Way Too Early 2018-19 ACC Rankings

Posted by Mick McDonald on April 6th, 2018

This season may have just wrapped up, but we are always looking forward to next season. Here’s a much too early look at how the ACC may shake out in 2018-19.

The Four Kill4s Arrive in Durham With Much Fanfare

  1. Duke. We’ll see if Gary Trent returns, but either way, it’s another loaded freshman class that will make the Blue Devils the most talented team in college basketball. RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish and Zion Williamson are the top three players in the class of 2018 and will be joined by the top-rated point guard, Tre Jones.
  2. Virginia. The Cavaliers lose Devon Hall and Isaiah Wilkins but return their starting backcourt of Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy, plus ACC Sixth Man of the Year De’Andre Hunter. Look for Mamadi Diakite to continue a long line of athletic bigs who flourish in Tony Bennett’s system.
  3. North Carolina. Joel Berry and Theo Pinson are gone, but the Tar Heels return Luke Maye in addition to Cameron Johnson and Kenny Williams. Roy Williams is also bringing in his best recruiting class in years, with point guard Coby White and wing Nassir Little set to arrive. The improvement of sophomore big men Garrison Brooks, Sterling Manley and Brandon Huffman will be important to watch.
  4. Virginia Tech. Buzz Williams loses just Justin Bibbs and Devon Wilson from this year’s squad, and he will return a senior-laden backcourt with Ahmed Hill and potential All-ACC player Justin Robinson. Chris Clarke and Kerry Blackshear, Jr. are versatile bigs who can hit shots from the outside. Last year’s freshmen class also has the potential to break out, especially Nickeil Alexander-Walker. Read the rest of this entry »
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ACC Conversation: Final Four Preview and Coaching Carousel Update

Posted by ACC Team on March 30th, 2018

Rush the Court’s ACC microsite writers Brad JenkinsMatt Auerbach and Mick McDonald chatted this week to wonder why the ACC couldn’t get a team to the Final Four and talk about a pair of new head coaches joining the league.

Brad Jenkins: Well guys, the ACC came up empty in this year’s Final Four. Last week, we addressed what went wrong for Virginia and North Carolina. Why did Duke not make it either? Matt, why don’t you start?

Matt Auerbach: Well, I’m not exactly sure I’d tackle it from the same perspective. North Carolina and Virginia both lost games to opponents who were inferior — or, more accurately in the Tar Heels case, had inferior seasons. As for Duke, I think they just got nipped by an excellent team with an elite head coach playing its best at the right time of year. It’s a coin-flip game, and we’re having a different discussion if Grayson Allen‘s shot at the end of regulation falls. But that’s just the way the ball bounces sometimes.

Kansas Slayed Mighty Duke to Get to the Final Four (USA Today Images)

Mick McDonald: Right. If Allen’s shot goes in (and man, was it close), we are breaking down an epic Final Four matchup with Villanova this weekend. That said, I thought the key to the game was Bill Self. He coached a hell of a game and frustrated Marvin Bagley III unlike any team had all season. Also, imagine being a Mississippi State fan watching that game. That was the Malik Newman they were promised two years ago! He was outstanding.

Matt Auerbach: Newman was fantastic and his evolution into being the Malik Newman that everyone expected him to be as a freshman has been the change in Kansas‘ season that has elevated the Jayhawks to this point.

Brad Jenkins: I know a lot of people are pointing to Allen’s incredibly close miss as tough luck. But if it had gone in Duke would have been very fortunate to win the game. In my opinion they were outplayed considering all the open shots Kansas missed and the great job the Jayhawks did on the boards in addition to defensively on Bagley. Also, I know Duke had a couple of big calls go against them in overtime, but up until that point, I thought they had gotten a very generous whistle — particularly on out of bounds situations.

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Rushed Reactions: #9 Florida State 75, #1 Xavier 70

Posted by David Changas on March 19th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. David Changas (@dchangas) is in Nashville this weekend. 

Three Key Takeaways.

Florida State pulled off the second improbable comeback of the day in Nashville. (Christopher Hanewinkel, USA Today)

  1. There are no words, Part II. Okay, so this wasn’t a 22-point meltdown but it had to feel just as bad for Xavier Nation. The top-seeded Musketeers led by 12 points midway through the second half, and by nine when Chris Mack decided to take JP Macura out after the senior picked up his fourth foul. That proved to be a mistake. By the time Macura returned four and a half minutes later, the lead had dwindled to just two points with just over four minutes remaining. An 11-2 run for Florida State over the final 3:11 ultimately gave the Seminoles the five-point win. They led for a total of only one minute in the second half, but it was enough to complete the stunning comeback against the region’s top seed.
  2. A bad day for the city of Cincinnati. What happened here in Nashville today borders on the unfathomable. Had we not seen the first #16 over a #1 upset in the history of the sport two days ago, we certainly would be saying that two high seeds blowing substantial double-digit leads midway through the second half is the craziest thing in years. Both games had the feel of being decided well into their second halves, in large part because neither Nevada nor Florida State looked to be offensively in sync or capable of erasing such large deficits. It will take a long time for these two Cincinnati-based programs to recover from the March 18, 2018, disaster, and it’s fair to say that fans of both schools won’t want to see Nashville again for a very long time.
  3. Florida State’s balance was impressive. The Seminoles did not shoot the ball particularly well tonight – just 43.6 percent from the field and 34.8 percent from behind the arc – but they did have five players in double figures, led by 16 from Braian Angola. More importantly, though, was their ability to come at Xavier in waves on the defensive end. Their quickness and athleticism caused problems for the Musketeers all night long, and they were able to force them into 17 turnovers as a result. They also held Xavier, which came into tonight’s game with the nation’s seventh-best offense, to only 46.9 percent shooting. Florida State’s ability to pull off the upset without playing at its best is a tribute both to its athleticism and depth of its roster.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Xavier 102, #16 Texas Southern 83

Posted by David Changas on March 16th, 2018

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. David Changas (@dchangas) is in Nashville this weekend. 

 Three Key Takeaways.

J.P. Macura was on fire with his game, and his mouth, on Friday night. (Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports)

  1. A gritty effort by an outmanned Texas Southern team was not enough. As with seemingly every #1 vs. #16 matchup in the history of this event, this game was a complete physical mismatch. But that did not stop Mike Davis’ Texas Southern squad from doing everything it could to make this one close. The Tigers easily could have been blown out early, as they fell behind 13-4 just four and a half minutes into the game. But they fought back to go on an improbable 16-0 run to take a 20-13 lead at the 12:13 mark of the half. Unfortunately for them, Xavier answered with a 36-11 run before the Tigers scored the final six points of the half to trail by 12 at the break. In the second half, the Tigers melted down a bit, and were called for three technical fouls over the span of about two minutes midway through. Perhaps one of these days, the upset will finally happen, but it was never a possibility in this one.
  2. J.P. Macura was on fire, and he let everyone know it. Macura is the guy who is easy for everyone who plays him to hate. The 6’5″ senior came out on fire, as he went 7-of-9 from the field in the first half, including 4-of-5 from three-point range in scoring 18 points in the frame. In fact, he scored all 18 during a 10-minute stretch in the middle of the half, and that spurt was the difference in the ballgame, as the Tigers were never able to really get back in the game. Macura also spent most of the half jawing at Texas Southern players and hamming it up for the Xavier fans seated across from the Musketeers’ bench. No one can say that he doesn’t have fun playing the game, and Friday’s first half performance was among the best of his successful career. He finished with a career-high 29 points on 5-of-6 shooting from behind the arc.
  3. Trevon Bluett and Kerem Kanter weren’t bad, either. Macura was the show in the first half, but all-American Trevon Bluiett had a nice game as well, as did senior center Kerem Kanter. Bluiett ended the night with a “quiet” 26 points, while Kanter added 24. Along with Macura, the three accounted for nearly 80 percent of the Musketeers’ offense. For the night, Xavier shot 55 percent, and went 11-of-24 from three-point range. Granted, it came against an outmanned Texas Southern team, but for Xavier to go deep in this Tournament, it will need more performances like this from its big three going forward.

Player of the Game. J.P. Macura, Xavier. The first half run was all the Musketeers needed to make a Texas Southern upset an impossibility and Macura was the catalyst for that surge. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: Providence 75, Xavier 72 [OT]

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 9th, 2018

RTC’s Justin Kundrat (@justinkundrat) is providing on-site coverage of the Big East Tournament all week long.

Three Key Takeaways.

Ed Cooley Is Hard to Not Root For (USA Today Images)

  1. Ed Cooley is a tremendously underrated coach. It’s not that anybody is calling for his job in Providence after yet another 20-win season, but few seem to have appreciate what Cooley extracts from his team seemingly every March. The first half of tonight’s game featured a dominant first half performance from Xavier, one in which the Musketeers exploited slow switching and poor closeouts to the tune of 1.23 points per possession. And with a 14-point halftime lead, an otherwise unremarkable Friars’ loss seemed inevitable. But Cooley made some critical adjustments down the stretch, the first and most impactful of which was awarding 28 minutes to freshman center Nate Watson, who routinely took advantage of Xavier’s poor post defense for nine second half points. The second was inserting freshman Makai Ashton-Langford into the lineup, which immediately provided star point guard Kyron Cartwright with more room to operate. Lastly, the Friars eventually clamped down on the defensive end, clogging the paint and contesting every cut the Musketeers made to the basket. Xavier followed up a 43-point first half performance with just 25 second-half points and four in overtime.
  2. Tonight was an anomaly: Xavier is one of the few teams in the country that can match Villanova’s offensive firepower. The entire college basketball world knows what Trevon Bluiett (19.7 PPG) and JP Macura (12.3 PPG) are capable of, but virtually every other player Xavier puts on the floor can also notch double figures on any given night. Against Providence, freshman guard Paul Scruggs totaled 13 first-half points despite averaging just 4.5 PPG on the season. Not only do the Musketeers have a plethora of outside shooters and slashers akin to Villanova, but they also boast true low post scoring threats that can exploit mismatches, an area that they utilized against Providence. Slowing down this offense requires a lineup of players of all positions and sizes.
  3. Providence may have improved their NCAA Tournament outlook more than any team in the country this week. The Friars were a bubble team heading into Thursday’s games, probably secured an NCAA Tournament bid with an overtime win over Creighton last night, and now is playing its way towards a #9 or #10 seed by with an upset win over Xavier. Playing with this level of confidence will make for a scary First/Second round opponent next weekend.

Star of the GameKyron Cartwright logged 15 points and six assists in the semifinal victory, including numerous isolation baskets when Providence needed it most. The defining play of the game was a pull-up jumper to put his team ahead by three points with 50 seconds remaining.

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Xavier’s Revamped Offense Starts in the Paint

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 6th, 2017

Anyone who is familiar with Xavier teams of recent years knows that Chris Mack‘s most frequently employed lineup features four perimeter players running a drive-and-dish philosophy that emphasizes excellent spacing. Given that the Musketeers typically have several shooters on the floor at any given time, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that the Musketeers are connecting on 39.1 percent of their perimeter shots (53rd nationally) this season. But the driver of the nation’s third most efficient offense isn’t the offensive rebounding acumen that has buoyed Mack’s last few groups; rather, this year’s team has taken a remarkable leap in its interior scoring. For the purposes of this article and particularly when applying it to Xavier’s four-out offense, interior scoring refers to shots at the rim in the half-court offense in addition to shots in the paint and transition-generated inside scoring. For a team that many figured would seek to replicate last year’s offensive scheme, there have been quite a few notable changes driving this season’s jump in efficiency.

Two. As in more than one way to win for Chris Mack and Xavier. (Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports)

For one, the introduction of graduate transfer Kerem Kanter has given the Musketeers a legitimate low post scoring threat, something that was often lacking a year ago. While the 6’10” forward might sometimes be a defensive liability, he is connecting on a whopping 85 percent of his shots at the rim and is drawing the most per-minute fouls on the team. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Gonzaga 83, #11 Xavier 59

Posted by rtmsf on March 25th, 2017

RTC is providing coverage from start to finish of the NCAA Tournament for the next three weeks.

Gonzaga is Final Four Bound (USA Today Images)

Key Takeaways.

  1. Gonzaga’s Offensive Explosion From Three. The key number in today’s Elite Eight game is 12, as in 12 made three-pointers on 24 Gonzaga attempts. The Zags started the game with seven of its first nine shots from beyond the arc, which was both surprising and troubling because three-point shooting (both in conversions and attempts) really isn’t the Zags’ modus operandi. But they made three of those seven and it only improved from there as Gonzaga slowly adjusted to figure out Xavier’s zone defenses. An 8-of-13 first half supported a 10-point lead at the intermission, and two more quick threes to start the second half quickly pushed the lead over Xavier to an irrecoverable 16 points. From there, Mark Few’s team never looked back on its way to Glendale. As Chris Mack noted afterward, the Zags do not particularly shoot many threes (256th nationally) nor do they shoot them at an elite level (37.8% after tonight) — but given their impressive frontcourt and consistently strong defense, it is a nearly impossible task to beat them when they’re knocking down outside shots at such a prodigious rate.
  2. Its Defense Wasn’t Bad Either. No doubt some regression to the mean here, but Gonzaga did a great job of shadowing and covering the red-hot Trevon Bluiett everywhere on the floor. The junior wing came into today’s game averaging 25.0 PPG and shooting 13-of-23 from three-point range, but the Bulldogs never let him get comfortable in holding him to 10 points on 3-of-14 shooting. Many of the easy looks that Xavier found on Thursday night against Arizona were no longer there, with the beefy size of Przemek Karnowski, Zach Collins and Johnathan Williams making life in the lane uncomfortable for the much-smaller Musketeers. The Zags own the nation’s top defense for a reason, and a complete start-to-finish performance that included holding Xavier to 13 percent from three-point range and 36 percent for the game is a great example of why.
  3. Xavier’s Fiery Run. Considering that Xavier took its February performance and burned it in a showing of mutual solidarity, the Musketeers should still feel great about how they salvaged what appeared to be a lost season. From the calendar-burning moment on, Xavier won six of nine games including a run to the semifinals of the Big East Tournament and the Elite Eight. Maybe Mack should think about using a similar gimmick every year, but the point remains. The loss of Edmond Sumner in late January ensured that the Musketeers would experience bouts of inconsistency, but not even the most faithful Xavier fan believed that a team basically without a point guard could make a run through Maryland, Florida State and Arizona to reach the regional final. Mack deserves all credit for keeping his team focused in a situation that would have destroyed most squads.

Star of the Game. Johnathan Williams, Gonzaga. The transfer from Missouri certainly could not have asked for a better outcome to his decision to leave the SEC for the WCC. As his former school continues to languish — recently hiring a new coach for the third time in six seasons — the junior forward’s play today ensured that Gonzaga’s season would continue into the final weekend. He contributed early, hitting for 12 easy points (on 5-of-6 shooting) near the rim as the Zags worked to solve the changing Xavier defenses. His final totals of 19 points and eight rebounds allowed Gonzaga to establish its inside game and provide openings for its shooters.

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Rushed Reactions: #11 Xavier 73, #2 Arizona 71

Posted by rtmsf on March 24th, 2017

RTC is providing coverage from start to finish of the NCAA Tournament for the next three weeks.

Xavier’s Cinderella Dance Continues for a Couple More Days. (USA Today Images)

Key Takeaways.

  1. Xavier Just Kept Coming. After starting the game down 7-0… after finding itself facing an eight-point deficit with 3:44 remaining… even after missing the front end of a one-and-one that could have salted the game away with 22 seconds remaining… Xavier kept coming. And it figures, given that this group of Musketeers — left virtually for dead after losing star guard Edmond Sumner to a season-ending injury at the end of January — have stared adversity in the face and laughed. Arizona desperately tried to put Xavier away in the second half, but Chris Mack’s club would never quite allow enough separation. That relentless nature of continually applying pressure ultimately caused Arizona to crack, sending the Wildcats back to the desert without a trip to the Final Four in Glendale attached.
  2. Arizona’s Home Stretch OffenseSay what you want about how Xavier put itself into great position to win with its relentlessness and its clever offensive sets — all true — but Arizona did not help itself by completely forgetting about Lauri Markkanen inside (his last shot came at 11:12 remaining in the second half) and over-relying on the hot hand of Allonzo Trier to carry them home. For an eight-minute period from 13:28 to 5:26 remaining in the game, Trier was cooking with some gas. He nailed six of his seven shots, including three three-pointers, in contributing 15 straight points for the Wildcats. He missed his final three attempts, all of which were jumpers. The problem with the strategy of letting Trier do his thing is that it basically killed the Arizona offense. The Wildcats’ final stretch included several awful possessions, including a post-up by Dusan Ristic that started behind the basket and a handful of other drives that turned into bad misses. During a point in the game when Arizona should have been executing to get fouls to hold its lead, it reeked of desperation to hold on for dear life. It was as if they were trying to wish the clock away rather than continuing to play.
  3. Sean Miller’s Early Career Legacy. There will be a lot written about this topic in Arizona and beyond — some fair, some not — but the fact remains that Sean Miller’s early career at Arizona has been filled with great regular season success, multiple high NBA Draft picks, and a painful legacy in the regionals. Despite receiving some favorable draws in terms of location within the West Region geographic footprint — allowing for its formidable crowd to turn neutral-site arenas into Tucson West or North — it hasn’t seemed to help. Some will argue that Miller’s losses to the likes of Wisconsin in 2015 or Connecticut in 2011 were to outstanding teams that simply were not going to be denied. While a fair point, the fact remains that three of Miller’s four best teams (2011, 2014, 2017) have had the ball with the final possession yet still fell short. In all three of those games, late execution was a factor. At a certain point, a series of close devastating losses begin to weigh on a program as well as a head coach — it’s safe to say that we’re to that point in Tucson. The Wildcats played tight in the final four minutes today, and the fans all around the building could sense it.

Star of the Game. Trevon Bluiett, Xavier. Bluiett carried the Musketeers in the first half, scoring 18 of his game-high 25 points on 7-of-8 from the field including a pair of threes. He was quieter in the second half, but he hit the big three to keep Xavier alive after they had gone down by eight points with just under four minutes remaining. He’s been outstanding in the NCAA Tournament, averaging 25.0 PPG and knocking down 47.8 percent of his three-point shots.

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Rushed Reactions: #11 Xavier 91, #3 Florida State 66

Posted by Walker Carey on March 18th, 2017

Rush the Court is providing NCAA Tournament coverage from start to finish over the next three weeks.

Xavier Did What Xavier Does in the Postseason (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Xavier’s outside shooting was incredible. There are games when teams just catch fire from the outside and an opponent can do nothing to stop it. That occurred tonight with Xavier, as the Musketeers finished the game hitting a scorching 64.7 percent from the three-point line. What made this performance so impactful is that it was not just one guy who caught fire — the entire team contributed. Five different Musketeers connected from long range with reserve freshman forward Kaiser Gates leading the way with four conversions. Xavier’s marksmanship thus far in the NCAA Tournament — 50 percent through two games — is completely unexpected, as the Musketeers finished the regular season ranked 211th nationally at just 33.0 percent. It will be interesting to see if Xavier is able to keep up the hot shooting next week in San Jose.
  2. Florida State’s performance left plenty to be desired. Las Vegas made Florida State a 7.5-point favorite entering tonight’s game with good reason. The Seminoles have legitimate NBA talent across the roster in guards Dwayne Bacon and Xavier Rathan-Mayes, along with forward Jonathan Isaac. Having that kind of talent advantage did not do them any good, though, as Xavier dominated the game for the entire 40 minutes. Florida State looked ill-prepared on both ends of the court, as it took bad shot after bad shot on one end and allowed the Musketeers open looks on the other. It also seems dumbfounding how the Seminoles have a player like Isaac — currently projected to be the ninth pick in this summer’s NBA Draft — manage only seven shot attempts. Florida State was a bit on an enigma for the entire season, and many doubted its ability win away from Tallahassee, so losing in blowout fashion to a #11 seed proves that those concerns had merit.
  3. Xavier’s chance in the Sweet Sixteen should not be discounted. A lesson the NCAA Tournament has taught college basketball fans since its inception is to never discount a hot team. Right now, despite being an overlooked #11 seed that lost six of its last seven regular season games, the Musketeers certainly qualify. Bluiett has been excellent in the NCAA Tournament, while supporting players such as guard J.P. Macura and forwards Tyrique Jones and Sean O’Mara have provided terrific complementary performances. Chris Mack has shown time and time again that he should be considered among the country’s best tacticians, and despite losing point guard Edmond Sumner for the season in late January, his team regrouped and found a way to advance to the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend.

Player of the Game. Trevon Bluiett, Xavier. The junior forward turned in another star performance in the victory, finishing the night with 29 points on a very efficient 8-of-14 shooting. Bluiett’s length in Xavier’s 2-3 zone also bothered Florida State’s offense all night, which aided with the Seminoles only shooting 40 percent for the game. Bluiett has been a standout player for much of his career at Xavier, but he has taken his game to another level in this year’s NCAA Tournament.

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Rushed Reactions: #11 Xavier 76, #6 Maryland 65

Posted by Walker Carey on March 16th, 2017

RTC will be providing coverage of the NCAA Tournament from start to finish. Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is in Orlando this weekend.

Three Key Takeaways.

Xavier Looked Like the Better Team All Day Today (USA Today Images)

  1. A hot Trevon Bluiett is nearly unstoppable. There are some players who just need to see the ball go in the net once for their games to completely turn on a dime. That situation happened with Xavier junior forward Trevon Bluiett in tonight’s victory, as he was able to shake off a poor first half (just three points on 1-of-8 shooting) and completely dominate the second stanza in his team’s favor. Bluiett scored 18 of his game-high 21 points after the break, reaching a point where everyone in the gym knew anything he shot was likely going in. Bluiett’s second half tear carried over from his performance at last week’s Big East Tournament when he scored 44 of his 58 points after halftime. Xavier will undoubtedly take Bluiett warming up after halftime if it means more victories, but the Musketeers have to wonder what it would mean if Bluiett was hot for an entire game.
  2. Sean O’Mara came off the bench to provide Xavier a consistent post presence. It would make sense if Sean O’Mara had not been a key component of Maryland’s incoming scouting report. The junior big man entered today’s contest averaging a modest 5.5 points and 2.8 rebounds per game, as Xavier is far better known for its perimeter attack than its interior play. You better believe Maryland knows a lot about O’Mara now after he turned in a career-best performance in the 11-point victory. O’Mara finished the game with 18 points (5-of-6 FG and 8-of-9 FT) and seven rebounds. The Terps had no answer for his work in the post, as big man Damonte Dodd struggled all evening and was exploited by the far more athletic O’Mara.
  3. Maryland was overseeded. It is easy in hindsight to point to problems with how certain teams were seeded, but anyone who watched today’s game will tell you that Maryland was not worthy of a #6 seed. The Terrapins were disjointed for much of the game on both ends of the court, and it often appeared that they were just waiting around for junior guard Melo Trimble to make a play. This was a questionable strategy because Trimble struggled all night, finishing with 13 points on just 5-of-15 shooting. The bracket cannot be changed in retrospect, but you have to think the NCAA Tournament may have been a little better if the Terrapins were actually placed where they belonged.

Player of the Game. Trevon Bluiett, Xavier. The game changed for the Musketeers when Bluiett got going in the second half. The junior Indianapolis native finished the game with 21 points (7-of-15 FG and 5-of-10 3FG) and made his presence felt on the defensive end by nabbing three steals. Bluiett was the best player on the floor throughout the second 20 minutes and Xavier’s win would not have been possible without him coming alive.

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