Isaac Copeland, Georgetown's second-leading scorer, officially committed to the men's basketball program on March 10, 2013. That specific date wasn't by accident. What Copeland witnessed the day before, the Big East regular season finale between Syracuse and Georgetown, clinched his decision.
"I was like 90 percent there," Copeland said of selecting the Big East program. "Once I saw that, it was over with."
With Patrick Ewing and other program legends inside a rock star loud Verizon Center, John Thompson III coached and the Hoyas dominated. The 61-39 romp clinched a share of the Big East regular season title, but the crown was the undercard. The Orange were off to the ACC. The rivalry would never be the same.
"Kiss Syracuse goodbye," former Georgetown coach John Thompson Jr. bellowed from the back of his son's postgame press conference.
The game ended with fans storming the court and with Georgetown landing a recruit.
"Probably the craziest basketball game I've ever been too," said Copeland, now a sophomore and the Hoyas' second-leading scorer.
Nearly three years later, Georgetown and Syracuse is back on.
This Saturday (1:00 p.m.), Copeland and many of the Hoyas (3-3) get their first taste of the rivalry as players. Only two members of the current squad, seniors D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera and Bradley Hayes, previously faced Syracuse (6-1)/
The head coach isn't worried about the kids grasping the significance.
"If you grew up as a Hatfield, you know not to like the McCoy's, don't ya?" John Thompson III said Thursday at McDonough Arena.
In this analogy, longtime Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, part of this series since both programs helped start the Big East in 1980, is the leader of the McCoy's. That won't be the case Saturday. Boeheim will begin serving a nine-game suspension rules violations, the NCAA announced Thursday. Assistant coach and head coach designate Mike Hopkins will run the game for No. 14 Syracuse
"I don't think it will affect much," Thompson said about the game intensity without Boeheim prowling the sideline. Besides, Syracuse will still send their team, including top scorers Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney. "If they left Michael Gbinije at home or [Cooney] at home, then I think it would mean something. ...Mike Hopkins has been sitting on that bench for most of his adult life, literally. He knows what to say, what to do, what buttons to push."
Boeheim, who holds a 7-9 head-to-head record against the younger Thompson will get another direct shot at the Hoyas as the schools agreed to a four-year series.
"He's not going to be screaming down there," Smith-Rivera said of Boeheim. "Hopefully it can work in our favor."
For the X's and O's portion of the game working in their favor offensively, the Hoyas must deftly navigate Syracuse's noted 2-3 matchup zone while remaining aggressive.
"Try not to keep it around the perimeter. That's what they want us to do," sophomore guard Tre Campbell said. "If we have to, just knock down our shots."
Smith-Rivera hit plenty of shots, including five 3-pointers as he scored 30 points in Tuesday's 68-49 win over Maryland Eastern Shore. Georgetown has won two straight after an upsetting 1-3 start.
Former Georgetown standout and current Los Angeles Lakers center Roy Hibbert, recalling his days against the Orange, said the key is get the ball "to the middle of the paint and you'll be good." That's something Wisconsin did effectively en route to handing Syracuse it first loss of the season, 66-58 in overtime. The Badgers, who lost to Georgetown 71-61 last month, outscored the Orange 30-14 in the paint and held a 51-25 rebounding edge.
"They got the ball to the overload and attacked," Copeland said. "If you can get the ball to the spot around the free throw line, then look to attack."
Copeland, Hayes and freshman center Jessie Govan will likely rotate as triggermen from that free throw area. The sneaky maneuver involves deploying the 6-foot-3 Smith-Rivera in that role. Thompson used a similar sized player, Chris Wright, to great affect several seasons ago.
The defensive key in Thompson's opinion is communication. Syracuse's perimeter shooting carried the Orange to three straight wins and the Battle 4 Atlantis championship last month.
"It's paramount," Thompson said of the need for his players to be in harmony defensively against a Syracuse he believes is "one of the best offensive teams they've had in a long, long time."
This series began a long, long time ago. The 1929-30 season to be exact, but the real juice began in 1980 when John Thompson Jr. famously said, “Manley Field House is officially closed" following a road win in the final game at Syracuse's home court. Numerous heavyweight bouts followed. Some for Big East titles, always for bragging rights and then some.
The Hoyas and Orange get it on again Saturday. All involved agree that's 100 percent the way it should be.