What to Expect From Cheick Diallo’s Debut Tonight

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 1st, 2015

As most everyone around college basketball already knows, the NCAA finally cleared Kansas freshman Cheick Diallo in a ruling that figures to add much-needed frontcourt depth and rim protection to the Jayhawks’ roster. Diallo will make his college debut tonight, giving a boost of significance to what would otherwise be a relatively meaningless home cupcake game against Loyola (MD). While Bill Self said yesterday that the Mali native would come off the bench and recommended that initial expectations remain tempered, there will be considerable interest in how Diallo looks right out of the gate. Let’s take a look at what kind of opportunities the Greyhounds will present to the long-awaited jewel of the Kansas recruiting class.

Vaunted freshman Cheick Diallo makes his collegiate debut as the Jayhawks battle Loyola (MD) tonight.

Much-hyped freshman Cheick Diallo makes his collegiate debut as the Jayhawks battle Loyola (MD) tonight.

Over the last few years and for a variety of reasons, Self’s marquee freshmen have struggled to hit the ground running. Tonight should be a somewhat different story as Loyola’s attacking style of play should provide Diallo with opportunities to create highlight-worthy plays from the start. The Greyhounds rely heavily on their inside game to generate offense, which means that they’ll be coming right at the freshman in spite of his defensive abilities. According to hoop-math.com, 46.7 percent of the Greyhounds’ field goal attempts this season have been at the rim (27th nationally), but the Greyhounds are shooting just 55.5 percent on those close looks. For some context, last year’s Kansas team that struggled to find answers inside made 58.0 percent of its close shots. Put differently, one of the worst-performing offenses in Bill Self’s 13-year tenure at Kansas still had more success at the rim than Loyola has experienced in its first six games this season. That’s not good, and making matters worse for Loyola (or better for Diallo), the Greyhounds don’t have the long-range threats needed to make the Jayhawks stretch their defense.

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Clearance of Cheick Diallo Bolsters Kansas’ Title Hopes

Posted by Chris Stone on November 26th, 2015

Kansas received word yesterday that five-star prospect Cheick Diallo will be eligible to play college basketball beginning December 1. Diallo, the nation’s fifth-ranked prospect, according to Rivals, had been under investigation for his time at Our Savior New American High School as well as possible benefits violations. His high school’s academic credentials have been questioned by the NCAA’s Eligibility Center on more than one occasion — Alabama lost 2015 recruit and Our Savior New American graduate, Kobie Eubanks, because he failed to academically qualify. Eubanks, however, appears to have had additional academic issues that prevented him from playing. Diallo’s case was bolstered by an independent investigation into his course history and nearly six figures of funding from Kansas.

Cheick Diallo's NCAA clearance is big news for Kansas. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

Cheick Diallo’s NCAA clearance is big news for Kansas. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)

The Kansas compliance department was deliberate in its approach to Diallo’s eligibility and the recently-crowned Maui Invitational champions should now be able to reap the rewards of that patience. The freshman really impressed his head coach during summer workouts, and is likely to force his way into the starting lineup at some point. “We’ve never had a big guy that could run like this,” Self told reporters. “It’d be nice to have a mindset to play at a much faster tempo than we have in the past. […] Cheick forces a pace that nobody has ever forced here. He can create pace better than any point guard we’ve ever had here. Just because the dude from rim to rim is as good as I’ve seen. I didn’t say the best offensive player, but running rim to rim I think he’ll drag everybody along with him.” Given that sort of evaluation, it appears that Diallo’s presence on the floor is likely to push Kansas to play at one of the fastest paces a Self team has ever maintained (Kansas is already playing the 37th-fastest tempo nationally). Read the rest of this entry »

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Feast Week Previews: Maui, Legends, CBE & Cancun Tourneys

Posted by Andrew Gripshover on November 23rd, 2015

There are talented tournament fields everywhere this Feast Week. The Gulf Coast Showcase has a relatively strong mid-major field headlined by Murray State, Duquesne (which absolutely BLASTED Penn State on Friday) and Texas Southern. Four capable teams — Clemson, UMass (already a winner over Harvard), Creighton and Rutgers — will tussle in another four-team field in Vegas. Looking further ahead, Atlantis tips off on Wednesday before a handful of other events kick off on Thanksgiving Day and beyond. As we did with Puerto Rico and Charleston last week, here’s a look at the event favorite, a dark horse, and the teams who have the most on the line this week. We’ll also highlight a player and a storyline to watch.

Maui Invitational

Despite some early season struggles, Bill Self and Kansas are still the clear favorite in Maui. (Getty)

Despite some early struggles, Bill Self and Kansas are still the clear favorite in Maui. (Getty)

  • Favorite: Kansas. Even with no Cheick Diallo or Brannen Greene for the week and the second half collapse to Michigan State in Chicago notwithstanding, the Jayhawks are still the clear favorite in Maui as the only top 10 team in this tournament. Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor are seniors. Frank Mason and Wayne Selden are juniors. This is an experienced team that might be going on its last ride together. As usual, there’s chatter about this being the year the Big 12 title streak is broken. Winning the Maui title would probably pump the brakes on that notion, at least for the time being.
  • Darkhorse: UCLA. In terms of talent and potential, the Bruins are a clear sleeper. Aaron Holiday, Bryce Alford, Tony Parker  you could easily see a team with talented pieces like these upsetting a still-not-quite-right Kansas in the semifinal and then taking out Indiana or Vanderbilt the next night. Of course, they’re flaky enough that they could brick the last Maui quarter to UNLV, especially after that whole Monmouth thing.

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Feast Week Mission Briefing: Kansas in the Maui Invitational

Posted by Chris Stone on November 23rd, 2015

It’s Feast Week in college basketball. To get you ready for the Big 12’s representation in the various holiday tournaments this week, our Feast Week Mission Briefings begin today.

Catching Up: It’s already been quite an eventful beginning to the season for Kansas. The Jayhawks pummeled Northern Colorado in the opener, 109-72, in a game where they knocked down 15 three-pointers. In their first real test, though, Kansas again stumbled at the Champions Classic. The Jayhawks couldn’t handle a second half explosion from Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine and did themselves no favors on the offensive end. Some good news came last Friday when freshman big man Cheick Diallo received a waiver from the NCAA to travel with the team to Maui, but Diallo has yet to be cleared. As a result, head coach Bill Self has now begun to unleash his wrath against the sport’s governing body in public settings. Whether Diallo will be cleared to play this week (or this season) remains a mystery, but it’s becoming apparent that Self is tired of the distraction of waiting for an answer. In between the Jayhawks’ loss to Michigan State and Self’s campaign against the NCAA, Kansas also suspended guard Brannen Greene for six games as the result of a playing time dispute. Kansas, it seems, is in a bit of a mini-crisis heading into today’s Maui Invitational.

Bill Self and Tom Crean could meet on the court in the final of the Maui Invitational. (Photo Credit: KU Sports/Nick Krug)

Bill Self and Tom Crean could meet on the court in the championship game of the Maui Invitational. (Photo Credit: KU Sports/Nick Krug)

Opening Round Preview: The Jayhawks will have an opportunity to work out any kinks relating to Greene’s suspension in their first round game against host Chaminade, by far the easiest opening round matchup. The Division II Silverswords are currently 0-2, having already lost to Alaska-Anchorage and Alaska earlier this month. Chaminade averages 32 three-point attempts per contest and they convert 14 of them, so Kansas will need to do a good job of protecting the perimeter. In general, though, this is the type of game where Self’s squad will pound it inside and wear down the overmatched opponent. The Jayhawks’ much tougher tests in the islands will come on Tuesday and Wednesday. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 M5: 11.23.15 Edition

Posted by Chris Stone on November 23rd, 2015

morning5_big12

  1. It’s been an eventful weekend for Cheick Diallo‘s eligibility struggle. After he was allowed to travel to Maui on Friday with the Jayhawks, Bill Self opened up to the media about the process the school has endured to clear the big man. So far, Kansas has hired two separate investigative firms, visited Diallo’s high school on six different occasions, and sent a letter listing 19 shortcomings with the NCAA’s investigation. As of Sunday morning, Kansas still had not heard from the governing body regarding its most recent efforts. What happens next is really anybody’s guess, but the Mali native is with the team on island and is presumably ready to go should he get cleared sometime during the tournament.
  2. After hanging tough against Utah before losing last Thursday, Texas Tech bounced back with a pair of wins to finish fifth in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. The Red Raiders knocked off Mississippi State and their highly touted freshman Malik Newman on Friday before defeating Tubby Smith‘s former school, Minnesota, on Sunday. For his part, Smith seems very happy with his position, telling the media, “I’m really happy we were able to come to a place like Texas Tech where they’ll celebrate you and not just tolerate you.” With a roster showing promise, the Red Raiders are poised to improve their Big 12 record this season, something that should give Texas Tech fans more reasons to celebrate Tubby’s team.
  3. There was also some recent cause for celebration in Austin, as Shaka Smart picked up his first win as the Texas head coach when the Longhorns defeated Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, 67-56, in their home opener. They were led by big man Cameron Ridley, who scored 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the field and pulled down 14 rebounds. After shedding some pounds in the offseason, Ridley is becoming a focal point of Smart’s attack and it has become clear that he intends to keep feeding him the ball going forward. Getting the senior some high percentage looks is a priority for a team that is shooting just 34.4 percent on two-point attempts through two games.
  4. Travis Hines at the Ames Tribune took an opportunity to draw some early conclusions about Iowa State, and one of the things he noticed is just how much balance with which the Cyclones are playing through 80 minutes of game action. Iowa State so far has four players with usage rates higher than 20 percent, suggesting that they’re generously spreading the love on offense. The one starter not above that mark? Senior Georges Niang. But make no mistake, the team still knows Niang is its rock. “It’s good to have the foundation,” Naz Mitrou-Long said, “and Georges has been our guy for that for the last couple years.”
  5. Despite missing three rotation players, Oklahoma State eked out a victory over Long Beach State on Sunday to finish third in the Charleston Classic. The Cowboys led by seven points with 39 seconds remaining when Jawun Evans picked up a personal foul and Chris Olivier was hit with a technical. Long Beach State would get it to within a single point as a result, but four clutch free throws by Tyree Griffin sealed the game for the Cowboys. Interestingly enough, the two teams will turn right around and play again on Friday in Stillwater, but this time Oklahoma State figures to be closer to full strength.
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Brannen Greene’s Suspension Deals a Blow to Kansas’ Hopes in Maui

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 20th, 2015

The continuation of Kansas’ offensive struggles from last year have been a huge lightning rod for discussion, and it looks like they’ll continue for at least another few weeks. News released this morning that Bill Self had suspended forward Brannen Greene for the next six games because of conduct detrimental to the team.

This isn’t the first time Greene has found himself in trouble off the court. In July 2013, he was cited by Lawrence police for leaving the scene of a car accident, an incident for which team discipline was handled internally. Last March, he was held out for the final game of the regular season against Oklahoma, with Self citing “irresponsibility” as the culprit.

The length of Greene’s current suspension means that he will miss three games in addition to the Jayhawks’ three contests next week at the Maui Invitational. The opponents for those games will be Loyola (MD), Harvard and Holy Cross, with all three tilts taking place in Lawrence. Greene’s return is currently pegged for December 12, when the Jayhawks are scheduled to face Oregon State in Kansas City.

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Failure to Innovate Offensively Will Limit Kansas In March

Posted by Chris Stone on November 18th, 2015

After last night’s 79-73 loss to Michigan State at the Champions Classic, Kansas head coach Bill Self lamented his team’s inability to score inside the paint–a staple of Self’s high-low offensive scheme. The Jayhawks astonishingly made just 13 of their 33 layups: “The one thing, in order for us to win big consistently, is we’ve got to be able to score with our back to the basket some,” Self told the media after the game. It’s not the first time he has raised this concern. After nearly every loss last season either Self or one of his players made reference to the team’s inability to play through the team’s bigs and score on the inside.

After losing to Michigan State, Kansas is just 1-4 in the Champions Classic. (KU Sports/Nick Krug)

After losing to Michigan State, Kansas is just 1-4 in the Champions Classic. (KU Sports/Nick Krug)

There’s a cliche for situations like this. The one about insanity being defined as doing the same things over and over and over again, and expecting different results. But nobody likes cliches. They’re overused — a less-than-nuanced way of dealing with a problem. Yet cliches are often accurate, which is really what makes us uncomfortable with them. We don’t want to be perceived as insane, so we dismiss the cliche as irrelevant, overused, or simple. For Self and Kansas, their overwheleming drive to pound the ball into the paint is quite possibly the definition of insanity.

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The Champions Classic Lesson

Posted by Bennet Hayes on November 18th, 2015

Let’s get it out there: Kentucky and Michigan State collected MAJOR wins at the Champions Classic on Tuesday night. If Kansas and Duke turn out to be anything close to the top five teams that they are expected to be, these are the type of victories that can separate #1 seeds from #2 seeds come March. For teams closer to peril (not that either Kentucky or Michigan State is likely to fall into this category), wins like these can redirect NIT-bound seasons into the field of 68. Nevermind that it’s only November, or that all four of these teams will evolve dramatically over the course of the season: These results will still matter in March. But with that note out of the way, we can also admit something that all four coaches seemed to know last night: These games don’t matter all THAT much. There’s no realistic way that last night’s results will define any of these team’s seasons, and all four coaches, given a chance to improve over the next five months, trust their own ability to mold a team — no matter how dysfunctional they may appear in November.    

Denzel Valentine Was Tuesday Night's Show-Stopper (Photo: The Sporting News)

Denzel Valentine Was Tuesday Night’s Show-Stopper (Photo: The Sporting News)

But that isn’t to say that any of these four teams looked especially bad last night. Duke’s leading scorer, sophomore Grayson Allen, did look bad, but expectations should have been restrained in his first take in a starring role against elite competition. Allen and the other young Blue Devils — Brandon Ingram (1-of-6 from the field, four turnovers, four fouls), Derryck Thornton (3-of-7 FG, four turnovers) and Luke Kennard (0-of-5 FG) — are all good bets to steadily improve in the months to come. Kansas was the other team that left the United Center a loser last night, but Bill Self’s team displayed no signs of panic in the aftermath of Michigan State’s victory. Jayhawks junior Wayne Selden admitted that early season struggles had worried him in years past, but he said the more experienced composition of his current team quelled any such concerns this time around. Kansas handed away a game they held complete control of for 33 minutes — Bill Self admitted as much afterward — and the ball screen defense (or lack thereof) that enabled Denzel Valentine (29 points, 12 rebounds, 12 assists) to repeatedly break Kansas down will need significant revisions. However, the Jayhawks have the talent, experience and coaching to cure their November ills, not to mention plenty of time in which to do so.

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Rushed Reactions: #13 Michigan State 79, #4 Kansas 73

Posted by Bennet Hayes on November 18th, 2015

RTC National Columnist Bennet Hayes was in Chicago for the Champion’s Classic.

Three Key Takeaways: 

Denzel Valentine Stole The Champion's Classic Show Tuesday Night (Photo: Spartan Avenue)

Denzel Valentine Stole The Champion’s Classic Show Tuesday Night (Photo: Spartan Avenue)

  1. Denzel Valentine Is Really Good. The Spartan senior delivered the individual performance of this young college basketball season, producing a 29 point, 12 rebound, 12 assist triple-double. Valentine had the ball in his hands in the crucial moments of almost every Spartan possession, particularly in the second half. His final shooting numbers don’t dazzle (10-23 from the field), but you can’t underemphasize Michigan State’s reliance on their do-it-all senior leader. Tom Izzo completely abandoned his offense down the stretch to give Valentine the ball and run him off of ball screen after ball screen, a strategy that paid massive dividends on this night. Demanding this much out of Valentine may prove sketchy as a long-term offensive solution, but for now, Michigan State is 2-0 and has Valentine to thank for it.
  2. Kansas’ Champion’s Classic Struggles Continue. If Bill Self wants to look on the bright side, the Jayhawks are probably leaving Chicago feeling better about themselves than they were this time last year. And really, a neutral site loss to a team likely to be very relevant come March will hardly cripple the Jayhawks’ season. Still though, Tuesday night’s result has to be extremely disappointing. Kansas had this game under control for the better part of 35 minutes and lost largely out of an inability to control one player on the other side. Redemption for Champion’s Classic failures of years past was well within reach. Once again, KU fell short.
  3. Michigan State Controls Backboards. With Spartan forward/center Gavin Schilling out again Tuesday night with turf toe, Kansas’ talented corps of big men had to enter the United Center with designs on dominating the glass. If they did have that plan, it didn’t come to fruition. Tom Izzo called his team’s first half performance “very soft”, but Michigan State had collected 10 more rebounds than the Jayhawks by the time the final buzzer sounded. Kansas must be tougher – and has the personnel to do so – moving forward. On the Michigan State side, continued success on the backboards, perhaps paired with a heavy dose of Valentine, could be a nice recipe for success moving forward.

Star of the Game: Denzel Valentine, Michigan State. No surprise here, as Valentine delivered a personal masterpiece that may not be topped anytime soon in 2015-16. One statistic that may be lost in the recounting of his heroics: Valentine finished with just one turnover. It may be the most telling statistic of any, as Valentine seemed to control nearly every second of the last ten minutes.

Quotable:

  • “I didn’t think he was going to hit them. He showed some nuts on that one.” –Valentine on freshman forward Deyonta Davis knocking down two key free throws with 23 seconds to play
  • “I felt stupid at halftime for telling everyone this was one of the better shooting teams I’ve had, shooting 33 percent. Of course that may be true, we’ve shot 28 percent some years.” –Izzo on his teams’ opening half offense
  • “He is like Draymond. There’s a million things he’s not good enough at, but winning he is good enough at.” –Izzo, comparing Valentine to former Spartan star Draymond Green
  • “We did some good things to get control of the game the first 33 minutes or so, then they made a ton of plays late.” –Bill Self
  • “I always thought he was a good player. Tonight I think he proved to everyone that he is an exceptional player.” –Self on Valentine 

Sights and Sounds: Things quieted down a bit for the second game of the Champion’s Classic, but the United Center stayed noisy throughout. Kansas fans impressively invaded Big Ten country, with Jayhawk supporters outnumbering their Spartan counterparts. Still, Valentine’s second half heroics kept a healthy back-and-forth going between fan bases. November did a very good March impersonation in Chicago tonight.

What’s Next: The Jayhawks get six days off before their next contest, a first round game in the Maui Invitational against host Chaminade. The Silverswords should offer KU little resistance, but tricky matchups could arrive on the following two days. Either UCLA or UNLV will be the Jayhawks’ opponent in game two, while possible finals opponents include Vanderbilt and Indiana. Michigan State will also be making a journey west for an in-season tournament, but not before a quick stop in East Lansing for home dates against Arkansas Pine Bluff and Eastern Michigan. The Spartans open the Wooden Classic with Boston College on Thanksgiving; probable opponents in later rounds of the event include Boise State and either Arizona or Providence (on Friday and Sunday, respectively).

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Michigan State vs. Kansas: Four Things to Know

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on November 17th, 2015

Tonight the fifth annual Champions Classic will tip off at the United Center in Chicago where Michigan State will face Kansas in the late game. The Spartans and Jayhawks — both ranked in the top 15 — bring the usual lofty season expectations each program is accustomed to. Bill Self and Tom Izzo have built the type of rosters that seem to be the recipe for success in today’s college game: a healthy mix of experienced upperclassmen along with some talented freshmen. In order to prepare you for tonight’s game and get you familiar with some of the new faces, here are four things you need to know before you tune in to watch.

Deyonta Davis will need to keep dominating inside against Kansas. (Rey De Rio/Getty Images)

Deyonta Davis faces his first major challenge in the paint against Kansas. (Rey De Rio/Getty Images)

  1. Deyonta Down Low. Michigan State lost a lot of its muscle in the post when Branden Dawson graduated but Izzo seems to have found a more-than-suitable replacement in four-star freshman Deyonta Davis. The Muskegon, Michigan, native didn’t let his youth and inexperience make him reticent in his inaugural outing on Friday, as evidenced by his stat line of 13 points on 14 shots (team-high), 11 rebounds, and five blocks against Florida Atlantic. But his head coach might have to calm his budding star down a bit tonight because Davis won’t be able to physically bully the Jayhawks in the paint like he did against the Owls. Read the rest of this entry »
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Kansas Seeking Redemption at the Champions Classic

Posted by Chris Stone on November 17th, 2015

Kansas hasn’t had much luck in the Champions Classic. Since the event began in 2011, the Jayhawks have won just once in four tries — a 94-83 victory against Duke at the United Center in 2013. This year, Bill Self‘s squad returns to Chicago looking for redemption after last season’s embarrassing 72-40 defeat to Kentucky. Kansas isn’t looking to fall so hard again. “We have no plans of having anything like that happen again,” junior Landen Lucas recently said. “That was not something that is OK with us. For the people that were here last year, that is not acceptable, no matter how early in the season it is.”

The last time Kansas won in the Champions Classic, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker were on the floor. (Getty Images)

The last time Kansas won in the Champions Classic, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker were on the floor. (Getty Images)

To avoid another loss, the Jayhawks will look to take advantage of a depleted Michigan State frontcourt. For the second straight game, the Spartans will be without 6’9″ forward Gavin Schillingwho will miss the contest with turf toe. Schilling is one of only three players that size on Tom Izzo‘s roster so Kansas should have plenty of opportunities to challenge the Spartans inside with senior forward Perry Ellis. Although Ellis made only 47 percent of his two-point field goals last season, his ability to draw fouls (5.1 per 40 minutes a year ago) makes him a dangerous matchup against an already thin frontline. Kansas, meanwhile, has one of the deepest groups of big men in the country. Ellis is flanked by a talented corps of bigs that includes Carlton BraggJamari Traylor, Landen Lucas and Hunter Mickelson. The burden will be on Michigan State’s Matt Costello and Deyonta Davis to defend the Jayhawks’ plethora of post options without fouling them. Limited minutes for either could expose that thin Spartans’ front line. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big 12 Preview: Kansas’ Burning Question

Posted by Chris Stone on November 10th, 2015

This team preview is part of the RTC Big 12 microsite’s preseason coverage.

Burning Question: Can this Kansas team put together a deep NCAA Tournament run? 

Very few teams in college basketball carry the weight of expectations that Kansas does each season. Since Bill Self took over the program in 2003-04, Kansas is one of only three schools (along with Duke and North Carolina) to have been ranked in the top 10 of the AP preseason poll 10 or more times. Of the three times the Jayhawks weren’t in the top 10, the Jayhawks had played in the National Championship Game the year before and had lost significant roster pieces to the NBA. With the Big 12 regular season title streak now at 11 and counting, Kansas winning the league has become about as certain as death and taxes. And yet, it somehow still feels as though the Jayhawks have underachieved during Self’s tenure.

Can Bill Self turn the tide in the NCAA Tournament? (Rich Sugg/The Kansas City Star)

Can Bill Self turn the tide in the NCAA Tournament? (Rich Sugg/The Kansas City Star)

Kansas has failed to make it past the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament in each of the past two seasons, losing to Stanford and Wichita State in its second game of the event. This isn’t the first bout of postseason failure under Self, either, as the Jayhawks suffered opening round defeats to Bucknell (2005) and Bradley (2006) prior to his national title in 2008. Self’s teams tend to bounce back, but can this group rebound from these recent early NCAA exits with a deep run this coming March? Read the rest of this entry »

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