By: Tanner Lafever
As the clock ticks down towards game time against Tennessee, the vibe in Iowa City is one of mixed emotions. As much excitement as there is for the Hawkeyes making their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2006, the mood has somewhat dampened due to a late season losing skid that saw the team go 1-6 in its final seven games.
The university is also in the midst of its spring break, so student presence around campus is relatively minimal. However, in speaking to a few people, the prevailing sentiment remains one of uncertainty as to just what Iowa team is going to show up tonight. As much support as the program has received this year, many aren't too eager to get their hopes up in case of another disappointing performance. Unfortunately, Tennessee comes into this evening's contest on the opposite end of the spectrum as winners of five of its last six contests. Iowa fans are weary of the Volunteers, and many have actually picked against the hometown Hawkeyes in their brackets.
Another intriguing and frankly more important storyline that has come to light over the past week or so is the health of Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery's 13 year-old son Patrick. A tumor was recently found on young Patrick's thyroid, and he underwent surgery this morning to remove it at university hospitals. According to all reports the procedure went well, and the elder McCaffery, who flew back to Iowa City last night to be with his son and family, returned to Dayton, Ohio about an hour ago to coach his team in tonight's game.
The administration and many of the students left on campus have rallied in support of their coach and his family in a big way. On twitter, the hashtag #TeamPat has gained significant traction, and various student groups are looking for other ways to show their support in this trying time for the McCaffery family. Should the Hawkeyes win tonight, you can bet that Patrick's story will continue to grab national attention, and hopefully garnering thoughts and prayers much like those that have gone out to him thus far.
As I mentioned earlier, there does exist quite a bit of trepidation on the part of students and fans of the team, but a new hope has emerged that the players, coaches, program, and even the university as a whole can unify around a scary situation to propel Iowa to a substantial tournament run. Win or lose, the most gratifying thing has been to see people recognize that many things in life are more important than any attention and excitement that this NCAA Tournament might bring. A win by the Hawkeyes could serve as a brief reprieve from the very real life situation being faced by a member of the Iowa family, and that's exactly what the basketball team will be looking to accomplish when it takes the floor.