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Marquette-Syracuse a fitting way for the Big East to go out

Marquette forward Davante Gardner (54) scored career-high 26 points against Syracuse Jan. 25. He shot 7-for-7 from floor 12-for-13 from

Marquette forward Davante Gardner (54) scored a career-high 26 points against Syracuse on Jan. 25. He shot 7-for-7 from the floor and 12-for-13 from the free-throw line. | Pablo Martinez Monsivais~AP

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Updated: May 1, 2013 3:34PM

WASHINGTON — In many ways, it was the dawn of the modern era of college athletics. When the Big East was formed in 1979, it was a made-for-TV league, and it was sheer genius.

Syracuse, Georgetown, St. John’s and others came together and became great theater for basketball junkies everywhere, and Jim Boeheim, John Thompson and Lou Carnesecca became icons.

The Big East as we know it will end after this season, when basketball-only schools, including DePaul, break away from schools that also play football. Syracuse and Pittsburgh will move to the ACC.

But the league will enjoy what could be a last hurrah Saturday, when the Orange faces Marquette in the Elite Eight.

‘‘It’s remarkable that you could start a league and it could be good right away, like the Big East was,’’ Boeheim said Friday. ‘‘We had the right schools, the right players came in early with Patrick [Ewing] and Chris [Mullin] and Pearl [Washington]. The coaches were there right away. It’s been an unbelievable 34 years. Over that 34-year period, it’s been as good as any league.’’

Marquette coach Buzz Williams has a great appreciation for what the Big East has meant.

‘‘I wish we weren’t playing each other,’’ Williams said. ‘‘If we were in different regions, maybe we could both continue to play.’’

That said, blood is thicker than water.

‘‘Whoever wins, as much as they’re playing to say we are a part of this league, they’re playing to win for all the people in their locker room to advance and continue their season, to play in the Final Four,’’ Williams said. ‘‘Those are memories that will last a lifetime. And lives are changed when you get to this point in March and you’re still playing.’’

Boeheim’s legacy is set. He’s the second-winningest coach (919) behind Mike Krzyzewski (956), he has been to three Final Fours and he won the 2003 national titles.

For Williams, who’s as blue-collar as his under-rated Golden Eagles, a Final Four would be a lifetime achievement.

There are no secrets between these conference rivals. Marquette won their lone meeting 74-71 on Jan. 25 in Milwaukee behind a career-high 26 points from 6-8, 290-pound Davante Gardner, who was 7-for-7 from the floor and 12-for-13 from the free-throw line.

‘‘I don’t think he’ll play that well again because he’s never played that well before or since,’’ Williams said. ‘‘He played incredible.’’

Syracuse’s vaunted 2-3 zone defense, which befuddled Indiana, is getting a lot of traction. So is the will to win of Marquette, which won its first two NCAA tournament games by three points.

‘‘I’m not a big proponent of scouting,’’ Boeheim said. ‘‘I probably watch less film than anybody in the country. We know what we need to do. It’s a question of if [we] can do it. That’s what basketball is all about.’’

Williams agreed.

‘‘A lot of it has to do with who is playing the zone,’’ he said.

Whoever wins, this game shapes up as a good way for the Big East to end a great run.

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