Butler Regains Its Old Identity in the New Big East

Posted by Justin Kundrat on January 14th, 2015

After years of sustained success under head coach Brad Stevens, the Bulldogs joined the revamped Big East in 2013 and immediately plummeted. New head coach Brandon Miller inherited a group that returned rising star Kellen Dunham, but despite a 27-9 record in the program’s only Atlantic 10 season, Butler struggled with the adjustment. First, junior guard Roosevelt Jones suffered a broken wrist that forced him to miss the entire season, and then the offense bottomed out at the start of Big East play. This resulted in the team losing 15 of its last 19 games to finish the season at 14-17 and a ninth-place Big East finish, just one game ahead of DePaul. Some questioned whether Butler had flown too close to the sun — whether the program could rediscover its identity in a conference where it would never be the biggest name on the marquee. But under the tutelage of interim-turned-head coach Chris Holtmann this season, Butler is back to its old ways — the Butler way — sporting a mix of hard-nosed, physical defense and a tempo designed to emphasize efficiency over pace.

Butler's Chris Holtmann Has Gotten the Butler Way Back in Action (USA Today Images)

Butler’s Chris Holtmann Has Gotten the Butler Way Back in Action (USA Today Images)

After a road win at Seton Hall on Tuesday night, Butler is off to a 13-5 record (3-2 Big East). That record includes wins over North Carolina, Georgetown, St. John’s and Xavier, earned behind a defense that ranks 29th nationally in defensive efficiency. I did a poor job with them getting them ready to play with the aggressiveness that Butler played [with], North Carolina head coach Roy Williams said at the time. Very aggressive, and I’m not insinuating anything other than very aggressive – I didn’t say anything at all about being dirty – but it was very aggressive play. They outhustled us.

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Morning Five: 01.05.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 5th, 2015

morning5

  1. The biggest news in college basketball this weekend came from the sidelines as Cincinnati announced that Mick Cronin would not coach the rest of the season and serve in an advisory role while dealing with what has been described as a non-life-threatening arterial dissection. Cronin has been out since finding out about the condition on December 19. While it appears that Cronin expects to return to his sideline duties at some point, but in the interim associate head coach Larry Davis will serve as the head coach. At Butler, they removed the interim title from Chris Holtmann and made him the head coach officially replacing Brandon Miller, who took a medical leave of absence just prior to the start of the season. Very little information about Miller’s condition has been released, but we wish him the best in recovering from whatever he is dealing with. Holtmann has lead the Bulldogs to an 11-4 record this season and appears to have the program headed in the right direction after a disastrous first season following Brad Stevens’ departure.
  2. While the coaching announcements stole the headlines there were also quite a few major developments involving significant players. The biggest news comes out of St. John’s where sophomore guard Rysheed Jordan (14 points per game) is taking an indefinite leave of absence to deal with “personal and family matter” although some reports indicate that it might be related to disciplinary issues. At Stanford, freshman Reid Travis (7.5 points and a team-leading 6.9 rebounds per game) will be out indefinitely with a stress fracture. At Virginia TechJoey van Zegeren (9.8 points and a team-leading 5.3 rebounds per game) was suspended indefinitely apparently as the result of an incident (or incidents) at practice. As for Dayton, nothing seems to be going right for the Flyers this season with the latest misfortune coming in to the form of point guard Ryan Bass having to miss the rest of the season due to concussion-related symptoms following a concussion in an early November practice.
  3. It might have been a rough week for the SEC in college football, but things are starting to look a little bit better for the conference in basketball. We all know about Kentucky and Florida even if the latter has been awful this season, but we will have to start keeping an eye on LSU starting next year. The Tigers, who already have the consensus #1 player in the class (Ben Simmons) coming in, appear to have added another five-star guard to their backcourt with Antonio Blakeney‘s commitment to LSU. You may remember Blakeney as the recruit who committed to Louisville before backing out soon after in a move that some recruiting analysts publicly claimed was driven by shoe companies (Blakeney plays for a Nike AAU team; Louisville is an adidas school). If that was in fact the reason for Blakeney backing out of his Louisville commitment then LSU fans can feel safe. If not, they might not want to get too excited quite yet.
  4. Texas got a big boost this weekend with the return of point guard Isaiah Taylor, who had been out the past six weeks after breaking his left wrist. Taylor, who had been averaging 15 points and 3 assists per game this season before his injury, had 8 points, 4 steals, and 2 assists, but also showed his rust with 6 turnovers. Although Texas managed to go 8-2 without Taylor, they clearly were not the same team without him as evidenced by their losses to Kentucky and Stanford. With Taylor back in the mix, the Longhorns might be the favorites in the Big 12 and should be a Final Four threat.
  5. As you may have noticed this has been a rough year for Kobe Bryant, who is climbing up the all-time NBA scoring list while being on a losing team and setting all kinds of new standards for inefficiency. That didn’t stop Bryant from opining on the state of basketball in American and laying the blame on AAU programs and the culture around them. While we agree with many of Kobe’s comments, we don’t see him offering many solutions outside of scrapping it for a European-style club system, which we are certain wouldn’t fly in the US with the established interests. Mike DeCourcy, who has never been known to mince words, also went after Kobe pointing out that for all the shortcomings of the American system we still manage to produce the best basketball in the world by far.
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Will the Big East Have Six NCAA Teams? A Mid-Season Review

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 31st, 2014

With the arrival of conference play comes a critical juncture for teams looking to separate themselves from the rest of the pack. Those that have overperformed against their preseason expectations — teams like St. John’s and Seton Hall — will seek to establish an early footprint in the increasingly competitive Big East, whereas the likes of Marquette, Xavier and Creighton look to re-emerge after a handful of non-conference woes. Today we will examine the top Big East overperformers and underperformers to this point, followed by an early look at the NCAA Tournament bubble as it relates to each team. But before discussing team performance, my preseason Big East rankings were as follows:

Villanova Has Lived Up to Its Expectations This Season (USA Today Images)

Villanova Has Lived Up to Its Expectations This Season (USA Today Images)

  1. Villanova
  2. Georgetown
  3. Xavier
  4. St. John’s
  5. Providence
  6. Seton Hall
  7. Butler
  8. Marquette
  9. Creighton
  10. DePaul

Biggest Overperformers

  • St. John’s (11-1) has made a serious case as the second best team in the Big East. Sporting a defense that ranks fourth nationally in defensive efficiency and third in block percentage, the Red Storm have received a great deal of attention following wins at Syracuse and versus Minnesota. Sure, they were fourth in my preseason rankings, but the envisioned gap between the Johnnies and Xavier/Georgetown was large and has proven so far to be completely off base. Ranked #15 in the latest AP Poll, Steve Lavin has built a team featuring an incredibly talented group of quick, athletic guards with senior D’Angelo Harrison (19.0 PPG) shouldering the offensive load while do-it-all forward Sir’Dominic Pointer and shot-blocker Chris Obekpa wreak defensive havoc. At this point, St. John’s has looked superior to every other Big East team outside of Villanova, and although its inconsistent outside shooting (266th nationally) and offensive execution in the half-court leave much to be desired, the Red Storm have been the single biggest conference surprise this season.

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RTC Weekly Primer: The Wait is Over, Conference Season is Here…

Posted by Henry Bushnell on December 30th, 2014

The wait is over. The wait is finally over. For a month and a half now, college basketball has kept us intermittently engrossed. There have been glimpses of the beauty, sniffs of the joy. But beginning today, we get to dive in. We get the full dosage. We get to bask in all the glory. The beginning of conference play is important, not just because attention ratchets up and the momentous games come in droves, but because these first few weeks are full of realizations. This is when we start to get a true feel for individual teams. This is when preseason “underrated” statements are validated and gaudy records against weak competition are exposed. It’s too early to make sweeping judgments about conferences as wholes, but at last, the balance of power within those leagues will start to reveal itself. We’ll learn a lot these next few weeks. Or at the very least, we’ll think we have. And right now, that’s good enough.

Three for the Money

We’re actually going to bypass this section for now because there aren’t many single games that stand out this week. There are no clashes between conference heavyweights. In fact, there are only a couple of contests between two ranked teams. Instead, this week is about collections of games. It’s about the Big Ten tip-off event on Tuesday. It’s about the quintet of Big East games on Wednesday. It’s about the first full west coast Friday night in the Pac-12. And it’s about a jam-packed Saturday all across the nation.

A Juicy Big Ten Triple-header

Maryland Begins Its Opening Big Ten Season Today (USA Today Images)

Maryland Begins Its Opening Big Ten Season Today (USA Today Images)

The two worst teams in the league, Northwestern and Rutgers, actually get things started today at Noon, but we can pretend that game isn’t happening. The real curtain-raiser is the afternoon tripleheader on ESPN2. First, Iowa travels to Columbus to take on Ohio State in a rematch of last year’s upset of the then-No. 3 Buckeyes. Without Roy Devyn Marble in the lineup, though, the Hawkeyes aren’t the same team they were a year ago, more closely resembling the team that closed last season on a 1-7 slide. They lack consistent scoring punch in the backcourt, and that could mean trouble against an Ohio State team of which perimeter defense is a legitimate strength. KenPom only gives the Hawkeyes a 19 percent chance to enter Value City Arena and get a win.

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RTC Weekly Primer: Don’t Sleep on Mid-December Games

Posted by Henry Bushnell on December 16th, 2014

Every Monday (sometimes Tuesday), Henry Bushnell will provide a look ahead at the week to come. He’ll discuss the week’s top storylines, preview the three most prominent and compelling games, put a giant or two on upset alert, and decide which teams are in desperate need of a big week.

It’s a cold, dark Monday night in December. The holiday scent is in the air. Subpar football unwillingly seeps out of a TV. Winter threatens to envelop us – if it hasn’t already done so. On this cold, dark Monday night in December, college basketball doesn’t really matter. Or at least it seems like it doesn’t. The Monday evening slate is tinged with irrelevance. Duke sleepwalks over Elon, and not many take note. The sport still lurks in the distance. Lenses are still out of focus.

Exam Weeks Around the Nation Building Young Minds

Exam Weeks Around the Nation Building Young Minds

But this, my friends, is a time as important as any in college basketball. When the final weekend of February rolls around, we’ll be scrutinizing teams inside and out, but December matters too. Just ask a team like Cal, which barely missed out on the NCAA Tournament a year ago. Analysts rued their March losses to Arizona State and Utah, but how about that December loss to UC Santa Barbara? That hurt too. Or ask Southern Miss, which built up a solid résumé, but was left to wonder what might have been if it hadn’t slipped up against Western Kentucky during the week before Christmas. On that same day, December 18, 2013, NC State toppled Tennessee. The Wolfpack made the field as one of the last four teams in. That’s not a coincidence.

Don’t ignore this week. Even with those lenses somewhat out of focus, the results will come into plain sight soon enough. It doesn’t matter how you win; your performance doesn’t have to be aesthetic. Just get the job done. Statements can be made. They will not be forgotten.

Three for the Money

North Carolina vs. Ohio State | Saturday, 1:00 PM, CBS

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Big East Weekend Wrap: Vol. IV

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 16th, 2014

The Big East Weekend Wrap will cover news and notes from the weekend’s games.

With only two weeks left before conference play gets under way, eight Big East teams remain squarely in contention for an NCAA Tournament bid. While it might be too early to draw any definitive conclusions, it’s something to monitor as the season progresses. Currently both Joe Lunardi and Jerry Palm project six Big East teams into their fields, with two others — Creighton and Providence — on the outside of the bubble. Coming off a light weekend of Big East action, below are three key takeaways.

Butler Failed to Close Things Out at Tennessee Over the Weekend (USA Today Sports)

Butler Failed to Close Things Out at Tennessee Over the Weekend (USA Today Sports)

  1. Butler and DePaul both lost their edge in the closing minutes. It was a tough Sunday for two teams in drastically different situations. Butler brought its #15 ranking into Knoxville – a difficult environment for any visiting team – while DePaul tried to prove that its 6-3 start was for real. Butler showcased its defensive stinginess in the first half versus the Vols, only to give away a 12-point lead and crumble in the final minutes. Roosevelt Jones and Alex Barlow struggled as perimeter defenders against Tennessee’s longer, more athletic guards, allowing them access into the lane time and time again. But if Tennessee’s 59.3 percent second half shooting wasn’t enough of an issue, Kellen Dunham’s tendency for poor decision-making made matters worse. The junior took 11 of his 14 field goal attempts from beyond the arc and then proceeded to use the second half to pass up open looks and dribble into traffic. If the Bulldogs can’t generate consistent stops, they turn into a much less effective team too dependent on getting Dunham open looks. On another note, it might be in Chris Holtmann’s interest to give rising freshman Kelan Martin more playing time; the 6’6″ wing is averaging just as many points as Jones (10.8 PPG) but in half the time (16.1 MPG). Meanwhile, DePaul managed to commit enough turnovers in the closing minutes of its game on Sunday to blow a solid lead against Illinois State. To be honest, the Blue Demons’ starting lineup is remarkably competent on the offensive end; Myke Henry has emerged as a true leader, with Jamee Crockett and Tommy Hamilton IV adding wing and inside dimensions. But as with prior years, many of the same issues remain: turnovers and defense. Oliver Purnell will have to find a way to fix at least one of those weaknesses before the program takes another step forward. Read the rest of this entry »
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RTC Top 25: Week Four

Posted by Walker Carey on December 15th, 2014

Fresh off last weekend’s plethora of upsets, this college basketball season experienced its first week of relative chalk. To illustrate that, the top 16 teams in the RTC25 fell in exactly the same order as they were last week. The only notable RTC25 teams to suffer defeats and take tumbles were #19 North Carolina and #25 Butler. The Tar Heels dropped two spots after being thoroughly outmanned in a 14-point loss Saturday at Kentucky. The Bulldogs fell eight spots after getting tripped up Sunday in Knoxville against a feisty Tennessee squad. You should know by now that a week like this is not the norm in college basketball, and you should expect more weeks of upsets as the season progresses.

This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump…

rtc25 12.15.14 Quick n’ Dirty Analysis.

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RTC Top 25: Week Three

Posted by Walker Carey on December 8th, 2014

College basketball experienced its first true upset weekend and this week’s RTC25 reflects the madness that took place on the court. Let’s run through the carnage. Fresh off a hard-thought ACC/Big Ten Challenge victory over Syracuse, previously-#15 Michigan was stunned at home by NJIT. What made the upset so stunning is that the Wolverines are the reigning Big Ten regular season champions, while NJIT is the lone remaining Division I independent because its former conference folded and it has yet to find a new league willing to offer an invitation. This defeat along was stunning enough to cause Michigan to fall completely out of this week’s RTC25. #23 Miami (FL) also suffered an upset loss at home to Green Bay over the weekend. The previously unbeaten Hurricanes were ice cold from the field, shooting just 32.8 percent from the field in the defeat. Poor shooting was also the theme for #16 San Diego State on Sunday, as the Aztecs shot just 20.5 percent in a road loss at Washington. College basketball is often where the unexpected becomes the ordinary, and that was certainly on display over the weekend.

This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump…

rtc25 w3

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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Big East Stock Watch: Butler and Seton Hall Rising

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 4th, 2014

It’s been close to three full weeks since the season tipped off, and despite most teams only playing between six and seven games, some of the results have been drastic enough to change some of the predictions that were made at the start of the season. Some teams have won games they weren’t expected to; others have lost games that they should have won. But at the end of the day, a team will only go as far as its talent takes it. Below is a list of Big East candidates whose outlook has been revised, for better or for worse.

Stock Up

Kellen Dunham and Friends

Kellen Dunham and Friends Have Two High-Quality Wins on Their Resume Already

Butler: The word outperform can’t be used in a discussion about Big East teams without first mentioning Butler. Butler was originally pegged to finish seventh in the league standings, tied with Marquette and just three votes ahead of ninth. Instead, through seven games, the Bulldogs find themselves at 6-1 with neutral floor wins over both North Carolina and Georgetown. So, why the discrepancy from prediction to performance? Without the scoring of graduated Khyle Marshall (14.9 PPG) and transferred Elijah Brown (6.8 PPG), many thought that the team’s already inefficient offense would go from bad to worse. As a primary example, Butler shot 31.4 percent from three (306th in the country) and 65.6 percent from the line (311th) last season, marking the second lowest effective field goal percentage the Bulldogs have had in their last 13 seasons. Everyone knew Roosevelt Jones, who played such an integral part in the team’s 27-9 season two years ago, would be back from injury, but he had always served as more of a play-maker than a true scorer. Kellen Dunham, the team’s leading scorer, was the only returning player who averaged more than 7.5 PPG.

What changed has been the contributions of everyone else on the floor. Senior Alex Barlow has been a tough, fearless point guard on the defensive end alongside forwards Kameron Woods and Andrew Chrabascz, each of whom has more than held his own on the low block against bigger opponents. Despite ranking in the bottom third nationally in effective height, the Bulldogs are 58th in limiting opponents’ offensive rebounding percentage. Additionally, Butler has been adept at forcing turnovers and playing physical interior defense, forcing teams to beat them with outside shooting (which they haven’t, at least not yet). Above all though, the biggest surprise has been the play of 6’6″ freshman forward Kelan Martin. Martin received a handful of offers at the D-I level, mostly from mid-major and mediocre high-major schools, but he was not touted as a difference-maker coming into this season. Yet the freshman has shattered all reasonable expectations: In just 16.3 minutes per game, he has averaged 10.9 points and 3.1 rebounds per contest. Butler has historically used short rotations, but Martin has proven his worth by playing both inside and outside. With Dunham and Jones in foul trouble against North Carolina, for example, it was Martin who stepped up in the second half, chipping in 17 points and six rebounds. At this point, nobody can question Butler’s talent as they have played themselves into the Top 25. Its biggest question marks will remain on the offensive end, where foul trouble has sometimes depleted the team’s proven scorers in an already limited rotation.

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Big East Conference Preview: DePaul, Creighton, Marquette & Butler

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 11th, 2014

The Big East microsite will preview each conference team in tiers in preparation for the season tipoff on Friday night.

#10: DePaul. As a perennial Big East bottom-dweller, it should come as no surprise that DePaul finds itself at the bottom of the preseason list once again. Turnovers and shooting percentages were abysmal last season (#269 and #257, respectively), and the team was too focused on pushing the pace to get crucial stops down the stretch (#326 in opponents’ effective field goal percentage). The loss of three contributors from last season’s 12-21 squad and an underwhelming recruiting class puts DePaul right where they finished last season: dead last. However, that’s not to say things won’t turn around here eventually. The team returns two key sophomores in Billy Garrett Jr., a 6’6 guard with the ball-handling skills of a one and the length of a small forward, and Tommy Hamilton, a 6’10” sophomore whose shooting ability makes him a mismatch for most defenders. To offset the loss of last year’s go-to guy, Brandon Young, DePaul has brought in a recruiting class featuring a transfer from Illinois, Myke Henry, and three junior college players, who, along with lone senior Jamee Crockett, are expected to offer much needed experience. Anyone who has watched the Blue Demons recently knows that there are a handful of talented pieces here that could serve as building blocks for the future, but with every step forward, there are two steps back. Garrett and Hamilton will certainly improve, but these are players who haven’t yet been asked to lead a winning program. With Young and running mate Cleveland Melvin now gone, defenses will turn their attention to Garrett and force other players to score. It appears to be yet another long season for DePaul.

Greg McDermott Needs to Figure Out What to Do Next (Getty Images).

Greg McDermott Needs to Figure Out What to Do Next (Getty Images).

#9: Creighton. Last season’s success marked a coming of age of sorts for Creighton. Four-year star Doug McDermott won the National Player of the Year award and graduated with the honor of ranking fifth all-time in points scored at the Division I level; the team posted its fourth consecutive 20-win season and was invited to its third consecutive NCAA Tournament; and the Bluejays ran one of the most efficient offenses in the country. But gone are the players who got them there. Four of the team’s five starters have since graduated, leaving senior point guard Austin Chatman to fill the void as the lone returning player who averaged more than 17 minutes per game. He will be joined by seniors Devin Brooks and Will Artino along with rising sophomore Isaiah Zierdan in what will without question be called a rebuilding year. Head coach Greg McDermott will likely be more concerned with the cohesion and development of his top recruits, Ronnie Harrell and Leon Gilmore, the first of whom has drawn favorable comparisons to former Creighton star Kyle Korver. Both should fill in nicely for a team that will lack depth at the forward position. Perhaps a projected ninth-place finish in this conference is too harsh given the return of four seniors who have plenty of experience playing in the Creighton system, but there are too many question marks around how they will perform without their All-American scoring machine in the lineup. Although there is enough talent here to finish much higher, such a result will be highly dependent on whether Artino, Brooks and the other former role players who flourished when McDermott drew the attention of defenses can prove themselves as reliable Big East starters. For now, the safe bet is on no.

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The RTC Podblast: Big East Preview Edition

Posted by rtmsf on November 7th, 2014

Welcome to conference preview season. In this, our fourth of eight conference preview RTC Podblasts that we’ll be rolling out before the dawn of the season, RTC columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) joins us to discuss the key storylines, teams and players to watch among the 10 teams of the Big East. As always, Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114) hosts the podblast, and the full rundown of topics is below. Make sure to tweet at us (@rushthecourt) if you have any opinion on which team should be the gang’s new favorite heading into the 2014-15 season.

Also remember to add the RTC Podcast to your iTunes lineup so that you’ll automatically upload it on your listening device after we record. And don’t forget to check out our 2014-15 Preseason Storylines Podcast, and feel free to contact us at any time — we’re listening.

  • 0:00-6:18 – Villanova
  • 6:18-12:09 – Search for a Second Team
  • 12:09-17:05 – Surprise Teams
  • 17:05-23:45 – Randy’s New Favorite Team Nominees
  • 23:45-26:28 – Top Players in the Big East
  • 26:28-29:46 – Predictions for the Conference
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One on One: A Big East Preview with Jon Rothstein

Posted by Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) on November 3rd, 2014

RTC interviews one on one

Rush the Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you throughout the preseason with previews of each of the major conferences.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview with the Big East, RTC correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the pleasure of speaking with a Big East expert in CBS Sports Network College Basketball Insider Jon Rothstein (@jonrothstein)

Rush the Court: Villanova enters the season as the pretty clear favorite to win the league. The Wildcats return four starters from a team that went 29-5 last season. What are some reasonable expectations for Jay Wright’s squad this season?

Expectations are high for Jay Wright and Company. (Getty)

Expectations are High for Jay Wright’s Villanova Team (Getty)

Jon Rothstein: I think reasonable expectations are to win the Big East title, have a chance at winning the Big East Tournament title, and get another high seed in the NCAA Tournament. Villanova was terrific last year in close game situations. I think there is a real possibility that Villanova could be a better team this year than it was last year, but have a worse record because its non-conference schedule is that much more difficult. What makes Villanova so good this year is that it does not lose 50/50 balls. Every ball that is being contested seems to go Villanova’s way almost every time. A big reason for that is Josh Hart. Hart is a guy who can go on a tear for Villanova this year, as he will step into a more enhanced role with the departure of James Bell. I think right now if there is one person who epitomizes Villanova’s culture and brand, it is Josh Hart.

RTC: Georgetown had a below average season last year [just 18-15 overall and 8-10 in conference]. There are no two ways around that. Does John Thompson III’s team have enough firepower to ensure a more successful campaign this season?

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