The age-old myth suggesting “defense wins championships” never carried a whit of legitimacy until 2013 Syracuse lent it credence.
Saddled with a suspect half-court offense absent a reliable inside scorer, Syracuse turned to its hallmark 2-3 zone for a boost — an unassuming jolt strong enough to propel the team all the way to Atlanta.
Jim Boeheim’s squad is heading back to the Final Four for the first time in a decade, owed largely to the gimmicky defense he’s not only made famous, but this year rendered unsolvable. The SU defense authored its own record on Saturday, becoming the first team in NCAA tournament history to hold four consecutive opponents to their lowest shooting totals of the season en route to the Final Four.
Marquette bore the brunt of Syracuse’s defense, which you could say was truly in the zone since muddling up Montana in the round of 64. The Orange limited the Golden Eagles to the lowest scoring total in a regional final (39 points) in the shot clock era (1986-present). The Eagles hadn’t scored fewer than 47 points in a game previously this season. Of course, they hadn’t bumped into a defense on an historical track, either.
Forget about putting the ball through the net. Syracuse’s defense was so suffocating, Marquette couldn’t get off a clean shot for chunks at a time. Buzz Williams’ team did not attempt a single field goal during a first-half stretch of more than six minutes. When the Big East co-regular season champ finally could launch a halfhearted try here and there, it missed. Badly and often. Marquette floundered through separate scoreless stretches lasting six, seven, eight and ten possessions apiece. The Eagles spent so much of their battle working to get a shot off that the ones they successfully (aimlessly) did release hardly had a chance to fall. The triumph was in the attempt, not the result.
Syracuse didn’t just pick on Marquette. The Orange reduced the nation’s top-performing offense — Indiana — to 50 points, another season-low. One of the top perimeter shooting teams in the country, the Hoosiers missed 12 of their 15 tries from behind the arc. They aren’t alone in oblivion. SU opponents in the tournament are a combined 14-of-91 (15-percent) from long-range, the lowest mark by a Final Four-bound team since the 3-point line was instituted.