Pac-12 Preseason Poll, Superlatives & All-Conference Teams

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 13th, 2015

Over the past three weeks, we’ve unveiled individual previews for each of the 12 conference teams (for a full list with links, scroll down to the very bottom of this post). Now it is time to put it all together and take a look at the Pac-12 as a whole. So we gathered our most knowledgeable Pac-12 aficionados and voted on things like projected conference standings, All-Conference Teams, and Player of the Year. Below we’ll unveil those results.

First, though, since this is a team sport, let’s get right to the heart of the matter and review our preseason Pac-12 poll. We asked each of our pollsters to rank each team from #1 through #12 and found some interesting results. Three of our four voters picked Arizona to three-peat as the regular season champion, while the fourth person picked Oregon. Utah and Cal are in the mix as well, while the biggest gap separates spots #6 (Oregon State) and #7 (Arizona State).

Screenshot 2015-11-11 12.56.49

Compared with last season’s standings, Cal is the team expected to take the biggest jump, which is no surprise given Cuonzo Martin’s stellar recruiting class. On the flip side, our voters are less bullish on Stanford across the Bay. Last year the Cardinal finished tied for fifth in the conference and won the NIT. This year? Two of our voters pick them as the absolute worst team in the Pac-12.

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Utah Preview: Who’s Got the Wright Stuff?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 23rd, 2015

In the next three weeks leading up to season tipoff, the Pac-12 microsite will be evaluating each of the league’s 12 teams. Today, we head to Salt Lake City.

Utah Utes

The second team up for our preseason previews is Larry Krystkowiak’s squad, fresh off a third-place conference finish and a Sweet Sixteen appearance. Last season marked the third consecutive year in West Coast Coach K’s four-year tenure in Salt Lake City in which his team’s record has improved. Of the team’s 11 players who averaged better than eight minutes per game last season, nine return. However, the big one who doesn’t is point guard and All-American Delon Wright, who averaged 14.5 points, 5.1 assists, 4.9 boards, 2.1 assists and a block per game, numbers that only begin to sum up his overall importance to the squad.

With Jakob Poeltl Patrolling The Paint, The Utes Defense Is A Serious Strength (Godofredo Vasquez, USA Today)

With Jakob Poeltl Patrolling The Paint, The Utes’ Defense Is A Serious Strength (Godofredo Vasquez, USA Today)

Strengths. As alluded to above, that experience is going to be a huge asset for the Utes. But it is just one of many areas from which this team can draw confidence. Last year the Utes were sixth in the nation in defensive efficiency, largely on the strength of allowing the fifth-lowest effective field goal percentage in the nation. Dig deeper and you also see things like this (courtesy of They were 35th in the nation in fewest three-point attempts allowed; they allowed the 25th-lowest field goal percentage on shots at the rim and were 20th in the nation at shots blocked at the rim; and, they forced their opponents to take the 25th-highest percentage of two-point jumpers. To sum it up, this was a team that closed out on shooters at the arc, forced opponents inside the three-point line, and then used their front line size (highlighted by freshman center Jakob Poeltl) to greatly inhibit shooters’ effectiveness around the rim. Utah loses one of the nation’s elite perimeter defenders with Wright now gone, but the guys expected to take over for him are athletic and long wings. If Krystkowiak’s perimeter defense can be roughly equivalent to last year, scoring against the Utes in the paint will likely be just as difficult. On the other end of the court, the team’s biggest strength last season was its three-point shooting. Three different players – Brandon Taylor, Jordan Loveridge and Dakarai Tucker – shot at least 37 percent from three on at least 108 attempts. They all return, but again, Wright’s ability to penetrate and draw multiple defenders certainly opened up clean looks for them around the arc. If they can again find good looks, the Utes should be able to maintain one of their biggest strengths. Read the rest of this entry »

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On the Rise Of Utah Basketball

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on February 26th, 2015

On Saturday, Arizona will travel to Utah for a game with major implications to the Pac-12 regular season title picture. Any casual basketball fan knows the general story of Sean Miller and his refresh of the Wildcats program – a program with a proud history returned to elite status following the bumpy ending of the Lute Olson era. What many may not recognize is that the Utes are following a similar path. Following the stability and excellence of the 14 years of the Rick Majerus era (which featured no losing records, 10 seasons with at least 24 wins, a Final Four and 11 NCAA Tournament appearances), the Utes burned through two coaches in seven years and suffered four losing seasons over that volatile stretch. Compared with Arizona’s post-Olson struggles, Utah’s downturn was far more pronounced. But through the combination of the right hire, rampant roster revamping and, let’s face it, some good luck, the Utes have come out the other side of their dark period as a member of a power conference and back to national contention.

After A Rough Transition Post-Majerus, Utah Basketball Is Back In Its Rightful Place (Utah Athletics)

After A Rough Transition Post-Majerus, Utah Basketball Is Back In Its Rightful Place. (Utah Athletics)

The 2010-11 season was a great example of mixed emotions around the Utah basketball program. There was the excitement that the Utes were headed to a new conference – the newly named Pac-12 – in the following season. But at the same time, the current edition of the team was struggling to a tie for sixth place in the Mountain West as head coach Jim Boylen wrapped up his four-year stint with a third losing conference record. The program was coming off a season in which five players (including some guy named Marshall Henderson, and another one named Carlon Brown – who went on to be a Pac-12 Tournament MVP in leading Colorado to an NCAA bid in 2012) had transferred out of the program. Boylen was subsequently fired, and after a search that included St. Mary’s Randy Bennett and former Alabama head coach Mark Gottfried as candidates, Montana’s Larry Krystkowiak was named the new head coach on April 2, 2011.

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Is Penn State A Pretender Or Contender?

Posted by Alex Moscoso on December 17th, 2014

Last Sunday, Penn State got its best win of the season when it soundly defeated a talented George Washington team at the Bryce Jordan Center. The victory pushed the Nittany Lions’ record to 10-1, which is tied for best in the Big Ten — the lone loss a double-overtime bout with Charlotte. While the number of wins is impressive, a deeper look into the record reveals the absence of any other resume-enhancing wins. Even last weekend’s win against the Colonials, while no easy task, represents a victory over a team that hovers around the top 50 in both the KenPom and Sagarin ratings. Also concerning is the fact that Penn State has not exactly been blowing out its inferior opponents (they won by fewer than five points against Virginia Tech, Marshall, and Duquesne, but they still won). This presents something of a paradox between their on-court performance and their record, leaving Big Ten fans to guess how good Penn State really is. In this post, I’ll explore both sides of whether Pat Chambers’ squad is really a contender or pretender as he pushes forward toward what could possibly be his first NCAA Tournament bid as the head coach.

Shep Garner has been able to emerge as a secondary scorer for Penn State in his freshman year.

Shep Garner has been able to emerge as a secondary scorer for Penn State in his freshman year (Mark Selders/

  • Penn State is a pretender. Look no further than the Sagarin ratings to show the true discrepancy between the Nittany Lions’ record and performance. Specifically note the Elo rating component, which is a formula that solely considers wins, losses and who they’re against, and compare it with the Golden Mean and Pure Points ratings, two metrics that take into account point differential. Based on the Elo rating, Penn State is ranked 49th in the country; his Golden Mean and Pure Points ratings list the Nittany Lions at 128th and 119th, respectively. That’s an approximate gap of 70-80 teams, with the difference accounting for actual on-court performance. KenPom makes a similar case in his ratings, as he ranks the team 89th but notes that it is among the top 40 in luck, a metric that measures how much a team’s record has been above its expected play on the court. So if you’re looking at these metrics alone, it’s undeniable that the 10-1 record is somewhat misleading.

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Dear Utah: Seriously, Can You Learn How to Close the Door?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 11th, 2014

Against Wichita State, it was sort of heartwarming; Utah getting that close-game monkey off their back (they had been 3-9 in games decided by two possesions or less since Delon Wright put on a Utah uniform at the start of last season). The fact that they had to blow a comfortable lead in the waning moments to make the game close to begin with was forgivable givne the final result. Against BYU on Wednesday night, heartwarming turned into heartburn.

Winning Easily Seems To Fit As Awkwardly On The Utes As A Suit Jacket Does On Head Coach Larry Krystkowiak

Winning Easily Seems To Fit As Awkwardly On The Utes As A Suit Jacket Does On Head Coach Larry Krystkowiak

Really, by the time this game reached the first TV timeout early in the first half, there was no doubt as to who was the better team, who had more talent. Sure, BYU’s Tyler Haws is an elite scorer capable of keeping his team in a lot of games it has no business being in. And Kyle Collinsworth? Goodness. I have neither the time nor the imminent desire to list all the things I love about that dude’s game. But beyond that, the rest of that BYU roster is more or less indistinguishable from any other random team that will likely be on the periphery of NCAA Tournament discussion in a few months. They’ve got some decent parts (Anson Winder is nice, Chase Fischer is flammable, some passable bigs), but on a whole, there ain’t a whole lot to write home about beyond those two.

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Huge Win For Utah in a Non-Conference Classic

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 4th, 2014

If you’ve been paying attention here, you knew the stats: last year Utah was 3-8 in games decided by two possessions or less. This season they extended that number to 3-9 with a four-point loss at San Diego State. Throw in the extra little point that only one of those three close wins last year came against an NCAA Tournament team, and you had to feel unsure about the Utes’ chances in the middle of the second half when they appeared to be locked into a duel with everybody’s favorite, the Wichita State Shockers. Even as the Utes appeared to be the more dynamic team on the floor in this game once they settled down about mid-way through the first half, the Shockers kept sticking around and making championship-level plays. That is, right up until their water got turned off by excellent Utah defense for possession after possession in the middle of the second half. A consistently tight game turned into an 11-point lead for the Utes with five minutes left, a lead that remained at seven with 80 seconds left. And it appeared the game was in hand. And then: oh Utah. Wichita: three. Then a five-second call and a unshocking three. Then a turnover on the inbounds pass and then another Wichita three. And then… “Sure, okay, this is how 3-10 is going to happen.”

Freshman Seven-Footer Jakob Poeltl Helped Lead The Utes To An Exciting Win (Rick Bowmer, AP)

Freshman Seven-Footer Jakob Poeltl Helped Lead The Utes To An Exciting Win (Rick Bowmer, AP)

But then, this team with all this talent… They… Well, is “grew a pair” too much? This matchup was a game with actual consequences for both teams. Wichita is getting exactly two cracks at the Big Five conference teams this season, and this was one of them. Utah, while still having chances at quality wins later in December, was on the verge of adding on another layer of lacquer to that reputation of a team that can’t win in the clutch. Both of these teams had very strong reasons to take this game extremely seriously. And in the middle of all this, Utah takes Wichita’s best shot (albeit in the friendly confines of the Huntsman Center) and shows a serious toughness down the stretch of regulation to force overtime and eventually eke out a tough win. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac Previews: Utah vs. Wichita State & Arizona State vs. UNLV

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 3rd, 2014

With Feast Week behind us and finals on the horizon, things are about to slow down just a little bit in college basketball. Come this weekend, we’ll have all sorts of interesting games on the slate — Arizona State vs. Texas A&M, Gonzaga vs. Arizona, Mississippi vs. Oregon, Colorado vs. Georgia and Washington vs. San Diego State — and not necessarily in that order, that have me intrigued. But between now and then, there are just two match-ups that we can recommend in good conscience, both taking place on Pac-12 home courts tonight. Below, we’ll preview the headliner – Wichita State at Utah – as well as an interesting undercard as UNLV visits Arizona State.

Wichita State at Utah, 8:00 PM PST, ESPN2

Unless you’re a big-time Utes fan or an inveterate college hoops junkie, the last time you saw Utah play it was falling short in a late mid-afternoon run at a comeback against San Diego State. Since then, the Utes have performed mop-up duty against a quartet of teams all ranked in the bottom 20 percent of Division I, winning those four games by an average of 36.3 points per game. The Shockers, meanwhile, have played three teams ranked between #50 and #75 by KenPom and won those games by an average of 17.3 points per game. While they are known for their perimeter players – guards Fred Van Vleet and Ron Baker earned preseason All-America consideration, and senior Tekele Cotton is one of the nation’s best perimeter defenders — Wichita State is a team that plays inside out, getting dribble penetration into the lane and creating opportunities from there. As such, priority number one is stopping that penetration, something Utah is well-suited for with elite defenders Delon Wright and Brandon Taylor leading the way. Perhaps more significant to the Utes’ chances would be the presence of shot-blocking freshman phenom Jakob Poeltl protecting the rim should Van Vleet get into the paint. Likewise, on the other end, Poeltl’s skills in the post and the Utes’ offensive rebounding strength (they’re 18th in the nation with a 40.8% offensive rebounding rate – but remind yourself of that level of competition) could be a pain in the neck to a team without an established player taller than 6’7”.

Delon Wright And Utah Need To Prove They're Ready For The National Stage

Delon Wright And Utah Need To Prove They’re Ready For The National Stage. (Getty)

But really, match-ups and Xs-and-Os are in some ways missing the point of this game for Utah. The Utes have already shown that they can play with the big boys. They battled San Diego State to a four-point road loss (keeping in mind that the final score was a touch closer than reality); they played Arizona to a nine-point margin at the McKale Center last season, then took the ‘Cats to overtime in Salt Lake City later on. Last year they also split with Colorado (including a road loss in overtime) and took Oregon to overtime as well before losing. We know that this team is talented enough to play with some of the best teams in the country — what they have yet to show us is that it can beat those teams, can perform in clutch situations and make good decisions when the pressure is on. Against the Aztecs two weeks ago, the stage was a little too bright for them. They’ve had a chance since then to workshop their script in what amounts to little more than dress rehearsals. If the nation can stay awake on Wednesday night after the Duke/Wisconsin game, they’ll get a chance to see if this Utah team is ready for the spotlight. Read the rest of this entry »

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Penn State Outlook in the Charleston Classic

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 20th, 2014

Penn State heads to South Carolina this weekend to play in the Charleston Classic. The eight-team field doesn’t have any Top 25 teams attending, but it will give the Nittany Lions a few chances to notch wins that could end up being significant if they want to make a postseason tournament. Of course which team they play will be determined by how the bracket works out, but regardless of their opponents, one has to look no further than what Nebraska did last season as to how a holiday tournament like this can help teams figure things out. Despite the fact that they Cornhuskers only won one of three games in this event last season, Nebraska played eventual NCAA Tournament team UMass close and got a decent win over Georgia. Here’s a brief look at what Penn State has in store for them in this season’s edition.

Penn State will need big games from DJ Newbill this weekend in the Charleston Classic. (

Penn State will need big games from DJ Newbill this weekend in the Charleston Classic. (

Their first round opponent is Charlotte, a team that could contend for the Conference USA crown along with the likes of Louisiana Tech and UTEP. Both teams look to be structured similarly in terms of their size and makeup. Penn State will need to keep Mike Thorne Jr and Willie Clayton off of the boards, as the pair combined for 23 rebounds in their first game of the season, a win over Elon. Ross Travis and Brandon Taylor will need to keep them in check, especially to keep Clayton from giving the 49ers extra possessions. Florida transfer Braxton Ogbueze is Charlotte’s point guard, which will be a nice test for freshman Shep Garner. Penn State should win this one, but it will be a quality match-up.

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Pac-12 Season Previews: Utah Utes

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 11th, 2014

The Pac-12 microsite will preview each of its league teams over the next few weeks, continuing today with Utah.

Utah Utes

Strengths. If you’re reading this microsite, there is a good chance you already know about the Utes’ stars such as Delon Wright and Jordan Loveridge, but just about every team in this conference has a star it can point to. Rather, what makes this team a sexy choice as the second-best team in this conference is not merely those two stars, but the quality of depth throughout this roster. Veterans like Brandon Taylor, Dallin Bachynski, Dakarai Tucker and Jeremy Olsen are all accustomed to big roles on this team. Add in a talented batch of newcomers, including four-star power forward Brekkot Chapman, talented JuCo transfer Chris Reyes, international recruit Jakob Poetl, three-point specialist Kyle Kuzma and floor general Isaiah Wright, and Larry Krystkowiak is swimming in talented options up and down his roster.

Larry Krystkowiak and The Utes Will Have To Deal With The Pressure Of Expectations For The First Time (Utah Basketball)

Larry Krystkowiak and The Utes Will Have To Deal With The Pressure Of Expectations For The First Time. (Utah Athletics)

Weaknesses. We’re not even going to pick nits with the roster. There are some weaknesses here which will become apparent as the season wears on, but where this squad really has to prove itself is in its ability to win games. The Utes lost all seven of their games decided by a single possession last season and, given a serious uptick in the quality of their non-conference schedule, their mettle will be tested early and often this year. Utah has plenty of guys who have been through plenty of battles, but until they can prove their ability to pull out their best effort when the chips are down, there will remain questions about the ceiling of this team.

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Can Penn State Become This Season’s Nebraska?

Posted by Brendan Brody on November 4th, 2014

Things could have been much different for Penn State last season had it avoided what happened on December 31. In its first conference game of the season at home against Michigan State, the Nittany Lions had the #5 team in the country squarely on the ropes. They were up 12 points with 1:14 to go in the first half when the wheels fell completely off. From that point on, they were outscored 46-18 and went on to lose not only that game but their next five as well. Would Penn State have had a better season if it had held on against the Spartans’ New Year’s Eve onslaught? We’ll never know. But despite a 6-12 conference mark, last season’s team was probably closer to contention than most people realize. Many of the key pieces are back. Can Penn State be the next surprise Big Ten team to move into the top half of the league and contend for an NCAA Tournament berth in the process?

DJ Newbill has to take on more responsibility for Penn State with the loss of Tim Frazier. (

DJ Newbill has to take on more responsibility for Penn State with the loss of Tim Frazier. (

Even without the services of all-Big Ten guard Tim Frazier this season, one positive that should help this squad is having John Johnson and Jordan Dickerson fully available. Johnson sat out the first 12 games last year after transferring over from Pitt. He is a knock-down shooter, but he struggled with some rust and finding his role in the rotation. As a result, on fewer attempts, his three-point numbers dropped from 38.4 percent as a freshman to 31.8 percent last season. He should find his way on the court for better than the 20.4 MPG he averaged last year, and thus should have a greater impact scoring the ball for a team with few reliable shooters (no regular hit more than 40 percent from deep). Dickerson is a bit of a project, but he seemed to get more comfortable as a defensive presence as the season progressed. The 7-footer gives the team more flexibility in lineup options, allowing the Nittany Lions to play Donovon Jack and Brandon Taylor in the high post more often, where they are both competent shooters. Dickerson allows head coach Pat Chambers to run a four-man rotation of frontcourt bodies should anyone get into foul trouble, and his 11.8 block percentage would have ranked second in the league had he played enough minutes to qualify. He’s a legitimate rim-protector, and any offense he also happens to provide will be a bonus. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 M5: 01.16.14 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 16th, 2014


  1. After a dust-up last week where NBA scouts were complaining about the seats that UCLA gave them for the battle between the Bruins and Arizona, Draft Express did a poll of NBA scouts to see which schools treated them the best (i.e., gave them good seats and maybe a meal) and, perhaps unsurprisingly, UCLA was atop the heap of the schools that got negative comments. The whole article is really pointed at UCLA: You spend a ton of space in your media guides promoting your former players who are making it big at the next level, but you’re not rolling out the red carpet for the scouts and executive who determine the worth of the next round of NBA prospects. We’re not going to spend a ton of time on this, but doesn’t this whole thing seem a bit absurd? For instance, in some cases where the NBA scouts got seats that didn’t meet their needs, they had to (gasp!) ask  their multi-hundred-million dollar organizations to go onto StubHub and purchase them better tickets. The horror! Even at Arizona, which was among the schools most often mentioned as being good to NBA scouts, somebody had the temerity to complain about the price of the great seats they were given, prices which were likely considerably lower than the amount that could have been charged for those seats. In other words, forgive me if I don’t join this particular hunger strike.
  2. We posted yesterday about the Spencer Dinwiddie injury (too long; didn’t read: it sucks), but that knee injury wasn’t the only one to befall a Colorado player in Seattle on Sunday. Freshman wing Tre’Shaun Fletcher also tweaked a knee in that game, and although he returned to action after the injury, it was later determined that this injury will require surgery, costing Fletcher the next six-to-eight weeks. While this injury is not an ACL injury, it is damaging to the team as Fletcher certainly would have been due for a bump in minutes without Dinwiddie in the lineup.
  3. After ripping off 13 straight wins to start the season, Oregon is now riding a three-game losing streak, with a pair of those losses coming at home. Luckily, the Ducks now have a week where they can focus on just one game — their road trip to face Oregon State in Corvallis on Sunday. Confidence may be dipping, but head coach Dana Altman recalled the last time the Ducks went through a multi-game losing streak: the final two games of last season when they lost on the road to Colorado and Utah. What happened next? The Ducks went to Las Vegas, won the Pac-12 Tournament, and then advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. In other words, it would be very unwise to count out these Ducks in mid-January.
  4. We’ve got another big intrastate rivalry game this week to check out as Arizona State travels to Arizona tonight. Herb Sendek was asked about trying to compete against a team that is recruiting on the elite level that the Wildcats are doing right now. And, not surprisingly, he called it a challenge, noting that what they’re doing is “absolutely astonishing” and “almost unprecedented.” Put it this way; as Adam Green of notes, of the seven players in the rotation at Arizona, five were five-star recruits coming out of high school, while a sixth was a four-star recruit. By comparison, Jahii Carson is the only Sun Devils’ recruit to earn more than three stars coming out of high school.
  5. Lastly, Utah drew rave reviews in its first weekend of conference play, taking Oregon to the wire on opening night before beating Oregon State. But last weekend on their first road trip to the Washington schools, their offense took a major step back. Tonight, as they host USC, goal number one for Larry Krystkowiak and company is to compete better on the offensive end of the court, including getting out in transition more often, something their Trojans’ opponents probably want as well. With talented offensive players like Delon Wright, Jordan Loveridge and Brandon Taylor, this shouldn’t be a problem.
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Larry Krystkowiak: Great Coach With Some Head-Scratching Late-Game Decisions

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on January 3rd, 2014

First things first: the job Larry Krystkowiak has done at Utah has been absolutely remarkable. This team had by far the worst assemblage (or lack thereof) of talent in major conference basketball just a couple years back. He’s scrambled to remake this roster from the smoking ruins that his predecessor Jim Boylen left behind, and he has done a terrific job, so much so that this year (and well ahead of schedule) he’s got his Utes not just very competitive but fun to watch. With a roster that will likely return its most valuable players and with more talent due in the Huntsman Center next year (and likely beyond that), the future that Krystkowiak is constructing in Salt Lake City is bright indeed. What’s more, he’s a terrific coach who gets the most out of the talent that he’s cobbled together and he’s a great game-planner. Fill in whatever other compliments you would like to heap on Krystkowiak here – he’s a fine dresser; his breath probably smells like peaches and his hair like roses; he’s a crime-stopping, upstanding citizen – yes, all this and more is probably true.

I Dunno Coach, I Just Don't Know (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

I dunno coach, I just don’t know (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

But, man, did he screw up the end of that game last night against Oregon. Twice.

Credit where credit is due: He kept his squad fighting when it looked like the Ducks were going to pull away, and he was right there with his team, scrapping and scraping to get his team in a position to take home a W in the conference opener. But, let’s start in regulation. Read the rest of this entry »

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