Iowa men's basketball team preparing for a tough, important and emotional game at Purdue

Tyler Trent gives a thumbs up to the fan while attending a Purdue football game. Photo courtesy of Purdue Sports Information Department

By Pat Harty

My initial intent was to write that the Iowa men’s basketball team’s game at Purdue on Thursday is close to being a must-win, even if it is only the third game in a 20-game Big Ten schedule.

To start 0-3 in conference play would be damaging from a wins-and-losses standpoint, especially considering three of Iowa’s final four conference games are on the road at Ohio State, Wisconsin and Nebraska.

You could make a strong case for Iowa losing all three of those games, or at least two of three, and if that happened after a 0-3 start, that would mean Iowa would have to finish either 10-4 or 9-5 in the other conference games just to finish 10-10 in conference play.

So yes, this game is huge for both teams with Purdue 1-1 in conference play and 8-5 overall.

But this game also will serve as a sobering reminder of what really matters, and both teams will help to remind us by wearing #TylerStrong shirts in honor of Tyler Trent during pre-game warmups.

Trent was a student at Purdue with dreams of being a sportswriter when he was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer. He lost a courageous battle with the disease on Tuesday at the age of 20.

But Trent won the hearts of a nation and showed what courage is really all about.

He brought attention to all the kids who were in his exact some position, battling against a cruel and persistent disease, because he had a platform that could make a difference.

Trent’s story captured the nation and is something Iowa coach Fran McCaffery can relate to due to how cancer has impacted his life.

McCaffery lost both of his parents to cancer, and his son, Patrick McCaffery, had a malignant tumor removed from his thyroid in 2014 as a seventh-grader.

Patrick has since recovered and will join his father, and his older brother Connor McCaffery, as a freshman on the Iowa basketball team next season.

Patrick has grown into a 6-foot-8 forward for Iowa City West High School and now ranks as the top player in his class in Iowa.

Patrick is proof that there is life after cancer, but Tyler Trent is a sad reminder that cancer continues to be a dangerous and powerful foe.

The Tyler Trent Cancer Research Endowment will help provide funding for the Purdue University Center for Cancer Research, and over $100,000 has already been raised.

 McCaffery spoke via teleconference about his team showing its respect for Trent and for Purdue.

“The players wanted to do it, and I’m really proud of that,” he said. “It’s something that’s very close to me.

“When you look at him and the way he handled himself … it was so inspiring to others who are going through the same thing.

“We wanted to honor that.”

Thursday’s game will be the first since Trent’s death and Mackey Arena will be filled with emotion and tears.

“To think about not only the difficulty, but often the pain he was going through, to be incredibly positive all the time and always have a smile on his face is something we wanted to honor," McCaffery said.

As for the game, Purdue opened as an eight-point favorite and is led by one of the top guards in the country in 6-foot-1 junior Carsen Edwards.

"He's a handful and they do a good job of running various actions for him whether he has the ball or is off the ball,” McCaffery said. “That's what makes him hard to guard.  He can create a shot anytime he wants for himself and those guys have your attention."

The Boilermakers reached the NCAA Sweet 16 last season, but the current team still is adjusting to losing some of the top players from that squad, including 7-2 center Isaac Haas and forward Vince Edwards.

Iowa, on the other hand, is trying to rebound from last season's stunning decline in which it finished 4-14 in the Big Ten and 14-19 overall.

There are signs of that happening with Iowa 11-2 overall and nationally ranked.

But the Hawkeyes are also 0-2 in the conference and preparing to face yet another brutal road test. 

“We know our situation," McCaffery said. “It's a critical game as we move back into Big Ten play, but if we didn't win our last game that would be problematic as well.

"We always talk about the next game is the most important game; there is urgency for that game. I don't know if there is more urgency (for Purdue) -- it's a big game, it's a league game, it's an important game. If we want to win a Big Ten championship, you have to win Big Ten games."

The status of 6-11 sophomore center Luka Garza still was uncertain when McCaffery held a teleconference with the media late Thursday morning. Garza has missed the last two games because of a sprained ankle, but is making progress according to McCaffery.


Iowa vs. Purdue

When: Thursday, 6 p.m.

Where: Mackey Arena, West Lafayette, Ind.

TV. Big Ten Network