NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 04.05.11

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 5th, 2011

Now that a champion has been crowned, today, we’re bringing you links from the webosphere pertaining to UConn’s title run and Butler’s second consecutive NCAA championship game appearance.

Butler

  • Ronald Nored helped remind the devastated Bulldogs after the game of their familial bond and brotherhood as teammates in the wake of their loss. In the first half, Nored did a great job challenging Kemba Walker, but UConn proved to be too much.
  • Despite Monday’s disappointing performance, Butler has a great deal to be proud of following their surprise run to the championship game.
  • Matt Howard, the pride of Connersville, Indiana, will long be remembered for his dedication to Butler. His hometown made a generous gesture, leading a fundraising effort to send 17 of his family members to Houston.
  • A great breakdown of Howard’s top ten moments as a Butler Bulldog. The big man was a tremendous four-year player for the Bulldogs and his services will definitely leave a void that needs to be filled for Brad Stevens’ squad next season
  • As he’s done throughout his rise among the coaching ranks, Brad Stevens played it cool and modestly after a loss that was hard to stomach, remaining proud of his team for what it accomplished.
  • Shelvin Mack will contemplate his options in potentially leaving Butler a year early to go pro. While Mack’s draft stock rose with each huge performance in the NCAA Tournament, the small sample size should remind him as well as talent evaluators to take a more methodical approach.
  • Someone else who gained some exposure was Blue II, Butler’s live mascot, a seven-year-0ld English Bulldog. Blue II’s Twitter account now features over 6,000 followers, which cramps the style of a certain college basketball blog’s Twitter following.

Connecticut

  • Some 1,800 miles from Reliant Stadium, UConn students soaked up the most improbable of their school’s three national titles. An unranked status at the start of the season proceeded to a roller coaster 9-9 Big East finish before the Huskies reeled off 11 straight wins to win it all.
  • Jeff Goodman argues that coach Jim Calhoun‘s best move right now would be to leave UConn on top and call it a career. Calhoun has accomplished a great deal in his illustrious career, though retirement won’t keep NCAA investigators away from the team.
  • Kemba Walker’s final line of 16 points on 5-19 shooting wasn’t one to remember, but in a ragged game, he did the job. For many neutral fans who watched, the game is one to forget, but the final outcome will be cherished for years by the Bronx native.
  • One breath of fresh air was sophomore forward Alex Oriakhi, who was a rare mark of consistency shooting the ball in Monday’s final, going 5-6 from the floor. Oriakhi is just one of several players in UConn’s stable of young players, but his contributions were pivotal.
  • The trio of Oriakhi, Roscoe Smith and Charles Okwandu put a forcefield on the paint defensively, as Butler made just three two-point baskets the entire game. While Okwandu is a senior, it will be interesting to see Smith and Oriakhi develop as their careers progress.
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Final Four Daily Diaries: Championship Monday

Posted by rtmsf on April 5th, 2011

RTC is at the Final Four in Houston, our sixth as a fan but our first as a member of the working media. What that means, exactly, we’re still trying to figure out, but we think it has something to do with wearing a rectangular piece of plastic with our mug on it and nodding approvingly at the people in the NCAA blazers walking around the innards of Reliant Stadium. Or maybe it means dropping dime on one of the coaches at the dais for one thing or another — we’re not sure. Anyway, over the next four days of collegiate basketball activity here in H-town, we’ll be providing a daily diary in much the same way we’ve done with our correspondents throughout this year’s Tournament — equal parts observation and analysis, with a hint of the absurd.

Monday, April 4 – Houston, Texas

Connecticut Huskies: 2011 National Champions

  • The Sunday between Final Four Saturday and Championship Monday night is always a relative snooze.  Fans tend to walk around aimlessly not really knowing what to do with themselves, and the media events at the venue seem a little anti-climatic after the drama of the previous night.  Hence, there wasn’t much to write about given that we were stuck so far from the action in Houston (a proposition which seems tenuous already, that there actually is some action in this town).  So let’s jump right into Monday night’s title tilt.
  • Fill in the blanks: Butler threw up more bricks than a _____ in a _____.  The numbers are stark — worst shooting percentage in a title game for a single team ever; fewest points scored by a team in the title game in a hundred years (or thereabouts); fewest two-point field goals, etc., etc., etc.  The Bulldogs went 12-64 from the floor for a putrid 18.8% tonight, and it felt worse.  Nine of those makes were threes, which means (doing the math) that Butler only managed a total of THREE two-point field goals in the entire flippin’ game.  Three of 31 from inside the arc amounts to 9.7%, and the last time we remember something this bad in a Final Four was the 3-33 stinker that Kentucky threw up in a half during the 1984 Final Four versus Georgetown.  Yuck.
  • Brad Stevens and the players all pretty much said the same thing after the game: the shots were there, they just didn’t fall tonight.  And there’s truth to that.  Sometimes missing becomes contagious, and when Andrew Smith (2-9 FGs) and Matt Howard (1-13 FGs) were blowing easy layups and short jumpers that they normally make, we wondered if the pressure of shot after shot clanging off the iron had started to creep into their heads.  After a 22% first half where we thought, ‘surely this will improve,’ it didn’t.  Butler proceeded to hit a marginally worse 16% in the second, eliminating any chance of a comeback after taking a short-lived lead a minute or so into the second half.  When Stevens is tossing and turning in his bed in Indianapolis later this spring, he’ll surely be awakened with recurrent nightmares of his team’s shooting tonight.  What with the blown layups, the threes rattling out, even the mediocre foul shooting (8-14 FTs), he’ll look back at a major opportunity lost.  During a stretch from the 16:00 mark of the second half to the 7:30 mark, Butler tried just about everything and nothing would drop for them.  It turned out to be the defining period of the game, as UConn went from up a single point to essentially putting the game away (up thirteen).

Kemba Shows Off the Net He Earned

  • When I saw Connecticut win the Maui Invitational back in November, I thought that they had a chance to be pretty good but would struggle against the familiarity of the Big East schedule.  I never envisioned just how much they would struggle (9-9 in the conference), nor how well they would perform against everyone else on their schedule (23-0, including 14-0 in knockout tournament situations).  The Huskies may not be the proverbial “best” team in America, but I’m not sure you can argue that anybody else is more clutch.  When I asked the players on Friday about being 12-0 in tournaments this season, they answered that they play better when they know that it’s a “win or go home” situation, and every time they were faced with that scenario all season long, they beat the team put in front of them.  In the sport of basketball at every level from peewee up to the NBA, that’s how champions are crowned, and UConn proved over and over again that they were more than capable.
  • The development and growth of Kemba Walker from cocky NYC penetrating point guard with little knowledge of how to run a team to cocky NYC shooter with a knack for making his teammates better has been a remarkable transformation to observe.  I’m not sure I’ve seen a player like him make such drastic strides in such a short period of time.  But there should be no question after the last month of basketball (all due respect to The Jimmer), Walker is the best player in America and deserves the NPOY trophies to go along with the national championship one headed to Storrs.  I admit that I fell for the Jimmer’s long-range bombs and must-see television when I put my USBWA ballot in a month ago, but for the RTC awards which will be coming out later this week, I had no choice but to vote for Kemba.  He’s been that good, enough to surpass Jimmer in my mind.
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RTC Travelogue: New Orleans, Part II

Posted by jstevrtc on April 4th, 2011

RTC’s John Stevens covered the Southeast Regional in New Orleans last weekend, and wrote a travelogue about his time in the Big Easy. Part one of his adventures, if you missed them, can be found here. Part II is being published during the national championship game…to minimize potential readers. When last we left the story, he was in the French Quarter on the middle Saturday, and had just found a spot to watch the Kentucky vs Ohio State game.

Having attended concerts, visited friends, and been to basketball and football games (don’t judge me) in both Lexington and Columbus, I know both towns well and therefore found myself adored by both pockets of fans at Storyville as we all watched the UK vs OSU game (and I chowed on an unreal hot sausage po’-boy). While chatting, I had given an OSU fan one of my extremely handsome RTC business cards, and as he passed it around, it became evident that supporters of both sides had heard of us. One of them even quoted me from a post I had published, not knowing I was the author. That earned him a free beer on the RTC expense account (which doesn’t exist).

New Orleanians Are Allowed As Much Humor As They Want On These Issues

Despite my lack of affiliation to either side, when William Buford’s last-second three missed and the Kentucky victory was sealed, I was carried around the bar by the UK supporters who assumed that because they had won I was going to write all kinds of great things about them on the site. When I let it be known that I was in New Orleans to cover the Southeast Regional and would not be writing about the East, the love affair was over. Seriously, what an I idiot I can be sometimes. But I will say here that they were all incredibly friendly and did nothing to dispel the observation that Kentucky fans live and die by and root for their team more passionately than any other fan base out there. And I’ll give credit to the Buckeye fans for taking the loss rather well. In their minds, it was football season the moment Buford’s shot bounced off the rim. But they didn’t carry me around at any point or buy me free Abitas.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 04.04.11

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 4th, 2011

Throughout the NCAA Tournament, we’ll be providing you with the daily chatter from around the webosphere relating to what’s going on with the teams still playing.

Butler

  • Many felt that it would be impossible for a mid-major to ever win a national title; nevertheless, Brad Stevens and Butler are about to turn what once was a myth into a reality. If the Bulldogs are able to cut down the nets tonight, the question emerges whether Butler can still be considered is a mid-major.
  • Athletic Director Barry Collier has made it known that keeping head coach Brad Stevens is a major priority. We think that it is unlikely that Stevens goes anywhere, as his personality does not correlate with that of a mercenary head coach looking to go anywhere to make his next buck.
  • Before Butler was able to advance to two consecutive national championship games, a 2007 three-way phone call between Zach Hahn, Matt Howard, and Shawn Vanzant changed the fortunes of the Bulldog program. The phone call revolved around the future of the program’s leadership when then-head coach Todd Lickliter left the school for Iowa. The three decided to give the unproven Brad Stevens a chance, and it has undoubtedly paid off.
  • Matt Howard has been a great player for Butler throughout his career, but with his various quirks and his general personality, he oozees greatness in an indefinable way.
  • The matchup between Shelvin Mack and Kemba Walker will likely decide the national championship. Walker is a fantastic playmaker and an an unbelievable scorer, but we acknowledge that Mack and the Bulldogs will be a tough out for Kemba and the Huskies.
  • While last season against Duke felt more like a David/Goliath matchup for the Butler Bulldogs, this season they enter their national title tilt with UConn not feeling as if they are underdogs. The huge role experience plays in easing the nerves of lower seeded teams makes the argument rational, even if it doesn’t sound like it at first glance.
  • After losing to Butler, giant killer VCU reflects positively on its season. The word “improbable” hardly scratches the surface when describing the Rams’ run, and a Final Four berth is something the team will always get to cherish.
  • Despite falling to the Bulldogs, VCU’s fans remain proud of what their team accomplished. Shaka Smart could have taken the approach of “playing with house money” after Selection Sunday and nobody would have blamed him, but he and his team quickly altered the perception of the Rams.

Connecticut

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Circle of March XVI

Posted by rtmsf on April 4th, 2011

From 320+ schools to two, we’re down to the end of the Circle of March (April)…

And here’s a series of snapshots showing the progression of how we ended up here…

One more to go!

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NCAA Championship Game Analysis

Posted by rtmsf on April 4th, 2011

Nearly 350 teams start practice on October 15 with a single goal — to play on Monday night.  UConn and Butler are the two teams left standing; it promises to be another epic national championship game for the annals. 

#3 Connecticut vs. #8 Butler – National Championship (at Houston, TX) – 9:21 pm ET on CBS.

It Says Here That Calhoun Will Hold Another One of These Tonight

A year ago, when Butler advanced to the championship game against Duke, they were an unmitigated surprise, the very essence of the Cinderella story that gets talked about every March. One look at the personnel changes since that team (losing Gordon Hayward as an NBA Lottery pick, along with all-glue guy Willie Veasley and big man Avery Jukes to graduation), coupled with the Bulldogs’ struggles early in the season this year (starting 4-4 on the season and 6-5 in Horizon League play), and most people would consider this year’s run to the championship every bit as surprising as last year. But a closer look reveals a Butler team that is now riding a 14-game winning streak, a team that has turned things around on the defensive end. After allowing more than a point per possession in their first 23 games, they’ve trimmed that number to under 0.96 points per possession by locking down opponents and cleaning the defensive glass. Coupled with their capable offense, highlighted by key veterans Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard and newly efficient contributors like Andrew Smith and Shawn Vanzant, while it is still a remarkable accomplishment for the Bulldogs to be in the championship game, it is not nearly the shocker that last year’s run was. Conversely, while the average fan will see the name UConn in the championship game and barely bat an eye, the fact that the Huskies have made it this far is a bombshell. At the start of the season, they were picked by Big East coaches to finish tenth in the conference, and only improved upon those projections by a single slot (9-9 Big East), despite being in and out of the national top ten all season. The Huskies dropped seven of their last 11 conference games and it looked like their overreliance on All-American guard Kemba Walker was taking its toll. But as they have done all season with their backs against the wall, Jim Calhoun’s club has come back swinging, winning five games in five games to take the Big East Tournament title, and backing that up with five more consecutive wins in the Tournament. While Walker has continued to be excellent, it has been the emergence of freshman wing Jeremy Lamb and sophomore center Alex Oriakhi as consistent contributors that have allowed the Huskies to flourish. Lamb has scored in double figures in every game in that winning streak, while Oriakhi has averaged just under ten rebounds per game in that stretch, acting as perfect complements to Walker’s 25.5 points, 5.9 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game. Freshman point guard Shabazz Napier has also been an important spark off the bench. As with any team that faces UConn, slowing Walker will be priority number one. Junior defensive specialist Ronald Nored should get plenty of up-close-and-personal time with Walker, but Brad Stevens has made it clear that containing Walker is not a one man job. Expect the Bulldogs to try to clog the lane and make it more difficult for UConn to get penetration, while still making sure to keep an eye on Lamb – the Huskies’ best three-point shooter – on the perimeter. UConn will counter offensively with a veritable ton of ball screens for Walker, and off-the-ball screens for Lamb. The Huskies will also try to get guys like Oriakhi, Charles Okwandu and Roscoe Smith involved inside, hoping to take advantage of a relatively foul-prone Butler interior players Howard and Smith. On the offensive end, Butler will look to Mack and Howard for their offense most often, but a hallmark of the Butler Way is balanced offense, with players up and down the roster called upon at various times throughout the game. In the end, expect this game again to be tight throughout. However, the Huskies have shown the ability time and again throughout this tournament to weather a big run by the opposition, change momentum on a spectacular play by Walker, and then couple efficient offensive execution with steely defense down the stretch to eke out a nailbiting win. While it is awfully hard to pick against Butler given what they’ve done, it says here that UConn has one Kemba too many for the Bulldogs. Unless, of course, they find the range and some better luck on their halfcourt bank shots at the buzzer.

The RTC Certified Pick: Connecticut 61, Butler 60.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 04.03.11

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 3rd, 2011

Throughout the NCAA Tournament, we’ll be providing you with the daily chatter from around the webosphere relating to what’s going on with the teams still playing.

Butler

Connecticut

  • Kemba Walker finally admitted what most onlookers believed: he’s getting tired. While his supporting cast has stepped up, he’ll need to reach back for just a little more on Monday.
  • Elite company awaits Jim Calhoun if the Huskies beat Butler. With one more win, Calhoun would become just the fifth coach in NCAA Tournament history to win three titles. The others are John Wooden, Mike Krzyzewski, Bob Knight and Adolph Rupp.
  • Shabazz Napier cooly made the decisive free throws to put Connecticut up four with two seconds to go. As a freshman at the Final Four, it takes a lot of guts to succeed in a pressure situation like that.
  • UConn’s freshmen starred alongside Kemba Walker, but senior big man Charles Okwandu has fought perhaps harder than anyone in the Huskies locker room for his spot on the team.
  • The news of Nate Miles‘ willingness to speak with the NCAA about his recruitment comes at an inconvenient time for UConn, and at least one columnist believes the gesture is reprehensible and that any new information revealed will be tough to vet.
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Final Four Daily Diaries: Saturday

Posted by rtmsf on April 3rd, 2011

RTC is at the Final Four in Houston, our sixth as a fan but our first as a member of the working media. What that means, exactly, we’re still trying to figure out, but we think it has something to do with wearing a rectangular piece of plastic with our mug on it and nodding approvingly at the people in the NCAA blazers walking around the innards of Reliant Stadium. Or maybe it means dropping dime on one of the coaches at the dais for one thing or another — we’re not sure. Anyway, over the next four days of collegiate basketball activity here in H-town, we’ll be providing a daily diary in much the same way we’ve done with our correspondents throughout this year’s Tournament — equal parts observation and analysis, with a hint of the absurd.

Saturday, April 2 – Houston, Texas

  • For my money, of which I will have very little after this trip to Houston, the moments prior to the start of the first game at Semifinal Saturday are the absolute best of the entire season.  The anticipation, buzz, nervous vibe, whatever you want to call it… is off the charts, as all four schools dare to dream the impossible.  Bands are playing, fans are screaming, media are flittering, and the whole place contains an electricity that is only captured in my opinion at the collegiate level of sports.  There’s something peculiar about schools and fandom that makes this so, and it’s different than what you see with fans in the various professional sports leagues around the country and world.  At any rate, if I could bottle that energy in the air in those fifteen minutes prior to the first tipoff, I’d strap a nipple to that thing and drink it down as a part of my daily regimen.  No question.

VCU Fans Were More Amped Than Anybody Here Tonight

  • That said, my seating arrangement in the pressbox of Reliant Stadium (remember, this is a football stadium by design) left a little to be desired.  The worst part actually wasn’t the view — I could see the players and the ball going through the hoop fine, and so forth — rather, it was the giant windows that kept the noise of the stadium below from reaching all of us within the box.  It muffled everything to the point where I felt I wasn’t actually watching the game live inasmuch as viewing it as a tourist observes the sharks as the local aquarium.  It was more like watching the game on television rather than being there, even though I didn’t have a high definition screen in front of me and the PA announcer was clear as day (piped into the room).

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Some Final Four Rally Posters For Your Amusement

Posted by rtmsf on April 2nd, 2011

We had a little fun putting these together.  You can print them out by clicking on the image, where it will open up to a letter/legal size printout.  Best of luck to each of the four remaining schools; enjoy the Final Four!

UConn

Kentucky

VCU

Butler

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The Other 26: Examining Butler & VCU’s Runs to the Final Four

Posted by rtmsf on April 2nd, 2011

Kevin Doyle is an RTC contributor.  Throughout the season, he has authored a column, The Other 26, which examines the teams from the non-power conferences and their impact on the game at a national level.  Today he attempts to tackle the questions of how Butler and VCU have crashed the party down in Houston.

First it was George Mason, and now it is their brethren Virginia Commonwealth in the Colonial Athletic and distant cousin Butler in the Horizon League. Not too far off in the distance are those pesky Davidson Wildcats who burst onto the national scene in 2006, nearly knocked off Maryland in 2007 with freshman sensation Stephen Curry, and just missed crashing the Final Four party with this lusty crew by just a game back in 2008.

 

Mason Set the Template in 2006

By my count, that is four different teams—one more not too far away either—from true Mid-Major conferences to reach the tasteful waters of the Final Four since 2006. Prior to 2006, one would have to search all the way back to 1998 to find a non-power league team—the Utah Utes—that reached this stage. The overriding question that not only myself, but many others in the college basketball world have is: How are these guys doing it? We can all elect to listen to the self-proclaimed “experts” on the subject who know all when it comes to college hoops, but then again didn’t one of them state in so many words that VCU “doesn’t pass the laugh test?” Now, I will not pretend to stand atop the highest of horses and preach what I believe several of the reasons are why Butler and Virginia Commonwealth have had a great deal of success in the 2011 edition of the world’s greatest postseason tournament, but I will rather merely provide a slew of reasons why Butler and Virginia Commonwealth will be squaring off against one another on Saturday evening instead of Kansas and Pittsburgh, or any of the other marquee names out there for that matter.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 04.02.11

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 2nd, 2011

Throughout the NCAA Tournament, we’ll be providing you with the daily chatter from around the webosphere relating to what’s going on with the teams still playing.

Butler

  • Butler head coach Brad Stevens is undefeated since he has begun wearing glasses on the sidelines. This should be a non-story, but Butler’s recent success makes one consider the importance of this.
  • Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack will be the key players for Butler in their Final Four matchup with VCU. This is not surprising, as Howard and Mack have been the catalysts for the Bulldogs success all season.
  • The hands-on cerebral approaches of Brad Stevens and Shaka Smart have been huge in leading their respective teams to the Final Four. This approach has proved to be extremely successful considering the success of the two young coaches.
  • Despite being a star player, Butler big man Matt Howard tries to keep a low profile at Butler. This is almost impossible due to the contributions Howard has made for the Bulldogs throughout his career.

Connecticut

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Final Four Daily Diaries: Friday

Posted by rtmsf on April 2nd, 2011

RTC is at the Final Four in Houston, our sixth as a fan but our first as a member of the working media.  What that means, exactly, we’re still trying to figure out, but we think it has something to do with wearing a rectangular piece of plastic with our mug on it and nodding approvingly at the people in the NCAA blazers walking around the innards of Reliant Stadium.  Or maybe it means dropping dime on one of the coaches at the dais for one thing or another — we’re not sure.  Anyway, over the next four days of collegiate basketball activity here in H-town, we’ll be providing a daily diary in much the same way we’ve done with our correspondents throughout this year’s Tournament — equal parts observation and analysis, with a hint of the absurd.

Friday, April 1 – Houston, Texas

  • Houston sucks.  I’ve never been to a place that angers me more than this city.  Ok, maybe Vegas after a specific trip to the Luxor Hotel & Spa a few years back, but nowhere else I’ve been in this country enjoys such a harmonious mixture of horrendous traffic, non-walkability, preponderance of bad chain restaurants, paucity of natural beauty, unbearable heat, and a culture-less culture than this place.  I’ve been to most major US cities before, and there’s a reason I’d yet to make it to this one — now I know why (as I prep for my credential to be rendered invalid around 4 pm CDT tomorrow).  Credential or not, you’ve got three more days, Houston — my poison pen is raring.  Other than that, it’s great.

There Are a Lot of Roads That End Here, Not Just This One.

  • On to Final Four Friday, as it’s called in the local parlance.  Not to go all Negative Nancy on you all in this diary, but the four practices this afternoon couldn’t  have been more sleep-inducing.  I was lucky enough to bring the RTC Babe along for the ride this weekend, and she put it rather succinctly when asked about her impressions of the four-hour snorefest — “It was boring, but I did get to see Jimmer,” her voice lilting at the end.  That she did, and as she’s somehow managed to convince herself in the last three weeks that BYU’s Jimmer Fredette possesses a hotness that most mere mortals cannot reach, we say bravo.  After all, The Jimmer is in fact the guy we all want to be anyway, and it could be worse — she could have mentioned somebody like, ugh, Chandler Parsons.

Jimmer, Clearly Awkward But Playing Along...

  • Back to the practices, though, and although it was cool to be in the building and to look around, enjoy the decorations and speak with some colleagues, the practices were by and large worthless.  A few light drills, a lot of jump shooting, coaches and players taking it all in — these were the activities of the day.  No Big Country tearing the backboard down or Kevin Love hitting 100-footers or a horrific injury to a notable player today — just a lot of quiet.  Even the Kentucky fans were largely muted, a completely unexpected occurrence given that it’s been 13 long years since the BBN last saw a F4 Friday practice.
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