade to the day after the Orange won its most recent regional championship, Boeheim's program struck again, smothering Marquette 55-39 in the East Regional final.
Ten years ago, it was a singular talent, freshman Carmelo Anthony, who carried Syracuse to an Elite Eight victory over Oklahoma and, eventually, the Orange's first national championship.
Syracuse advanced to this season's Final Four with the collective, specifically the 2-3 zone defense that has become Boeheim's trademark.
"I can't say enough about how the guys played on the defensive end," Boeheim said. "We (allowed) Marquette 74 points four or five weeks ago."
That Feb. 25 loss in Milwaukee was part of a swoon in which the Orange (30-9) lost four of five games. Syracuse bottomed out in the regular-season finale in this same Verizon Center, falling to Georgetown 61-39.
'It's pretty much a 180 (turn)," senior guard Brandon Triche said. "Losing so many games in a row … you can't say we didn't lose confidence. We were probably unsure of ourselves a little bit. One thing we did is, we kept working hard."
"The guys have come a long ways from three weeks ago today," Boeheim said. "It's been a great transformation."
Now anyone can play a 2-3 zone. The Xs and Os are in any coaching textbook. But few teach it like Boeheim, the Hall of Famer in his 37th season leading his alma mater, and few have the long athletes to make it this effective.
From 6-foot-9 Rakeem Christmas in the middle, to 6-8 C.J. Fair, 6-8 James Southerland and 6-6 Michael Carter-Williams on the wings, the Orange are uniquely able to defend both the perimeter and paint.
Here's how good Boeheim not only at coaching the 2-3, but scheming against it: When he was appointed to coach the U.S. Olympic team, Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, knowing some international opponents would employ the zone, made Boeheim a part of his staff.
Syracuse this season ranks eighth nationally in defensive efficiency, its best since Ken Pomeroy began tracking the statistic in 2003. Moreover, the Orange are third nationally in 3-point defense.
"Our teams are good defensively every year," Boeheim said, "but this year's team has statistically played as well as any … we've had."
That said, Syracuse's tournament defense has been nothing less than staggering. Its four opponents — Montana, California, Indiana and Marquette — have shot a combined 28.9 percent from the field. They have been far worse from beyond the 3-point arc, making 15.2 percent.
Oh, go ahead and dismiss Montana, and even Cal if you'd like, as low seeds. But Indiana and Marquette?
The East's top seeds, the Hoosiers boast the nation's most efficient offense. But against the Orange on Thursday they scored a season-low 50 points and shot a season-worst 33.3 percent.
"We didn't give Indiana anything," Boeheim said, calling it perhaps the best defensive effort in his program's history.
Marquette, the East's No. 3 seed and regular-season tri-champion of the Big East, was more baffled. The Golden Eagles (26-9) shot 22.6 percent, lowest ever in a regional final. They missed 22-of-25 attempts from three.
"We tried everything we knew to try," Marquette coach Buzz Williams said.
The one Golden Eagle not affected by Syracuse's zone was Davante Gardner, a graduate of Suffolk's King's Fork High. He scored 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting and grabbed a game-high eight rebounds.
Conversely, Marquette's four primary wings — Junior Cadougan, Vander Blue, Jamil Wilson and Todd Mayo — were a combined 5-of-37, 2-of-22 from three.
"They're very good at what they do, man," Blue said.
Syracuse advances to the Final Four, Boeheim's fourth, and a semifinal Saturday in Atlanta against the winner of Sunday's South Regional title game between Michigan and Florida. The Orange's defensive plan will be obvious.
"You have to believe in what you're doing and stick with it," Boeheim said Friday of his devotion to the 2-3, "and, you know, I think every coach has a philosophy, and you have to stick with what you do, and within that philosophy you have to be flexible. You have to be able to make a little change or do something a little differently.
"I think that's what separates not really just coaches but anybody in what they do. You can't be just rigid. Anybody can do that. Anybody can read a book and do this, these 10 steps. It's being flexible within that, what you do, and that's why you become, hopefully, better at what you do, the longer you do it."
At age 68, and set to take Syracuse to the ACC next season, Boeheim has rarely, if ever, been better.