Ohio State’s Slow Big Ten Start Nothing to Worry About

Posted by Bennet Hayes on January 17th, 2014

As Ohio State has surely found out, when you are considered a top-10 team and proceed to go out and lose three straight games, eyebrows will be raised. Heck, if the two-time defending NBA champions are going to be questioned for losing three in a row within an 82-game regular season, it’s hardly a shock that pundits will sound the alarm over a three-game Big Ten losing streak. Nevermind that any one of those three losses, in isolation, would be nowhere near concern-prompting, or that the Buckeyes are still owners of the second most efficient defense in all the land. If you listen to anyone outside of Columbus, Thad Matta’s team suddenly has questions to answer. The bleeding does need to stop (and soon), and even the most ardent of Buckeyes’ supporters will admit this team is far from perfectly constructed, but resist overreaction on this one. Today’s Buckeyes are the same team that ran out to that 15-0 start — Big Ten title contenders, still.

Wins Haven't Come As Easily In The Early Part Of The Big Ten Season For Aaron Craft And Ohio State

Wins Haven’t Come As Easily In The Early Part Of The Big Ten Season For Aaron Craft And Ohio State

There is no sugarcoating this fact: Ohio State is not a good offensive basketball team. Besides an impressively low steal percentage-against (helpful mainly for setting up that lethally efficient halfcourt defense), there is no true strength within its offensive statistical profile. When DeShaun Thomas and his prodigious offensive production departed for the professional ranks last offseason, most suspected the Buckeyes would struggle to score points as a result. There was hope that junior LaQuinton Ross might be ready to assume a good chunk of Thomas’ production, but while Ross is the Bucks’ leading scorer at 14.1 points per game, he has proven not to be another Thomas. Ross has shot the ball well from three-point range (41%), but a higher-than-preferred turnover rate (12.5%), paired with middling percentages on two-point field goals (44%) and from the charity stripe (68%) has left, for Thad Matta and his offensively challenged team, a lot to be desired. While the optimist would suggest Ross has some room for growth here in the back end of the season (he does have the natural tools to make it happen), the realist here will remind you that we aren’t talking about a player five games into his freshman season. To a large extent, Ross likely is what he is; namely, not DeShaun Thomas. With a dearth of offensive options elsewhere on the roster, that reality also means that the Buckeyes won’t be redefining themselves anytime soon. This isn’t, and won’t become, an elite offensive unit.

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Is The Pac-12 The Nation’s Best Conference?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 2nd, 2014

A week ago now, Matt Norlander of CBSSports.com tried to determine which was the best basketball conference in America this year. He broke down overall records, record vs. top 25 RPI, record vs. top 50 KenPom, record vs. the top 10 conferences, and more. The numbers have changed a bit since then, what with an extra week of games, but the post is still worth a look as conference play has tipped off in earnest this week. Below, we’ll reference those numbers and some of his findings as we try to determine the answer to the following question — Is the Pac-12 really in the hunt for the title of best conference in the nation?

Is The Pac-12 The Best Conference? Here's A Hint: Probably Not

Is The Pac-12 The Best Conference? Here’s A Hint: Probably Not

First, understand that this exercise is really sort of meaningless. Conferences don’t advance to the Final Four or win national championships – teams do. And depending on what criteria you’re looking for, you can make all sorts of arguments as to which league is the best. Is it more important to have a grouping of elite teams; or do you want to have a big chunk of teams that are good; or are you impressed by conferences where the bottom quarter of the league is capable of beating anybody? (Note: if you are interested in that last criterion, feel free to throw the Pac-12 with its triumvirate of Oregon State, Washington State and Washington out.) But it is a fun argument to have over a few cold beverages, or over Twitter or, really, anywhere. So, why does the Pac-12 deserve to be in this discussion?

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Key Questions to Answer in Advance of the Iowa-Iowa St. Matchup

Posted by Brendan Brody & Brian Goodman on December 13th, 2013

One of the best games of the weekend should take place in Ames, Iowa, on Friday night, as Iowa State hosts Iowa for state bragging rights. Big Ten correspondent Brendan Brody and the Big 12’s Brian Goodman decided to address some key questions heading into the contest in the hopes of providing some insights for the viewers to watch for as the game plays out.

Roy Devyn Marble will play a vital role if the Hawkeyes want to pull off a road upset against Iowa State Friday night (Joe Camporeale, USA Today Sports).

Roy Devyn Marble will play a vital role if the Hawkeyes want to pull off a road upset against Iowa State Friday night (Joe Camporeale/USA Today Sports).

B12: Iowa State has risen to the Top 25 and is getting contributions from a number of players, but what is Iowa’s best bet to contain the three-headed monster of Melvin Ejim, Georges Niang, and DeAndre Kane?

B1G: The best way that Iowa can do this is to force turnovers and bad shots with their diamond press that they employ on a good number of possessions. Aaron White and Mike Gesell are the key defensive players here, with White’s length a problem for Iowa State at the head of the press. Gesell harassed Farleigh Dickinson’s best guard, Sidney Sanders, into a 5-of-17, four-turnover evening recently, so look for him to start off on Kane to try to force similar results. Another advantage the Hawkeyes have is strength in numbers. They have multiple players who they can rotate in and out to cover each of the Cyclones’ Big Three. Speaking of which, Iowa has one of the deepest teams in the country, with 10 players averaging over 15 MPG. How can the Cyclones negate this Iowa advantage?

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To Reach Its Goals, Illinois Needs More Than Rayvonte Rice

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on December 5th, 2013

The game was over. The picture was clear — with a 12-point lead at Georgia Tech and less than seven minutes left, the Illini were going to move to 8-0 on the season and make it five straight wins against the ACC in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. And it was all going to be because of Rayvonte Rice. He had built the big lead for Illinois from a three-point halftime deficit by scoring 15 points in the second half, including a 10-0 run of his own making. He was his usual aggressive self: driving to the basket, getting to the line, and creating fast breaks from steals. But once the Yellow Jackets adjusted their defense to take away those scoring opportunities for the redshirt junior, Rice’s teammates put on a show themselves — one of passivity and fecklessness that would snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. From that point, Georgia Tech went on a 19-4 run to close out the game and notch its first Challenge win since 2006. In order for the Illini to put this collapse behind them and eventually get back to the NCAA Tournament in March, someone other than Rice will have to evolve into a consistent second option.

Rayvonte Rice went off for 24 points, but was unable to get help from his teammates to secure a win.

Rayvonte Rice went off for 24 points, but was unable to get help from his teammates to secure a win.

In the final six minutes of the game, the Illlini (at least those without Rice on the back of their jersey) went 1-of-9 from the field, including an oh-fer from deep, and committed two poorly-timed turnovers. With Rice unable to affect the game, this left the door open for players like Tracy Abrams, Joseph Bertrand and Jon Ekey to carry the load and seal the win. None of this group were aggressive in trying to find their own shot and it seemed as if the team’s game plan was to simply run out the clock. Particularly disappointing was Abrams who was instrumental in willing Illinois to a win over IPFW last Friday, scoring eight of his 15 points in crucial moments of the second half. As the player with the most big game experience (he leads the Illini in career minutes), and as someone known for his toughness and moxie, he managed only to take one shot (not including the final prayer at the buzzer) while Georgia Tech was storming back.

In previous outings, it has been either Abrams, Bertrand or Ekey who has stepped up to complement the steady hand, Rice. But none of these three players have proven they can be consistent scoring threats on any given night — all three players have had multiple single-figure scoring outings this season. Therefore, the scouting report is out on the Illini — focus on stopping #24 and let someone else beat you. In order to get to the other side of the bubble by March, John Groce is going to need to motivate one of his other talented but inconsistent players to become this year’s D.J. Richardson to Rice’s Brandon Paul.

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Four Thoughts on Indiana’s Loss to Syracuse

Posted by Max Jakubowski on December 4th, 2013

Indiana was dismantled by Syracuse Tuesday evening, 69-52. The Hoosiers were looking to avenge last season’s Sweet Sixteen loss in the NCAA Tournament, but that lengthy Syracuse 2-3 zone stumped Tom Crean’s offense again. Here are four thoughts on last night’s game and what it means for Indiana going forward.

The Rematch Looked a Lot Like the Original. (Getty)

The rematch looked a lot like the original. (Getty)

  1. Yogi Ferrell and Noah Vonleh led Indiana with 12 and 17 points, respectively, but after that there was minimal offensive production from the other Hoosiers. Senior Will Sheehey really struggled from the field, going 1-of-7 and finishing with only three points. Ferrell will get his from long-range shooting and Vonleh can finish on the blocks and on putbacks, but Sheehey has to give Tom Crean another offensive weapon for this team to be successful. Over the previous two seasons, IU hadn’t faced a problem of offensive inconsistency, with players like Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo able to create their own shots. This season, the veteran Sheehey needs to really improve as a three-point threat to keep the offense flowing (he’s shooting a career-low 21.7 percent). With Sheehey also Indiana’s best on-ball defender, it’s proving tough for him to transition from defense to offense.
  2. One way to beat a 2-3 zone is shooting from beyond the arc. Indiana didn’t follow through on that tip, shooting a dreary 28 percent in last night’s game. Last year, the Hoosiers had four players who shot over 40 percent from distance. This year, Ferrell has the highest percentage at 38 percent, and he was the only one to make a three against Syracuse (4-of-7). Sheehey can normally knock down perimeter shots and freshmen Collin Hartman and Troy Williams can shoot as well, but the key shooter is sophomore Jeremy Hollowell.  Hollowell resembles his former teammate Christian Watford; a big, athletic wing who can stretch defenses with his bombs. The problem is that Hollowell only attempted one three-point shot against Syracuse; he needs to become more than just a specialty guy when he’s on the floor 29 minutes for Tom Crean’s team. Read the rest of this entry »
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Fabulous Freshmen Usher in Next Era for Indiana

Posted by Todd Keryc (@tkeryc) on November 22nd, 2013

Todd Keryc (@tkeryc) is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Thursday night’s game between Washington and Indiana in New York.

Even the elite programs of college basketball will not contend for a national championship every year. There are ebbs and flows within every program, like when the big recruiting class gives you hope and the devastation when your superstar leaves prematurely. If everything goes well, the top programs will always contend but can only make a legitimate run at the title every few years. Last season was supposed to be that year for Indiana. They had Player of the Year candidates in Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller. They had experienced seniors in Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls. They had depth, shooting, size and they spent several weeks at the top of the polls.

wash indiana 2ksports

Indiana

The Hoosiers also went cold at the wrong time, bombing out to Syracuse in the Sweet Sixteen. Now, Oladipo is trying to figure out how to take care of the ball with the Orlando Magic. Zeller is trying to finally break into double figures for the Charlotte Bobcats. Watford and Hulls are only present in the record books, no longer on the court. No one expects Indiana to seriously contend for a national championship this season.

Yet last night against Washington at Madison Square Garden, Indiana showed it may not be too long before the Hoosiers are back near the top, and that was thanks to the presence of two promising freshmen, Noah Vonleh and Troy Williams. Vonleh is a long, skinny post player who can be devastatingly active on the glass when he chooses. Physically, he looks like a younger Chris Bosh but he plays a different game, staying closer to the basket and doing his damage on the boards. Indiana plays a similar style to last season with Yogi Ferrell pushing the tempo and attacking defenses, but unlike that group spearheaded by Zeller, they do not spend a lot of time working the ball into the post. Right now Vonleh is left to find scoring opportunities from offensive rebounds and the occasional pick-and-roll finish.

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Previewing the Holiday Tournaments: A Big Ten Perspective

Posted by Max Jakubowski on November 21st, 2013

The holiday tournaments tip off today and college coaches are huge fans of their teams participating in these events. With the quick turnarounds and neutral court sites, the events give players a glimpse of what their conference and postseason tournaments will feel like. From the prestigious eight-team Maui Invitational to the four-team Barclays Center Classic, each tournament provides valuable experience for teams and coaches alike to prepare for a postseason atmosphere. Along with gaining that precious experience, teams can also improve their non-conference resumes just by showing up. A couple of good performances or a holiday tournament championship looks pretty attractive to the selection committee in March. This year, the Big Ten has nearly the entire league competing in some sort of holiday tournament (Illinois and Ohio State are the two absentees). Let’s break down each of them, starting with the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, Charleston Classic and 2kSports Classic, beginning today.

NCAA Basketball: Maui Invitational-Butler vs Illinois

Illinois Jump Started its NCAA Tournament Season A Year Ago in Maui

Puerto Rico Tip off: November 21-24

  • Teams: Michigan vs. Long Beach State, VCU vs. Florida State, Georgetown vs. Northeastern, Charlotte vs. Kansas State
  • Favorite: VCU
  • Projected Michigan Finish: 3rd
  • Michigan Player to WatchDerrick Walton Jr.
  • The Skinny: In the eight-team field, Georgetown, VCU, and the Wolverines are the clear front-runners. Georgetown lucked out as they are on the opposite side of the bracket of both Michigan and VCU. This means that a match-up of last year’s NCAA Tournament third round game between the two schools is likely in the semifinals. Last year, Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. shredded Shaka Smart’s “Havoc” defense on its way to a huge victory. Now, Walton is set to run the offense for Michigan and go up against a veteran VCU backcourt. This game could spell major trouble for John Beilein and his staff, but could also be an important teaching moment.

Charleston Classic: November 21-24

  • TeamsNebraska vs. UMass, UAB vs. New Mexico, Georgia vs. Davidson, Clemson vs. Temple
  • Favorite: New Mexico
  • Projected Nebraska Finish: 5th
  • Nebraska Player to WatchTai Webster
  • The Skinny:  The Cornhuskers play UMass and then either New Mexico or UTEP in the next round. New Mexico is a top 20 team while UMass is expected to compete for a NCAA bid out of the Atlantic 10. Chaz Williams for UMass is an explosively fast guard who can distribute the ball well and shoot lights out from three. Tim Miles will have his work cut out to try and stop Williams, and the freshman Webster will get a nice welcoming from the “Chaz Master.”

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John Groce’s Bad Day Still Doesn’t Change Illinois’ Upward Trajectory

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 15th, 2013

The bad news started early. Quentin Snider changed his mind again, deciding to spurn Illinois and going back to his original verbal pledge to Louisville. This news snowballed on at about 3:15 PM when Cliff Alexander, a potential one-and-done type that could lead a team to the Final Four, decided to leave his home state and go to Kansas instead of the Illini. In a few short hours, Illinois went from having a top five class to one with only one ESPN top 100 recruit (Leron Black). So what I’m advising all the Illini fans out there to do is as follows: Take a deep breath, count to 10, and then hear me out when I say that everything is going to be fine. I’m not just patronizing, I really believe the Illini are a program on the rise with or without Alexander in the fold next season. Here’s why.

Even after losing out on the Cliff Alexander sweepstakes, John Groce still has Illinois on the rise.

Even after losing out on the Cliff Alexander sweepstakes, John Groce still has Illinois on the rise.

If people watched the announcement live on ESPNU like I did, you could see someone who appeared torn up by the decision he was about to make. If Illinois was as close as it was rumored to be, then it shows that Groce is almost ready to kick in the door and end the long trend of top 30 Chicago talents playing elsewhere. He made a distinct impact on Alexander, and for the Illini to get that close when in the past he might not have even considered them, shows Groce is going to get more Chicago elite recruits to stay in state. It’s only a matter of time. He already got a commitment from 2015 wing D.J. Williams from Chicago Simeon High School, and has a chance to add two more from in Jalen Brunson and Charles Matthews. What a miss on Alexander means is that it might be a little bit more of a baby-step progression as opposed to the huge leap that would have happened with Alexander on board. Regardless of today’s results, the program is still in great shape for next year and beyond.

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Big Ten M5: 11.15.13 Edition

Posted by Max Jakubowski on November 15th, 2013

morning5_bigten

  1. Friday at 4:00 PM ET marks a huge day for Illinois as five-star forward Cliff Alexander will announce his college decision — he is down to Illinois, Kansas, DePaul, and Memphis. The Chicago native has his decision in mind and most believe it will be either Illinois or Kansas. Kansas has long been the favorite for Alexander, with Jayhawks’ assistant Jerrance Howard recruiting him since he was an eighth-grader. But Illinois and John Groce have made a late surge and have some momentum. If Alexander puts on the Illini hat Friday, it will not only represent Groce’s growing recruiting presence in Chicago, but will also signal that Illinois is ready to get back to being a national power.
  2. Along with Alexander, elite Class of 2014 prospects Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Stanley Johnson will also announce Friday afternoon. Besides Illinois for Alexander, no other Big Ten team is in the running for these three recruits. But that doesn’t mean the Big Ten is done recruiting top prospects this year. Indiana is heavily pursuing point guard JaQuan Lyle, a former Louisville commitment. Minnesota and Rashad Vaughn have mutual interest. Vaughn, a shooting guard from Golden Valley, Minnesota, would be Richard Pitino’s first major recruit during his short tenure as a head coach. Also look out for Ohio State to continue to pursue consensus top five player Myles Turner, a center who has been compared favorably to former NPOY Anthony Davis.  The Buckeyes already have one of the nation’s best 2014 recruiting classes and all that is missing is a talented big man like Turner.
  3. Tom Izzo and his Michigan State Spartans are coming off a huge Tuesday night victory over Kentucky. Despite the monster win, Izzo is not pleased with his team’s effort on the boards. Adreian Payne battled foul trouble in the second half and that limited his effectiveness. Izzo desperately needs either Matt Costello, Gavin Schilling or Alex Gauna to become a consistent rebounder who the Spartans can lean on to average at least seven boards a game beyond Payne’s production. Gary Harris is another player who Izzo wants to see increase his rebounding activity.  He only averaged 2.5 rebounds per game last season.
  4. Iowa has found a stud player via the transfer hub in Jarrod UthoffWith two scholarships open for the class of 2014, head coach Fran McCaffery said he might turn to the transfer trail to fill them again. Transfers have become increasingly important to college programs, especially when they can get waivers to play right away. Don’t be shocked to see Iowa possibly pick up two graduate students for next season who will be granted immediate eligibility.
  5. There are two major games involving Big Ten teams this weekend. First, #10 Ohio State goes to Milwaukee to take on #17 Marquette Saturday. Look out for the important match-up in the post between Amir Williams and Davante Gardner. Gardner was a first team all-Big East preseason selection and will be a handful for Williams, who has never lived up to his McDonald’s All America hype. On Sunday, #7 Michigan travels to Ames to take on Iowa State. Both teams will each be without a key player, though — Iowa State’s Melvin Ejim is out with a bad left knee and Michigan’s Mitch McGary is not expected to play due to a nagging back injury. It’s not a huge deal now, but each team clearly needs its respective injured player to get healthy by the time conference play starts.
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Big Ten’s One Loss Record Supports Early Claim for Best Conference

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on November 14th, 2013

The start to the Big Ten season has certainly gone well. Granted, there have been a few closer games than expected (we’re looking at you, Indiana and Purdue) and one loss, but nonetheless, the conference now sits at 23-1 going into Thursday morning. (It should be noted this topic was originally written with the assumption Penn State would not lose and the Big Ten would still be undefeated, but alas, we’ll settle for 23-1). It also has two of the biggest signature wins of the young season with Michigan State over Kentucky and Wisconsin downing Florida on Tuesday night. That said, the Big Ten is the only power conference to have only one loss and sits tied with the WCC for best record overall as the only conference with just one loss. The next closest leagues are the Big East and AAC with three losses each. Granted, overall record isn’t the only way to measure conference strength, especially this early in the season with high-major schools playing teams they should beat. Still, it’s an impressive start and worth taking a look at the next few days to see exactly how long the Big Ten can keep it up. This post projects the next four days to determine how likely it is that the Big Ten stays at the one-loss plateau heading into next week.

Gary Harris led Michigan State to No. 1 in the country and the Big Ten sits as the top conference early on, too. (Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

Gary Harris led Michigan State to No. 1 in the country and the Big Ten sits as the top conference early on, too. (Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

Today: Maryland Eastern Shore at Iowa; Northwestern at Stanford

This is a legitimate underdog situation for the Big Ten. Iowa should cruise in its home game against UMES, but the Wildcats are traveling west to play against a good team in its building. Stanford may have given up 112 points against BYU, but the Cougars are no slouch in the WCC.

Loss probability: 80 percent. It’s Northwestern on the road.

Friday: Samford at Indiana; Columbia at Michigan State

If Northwestern pulls off the upset, the Big Ten is looking at 25-1 heading into the weekend. In these two Friday games, Indiana and Michigan State will be heavy favorites. The Hoosiers got their wake-up call against an inferior team on Tuesday night and won’t let that happen again. Michigan State just beat Kentucky, and they aren’t losing to Columbia with a veteran squad coached by Tom Izzo.

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2013-14 RTC Season Preview Materials: Easy Links to Everything

Posted by rtmsf on November 8th, 2013

seasonpreview-11As we’re typing this, the first college basketball game of the 2013-14 season has already begun, at the All-Military Classic in Lexington, Virginia, between Air Force and Army. This soldier-on-soldier match-up represents the first of some 10,000-plus regular season games that will be played around College Basketball Nation this season, and although there’s no organization on earth that can adequately cover, consider, review and analyze all of them, we’re certainly planning on doing our best, in this, Rush the Court‘s seventh full season of coverage.

The Armed Forces Classic Tips Things Off in Earnest Tonight

The Armed Forces Classic Tips Things Off in Earnest Tonight

We have some new offerings for you this year. Not everyone has time or interest in reading through thousands of lines of copy, but everyone enjoys pictures and video. To that end, we’re ramping up our TumblRTC this year to provide some fun to pair with our analysis. Additionally, there’s so much good video available nowadays that we’ve decided to build our own YouTube channel, rushthecourtTV, which is already curating some fantastic stuff — from conference-specific video streams to game highlights to oddball videos to, of course, the best RTCs of the season. It’s well worth checking out periodically if you know you’re going to have some time to kill.

Longtime readers will know that we’re also continually active on Twitter (@rushthecourt) and Facebook (rushthecourt), but to keep the visual trend going, you can also now find us on Instagram (rushthecourt) these days. We encourage everyone to find us on social media to share pics, videos and whatever else related to college hoops all season long. As we move into games, let’s take a breath and review all the great stuff that our crack staff of writers — the best in the college basketball business — have produced this month. From 20 Questions to 30 Reasons We Love College Basketball, we’ve got you covered. Enjoy the ride with us this year.

Superlatives

Key Preview Questions

RTC Interview Series Previews

RTC Podcast Previews

Conference Microsite Previews

The Other 26 Previews

Let’s tip things off!

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Running Down Our Big Ten Preview Posts

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on November 8th, 2013

Folks, the season is finally here! With three ranked teams in the top-10 of the national polls, the Big Ten is ready to once again make its case as the deepest conference in college basketball. Over the next five months, our team of Big Ten writers – Jonathan Batuello, Brendan Brody, Deepak Jayanti, Max Jakubowski and Alex Moscoso — will provide our insights about the conference we love. To prepare you for the season, we’ve outlined all the posts we’ve written about each of the 12 teams in the league, listed below (sorry, Minnesota, we owe you one).

Which Big Ten Team Will Be Playing Into April Like Michigan Was Last Year?

Which Big Ten Team Will Be Playing Into April Like Michigan Was Last Year?

Overall League Coverage

Michigan State

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