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Pat Harty: Iowa fans optimistic about tournament run

[ 0 ] March 13, 2014 |

INDIANAPOLIS — Brothers Marc and Corey Morris both felt strongly that they had to attend the Big Ten Tournament this week.

Cheering for the Iowa men’s basketball team is just part of why they made the trip, though.

Marc and Corey also wanted to show their support for Iowa coach Fran McCaffery, who announced on Tuesday that his 13-year old son, Patrick, has a tumor on his thyroid.

Fran McCaffery’s announcement had an effect on both Morris brothers, especially Corey, whose 2-year old son, Nile, was diagnosed with cancer in August.

“He’s undergoing cancer treatments right now, so it really hits home with family, and that’s why we’re here tonight,” said the 44-year old Marc Morris, who lives in Lisbon. “I wanted to take my brother to a basketball game and treat him to a good time.”

The fact that Corey’s son is named after legendary Iowa football player Nile Kinnick shows just how loyal the Morris clan is to the Hawkeyes. Nile’s medical situation also serves as a reminder that basketball is just a game.

“That’s the reason this is so special to us tonight,” Marc Morris said. “We just had to be here to show our support for the team and for the McCaffery family.”

Marc and Corey both were optimistic heading into Thursday’s first-round game against Northwestern despite Iowa’s current skid. The Hawkeyes entered the conference tournament, which is being held at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, having lost five of their last six games. That has caused some fans to voice their displeasure on social media, on radio call-in shows and on Internet message boards.

“We’ve been with this team for a long time,” said 37-year old Corey, who lives in Ankeny. “We followed them through the ups and you have to hang with them through the downs. So we’re here for them.”

Marc Morris was surprised that Iowa finished the regular season so poorly, but he still thinks the players and coaches will right the ship in time to finish the season on a high note.

“The mood of the fans is we’re still excited,” Marc Morris said. “There are so many things to look forward to. We’re going to go to the NCAA Tournament. We haven’t done that in years. So there are plenty of things to look forward to.”

Iowa’s sudden fall has left some fans searching for answers because nobody, including the Morris brothers, saw it coming.

“It is surprising how they finished the regular season,” Marc said. “But there is still time to get back on the right track.”

A month ago, Iowa was being promoted as a potential NCAA Final Four team by some prominent members of the national media, and fans not surprisingly ate it up, one rousing endorsement at a time. It was widely assumed that Iowa was on the verge of doing something special this season.

But the same Iowa team that dismantled Big Ten regular-season champion Michigan by 18 points on Feb. 8 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena and then followed with an 82-70 victory at Penn State a week later to improve to 19-5 overall and 8-4 in the conference staggered into the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday, seeded sixth and matched against No. 11 seed Northwestern in the late game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

The Iowa players talked on Tuesday about making a fresh start at the conference tournament, about wiping the slate clean and about starting a new season after losing five of the last six games.

Some of the fans who made the trip to Indianapolis are taking the same approach, hoping that the conference tournament would serve as a reboot and lift Iowa out of its funk.

The mood among the Iowa fans at Bankers Life Fieldhouse was upbeat, but that’s to be expected. Why would a naysayer take the time and spend the money to watch the team play in Indianapolis?

Marc Morris is convinced that Iowa will make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006 no matter what happens in the Big Ten Tournament. He also thinks that Iowa will benefit from playing against teams outside of the Big Ten Conference.

“I think we can make a run,” Marc Morris said. “Getting out of the Big Ten would be the best thing, start playing some other teams.”

It would’ve been almost impossible a month ago to convince anybody familiar with Iowa’s situation — fans or members of the media — that the Hawkeyes would have to play on the first day of the Big Ten Tournament, which only the top four finishers in the conference standings can avoid.

Iowa seemed a lock in mid-February to finish among the top four teams in the Big Ten, but something happened on the way to the finish line.

The risk of being a fan is that sometimes your team lets you down by not meeting your expectations. That’s what has happened this season. Just when it looked as if Iowa had climbed over the hump and returned to national prominence, the foundation started to crumble.

However, the Morris brothers know the situation could be a lot worse from a basketball point of view. They appreciate McCaffery’s rebuilding job, but they admire him even more as a father because that takes priority over everything.

“We just had to be here for him,” Marc Morris said. “This is very important to us. Nothing means more than family.”

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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