San Diego State: California’s Best Team

Posted by AMurawa on December 2nd, 2012

Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and a Pac-12 microsite writer. He filed this report after Saturday night’s John Wooden Classic between UCLA and San Diego State in Anaheim.

When asked Saturday night following San Diego State’s nine-point win over UCLA at the Wooden Classic whether the Aztecs’ 26-game winning streak over teams from the state of California was proof that, for now at least, SDSU is the best college basketball program in the state, Bruin head coach Ben Howland was not about to play ball. “There are a lot of teams in California,” he said before changing the subject. When Jamaal Franklin was asked a similar question just minutes later, he wasted no time answering in the affirmative, with one caveat: “We are the best, but I’m not saying we’re the best forever.” And whether UCLA’s Howland (or USC’s Kevin O’Neill, or Cal’s Mike Montgomery, or Saint Mary’s Randy Bennett, or any other head coach of a California team whose scalp SDSU has taken recently) are ready to publicly admit it, it is hard to argue the point. Right now the Aztecs are ranked higher than anybody else in the state, and in recent history, they’re the team that has had the most success. The lone Sweet Sixteen appearance by a team from California in the past three years belongs to SDSU; arguably the most accomplished current player in the state (Franklin, the reigning Mountain West Player of the Year) calls SDSU home; and as is rapidly become clear, the Aztecs have the best fan support of any team in the state this side of the Lakers.

Steve Fisher, San Diego State

Steve Fisher Has Taken A Program That Was Once a Non-Factor And Turned It Into The Best In the State (AP Photo/Gus Ruelas)

When Steve Fisher agreed to become the head coach for SDSU 14 seasons ago, the announcement was little more than a curiosity. Having taken Michigan to the mountaintop in his first six games as head coach of that program back in 1989, and then following that up with the fabled Fab Five recruiting class, Fisher was unceremoniously run out of Ann Arbor for his tenuous connection to the scandal that resulted in a vacated Final Four appearances. When he showed up in San Diego, he was taking over a program with zero history that had gone 4-22 the previous season. Two years into the job, he had a .500 ballclub on his hands, and now, in the past seven seasons, his team has racked up a 177-63 record, including the Sweet Sixteen appearance in 2010-11. But perhaps the biggest feather in Fisher’s cap has been the explosion of fan interest in the Aztecs. There was a time when this team played in the sterile and crumbling San Diego Sports Arena in front of a handful of diehard fans and maybe a small group of students. Nowadays, Viejas Arena (opened just in advance of Fisher in 1997) is regularly packed to the gills and roaring loud, in part due to its large and vocal student section, The Show. And, as Aztec fans proved Saturday night, they’re ready and willing to go on the road and change any venue within striking distance into a temporary home court; on Saturday night, of the 17,000-plus at the Honda Center, a clear majority of the fans were there to support SDSU.

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The Other 26: Week One

Posted by IRenko on December 1st, 2012

I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

Greetings, readers, and welcome back for another year of The Other 26, RTC’s weekly foray into the mid-major world, now securely ensconced on a microsite that shares its name. College hoops seemed to start earlier this year than it ever has, producing a November that was packed with much more action than the few preseason tournaments to which old geezers like me are accustomed. That means that there is quite a bit of ground to cover, and precious little time to waste. Let’s get right to it after the jump, with our first installment of the TO26 Top 10, a look back at which teams caught our eye with strong (and not so strong) starts, and a look forward to this week’s most compelling TO26 match-ups.

Looking Back:  Strong Starts

  • The Rest of the Mountain West — Coming into the season, UNLV and San Diego State received well-deserved hype and top 20 rankings.  But it’s clear that they’re going to have quite a bit of competition in conference play. New Mexico has barely shown the effects of losing their frontcourt tandem Drew Gordon and A.J. Hardeman. They have notched several solid wins en route to a 7-0 record, defeating UConn, George Mason, Davidson, and Mercer — all teams with realistic NCAA Tournament hopes. Fresh off their first NCAA Tournament appearance in nine years, and with a cast of strong returnees and transfers, Colorado State entered the season with reasonably high expectations. But their ability to adjust to new coach Larry Eustachy remained an open question. Well, question answered. The Rams are undefeated at 5-0, posting wins over strong mid-major teams Montana and Denver and pounding the Washington Huskies by 18 points on the road. But, wait! The MW’s depth does not end there. Leon Rice’s Boise State squad, which plays just one senior, is off to a 5-1 start and is coming off of a 13-point win over Creighton on the road. Meanwhile, Wyoming and Air Force are a combined 13-1 on the season.  Throw in competitive newcomers Nevada and Fresno State, and UNLV and San Diego State may not have an easy conference game all year.

Elias Harris Leads a Potent Gonzaga Frontcourt (US Presswire)

  • Gonzaga — Gonzaga came into the season with a Top 25 ranking, so they’ve not exactly snuck up on anyone. But they’ve nonetheless impressed, collecting wins over West Virginia, Clemson, Oklahoma, and Davidson by an average of more than 20 points. Throw in three more lopsided victories, and the Zags are sitting pretty at 7-0 and little sweat to show for it. Kelly Olynyk has emerged from his redshirt year as a genuine frontcourt force. Along with Elias Harris and Sam Dower, he gives the Bulldogs three skilled, athletic bigs. Throw in freshman post anchor Przemek Karnowski, and the Zags have four big men averaging nine or more points. While this frontcourt foursome has managed to outshine the heralded backcourt of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell on the offensive end, what’s been most impressive about Gonzaga’s start is its defense. Mark Few’s teams have steadily improved at that end of the floor over the past few years, and it could be the key that finally unlocks their door to the Final Four. Read the rest of this entry »
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Set Your DVR: Weekend Edition

Posted by bmulvihill on November 30th, 2012

Brendon Mulvihill is the head curator for @SportsGawker and an RTC contributor. You can find him @TheMulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Many of the power conference teams hit the road for the very first time this weekend, so we should start to get a real sense of where teams stand early in the season. With a little less college football going on this weekend, you should make some time to catch a few games. Let’s get to the breakdowns.

Tennessee at #16 Georgetown – 6:30 PM EST, Friday on ESPN (****)

John Thompson III Has His Hoyas Exceeding Expectations (Getty)

  • Tennessee heads to Georgetown for its first true road game of the season. Like many of the games this past week in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and now the Big East/SEC Challenge, we are going to get a true indication of where a lot of teams stand. While the Vols are 4-1, they lost their toughest test against Oklahoma State. They face a Geogetown team that is extremely long. The Hoyas start four players who are at least 6’8”, while the “shortest” player, 6’2” guard Michael Starks, is their leading scorer. Look for the Hoyas to take advantage of their size and shoot a lot within the paint. Georgetown currently shoots 56% from inside the arc while the Vols rank 106th in the country in two-point defense. Also, keep a close eye on free throws. With this game looking like it’s going to take place inside the arc, free throws will be a key to victory. The Hoyas are struggling to get to the line and it caught up with them in their recent overtime loss to Indiana. On the other hand, Tennessee is ranked in the top 25 nationally in free throw rate. The team that gets to the line more and sinks its free throws should be the winner in this contest.

Baylor at #8 Kentucky – 12:30 PM EST, Saturday on CBS (****)

  • Kentucky and Baylor are two teams in desperate need of a good win. Kentucky is coming off a beating on the road at the hands of Notre Dame. As coach John Calipari discussed in many of his preseason press conferences, the Wildcats are not consistent on offense or defense. As soon as you think they are coming together, they lay an egg and shoot 40% against ND. Baylor is also struggling to find an identity outside of “The Pierre Jackson Show.” While Jackson’s play has been mostly excellent, it does not seem to be working particularly well with recent losses to Colorado and College of Charleston. Kentucky will be tough to beat at home but they need better consistency on both ends of the court. They should be able to shoot the ball against a struggling Baylor defense, particularly from downtown. If the Wildcats can get back in the long-ball groove, they should win at home for the 56th straight time under Calipari.

#18 Oklahoma State at Virginia Tech – 2:00 PM EST, Saturday on ESPN3 (****)

  • While Oklahoma State lost to Virginia Tech last year in a close contest and will play a true road game for the first time this year, the Cowboys have not been tested so far this season. More importantly, they have responded with drubbings of Tennessee and North Carolina State. For the Hokies, OSU is by far their toughest opponent to date. The Cowboys have been winning with solid defense. Opponents have been held to 36.3% from two and an overall eFG% of 39.8%. Typically, you may take these stats with a grain of salt given the competition, but Travis Ford’s team has played a strong schedule thus far. The match-up you should keep a close eye on is the Cowboy defense versus Virginia Tech guard Erick Green. The 6’3” Green is averaging 24.3 points per game thus far, and Ford will counter with a trio of big guards in 6’7” LeBryan Nash, 6’4” Marcus Smart, and 6’3” Markel Brown. Do not expect Green to hit for two dozen against the Pokes. If he does, Virginia Tech will be in good shape. Finally, watch the Hokies on the offensive glass. They currently rank 314th in the country in offensive rebounding rate against a fairly soft schedule. It’s not going to be easy for coach James Johnson’s squad to hit their shots, so he needs them to grab offensive boards desperately. If they don’t, look for the Cowboys to win in Blacksburg.

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CIO… the Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on November 20th, 2012

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference.

A Look Back

Let’s be honest. There hasn’t been a whole heck of a lot of worthwhile games on the Mountain West schedule thus far. New Mexico got a piece of Davidson during ESPN’s 24-Hour Marathon, then got three solid games in the Virgin Islands at the Paradise Jam (much more on that below), but beyond that, the only real primo television game was San Diego State and Syracuse playing in slightly better conditions than I play on most days during the summer. Still, we got our first look at some new freshmen (Anthony Bennett – good, Winston Shepard – interesting, Cameron Michael – surprising), some new transfers (Colton Iverson – good, Bryce Dejean-Jones – interesting, Allen Huddleston – surprising) and a couple of new teams (Fresno State and Nevada, who happen to have the only two losses in the conference aside from that immediately discounted SDSU game).

Reader’s Take


Team of the Week

New Mexico – While everybody nationally has been talking about UNLV and San Diego State, the Lobos – the defending regular season and tournament champions in the conference – have flown under the radar. Yet, here they are with a 4-0 record, a Paradise Jam championship and arguably the conference’s best wins in the bag. Replacing Drew Gordon is going to be a collective effort as the season goes on, but not only are big guys Alex Kirk, Cameron Bairstow and freshman Nick Banyard ready to chip in any way possible, but perimeter guys like Hugh Greenwood and Kendall Williams will lend a hand on the glass as well. They certainly haven’t been pretty wins so far, but this is just a group of winners with a knack for getting things done, one way or another.

Hugh Greenwood, New Mexico

It Wasn’t Always Pretty, But Hugh Greenwood and New Mexico Earned The Paradise Jam Title Over Connecticut (Thomas Layer)

Player of the Week

Tony Snell, Junior, New Mexico – Last year, Tony Snell’s offensive game was little more than three-point attempts either in spot-up situations or running off of a screen. Almost 70% of his field goal attempts came from behind the arc. Thus far this year, Snell has shown a much more varied attack, even taking his man off the dribble from time to time. While he’s not exactly hitting shots at an exceptionally high rate early on (46.2 eFG% through four games), he’s leading the team with 17.5 points per game, has shown a good ability to find open teammates and continues to use his length to be a frustrating defensive opponent. Oh, and he’s hit a big shot or two, as we’ll get to shortly.

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Jamaal Franklin’s West Coast Swagger

Posted by dnspewak on November 17th, 2012

Danny Spewak is an RTC correspondent. He filed this following San Diego State’s 60-44 victory over Missouri State in Springfield on Saturday.

Trotting up and down the floor like he owned the place, Jamaal Franklin’s mouth just kept moving. “I guess that’s what they do out on the West Coast,” Missouri State guard Anthony Downing said. Sometimes, the reigning Mountain West Player of the Year would flash a wry smile at nobody in particular. Other times, he’d stare blankly at the first row of fans at JQH Arena, where hecklers hollered at him and accused him of playing like a “thug” after referees called him for a flagrant foul on Keith Pickens.

Jamaal Franklin, Steve Fisher, San Diego State

Jamaal Franklin Impressed at Missouri State (Christopher Hanewinckel/US Presswire)

By the time San Diego State put the finishing touches on a 60-44 victory over Missouri State on Saturday, all 7,272 fans at the “Q” booed Franklin every time he touched the ball. “West Coast snobs!” said one woman behind press row. The others exited the building silently — with vengeance, of course. They can hate Jamaal Franklin all they want in Springfield, but it won’t change the box score. Twenty-two points. Twelve rebounds. Three blocks. Three steals. All part of another victory for his 25th-ranked Aztecs. “It was an eye-opening experience,” Bears’ coach Paul Lusk said. But for anybody who has seen Franklin play before, it wasn’t eye-opening in the least. Like the rest of his team, which missed its first 10 three-point attempts and shot 32 percent from the field, the versatile 6’5’’ wing wasn’t perfect. He turned the ball over seven times, misfired on six of seven three-point attempts and never exactly found his stroke offensively. Yet Franklin still managed to tally a double-double and turn in a stellar defensive performance.

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Set Your DVR: Opening Weekend

Posted by bmulvihill on November 9th, 2012

Brendon Mulvihill is the head curator for @SportsGawker and an RTC contributor. You can find him @themulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

The college basketball season is finally here! This season Set Your DVR (ed. note: sadly, nobody has TiVos anymore) will be a twice-weekly column outlining the must-see games for the upcoming week and weekend.  This column will lay out the key factors in each game to focus on and how those factors could affect the outcome. It’s a military-themed weekend of hoops with three games taking place on aircraft carriers and one game taking place at a military base located across the Atlantic Ocean.  Let’s get to the breakdowns.

Game of the Weekend

#16 San Diego State vs. #5 Syracuse – 4:00 PM EST, 11/11/12 on FSN HD (*****)

Jim Boeheim takes the Orange to the USS Midway to take on San Diego State

  • The USS Midway provides the backdrop for an exciting opener between Syracuse and San Diego State. SDSU returns four starters including Mountain West Conference Player of the Year Jamaal Franklin as well as Chase Tapley, James Rahon, and Xavier Thomas. Keep a close eye on the match-up between the Aztec guards and Syracuse point guard Brandon Triche. Triche is taking over for Scoop Jardine and faces a tough test against this crew. Steve Fisher’s squad will have to improve in two areas if they are going to start beating top-tier programs like Syracuse – shooting and offensive rebounding. The Aztecs grabbed only 30.8% of their offensive rebound opportunities last season, so if they are only going to hit 33% of their three-point attempts and 49.8% of their two-point attempts like they did in 2011-12, it’s going to be difficult to beat the best teams in the country. Watch to see if transfers Dwayne Polee II and J.J. O’Brien can help the Aztecs grab more of those missed shots.
  • After losing four starters to graduation and the NBA Draft, Syracuse is in a much different place than SDSU. Jim Boeheim’s ability to fill the talent void will be a key factor in determining if this Orange team can beat an experienced Aztec team. The ‘Cuse returns two significant contributors from last year’s team – C.J. Fair and Triche. Both players need to improve their sub-50% eFG in order to prevent the team from taking a step backwards.  The key to the Orange’s success in this game and in the future, however, may be 6’8” senior forward James Southerland. In a somewhat limited role last year, Southerland put up some impressive shooting numbers from inside the arc. Keep a close eye on Southerland’s ability to take advantage of his size inside the three-point line. Syracuse will also be able to throw additional size at the Aztecs with 6’9” sophomore Rakeem Christmas, 6’10” junior Baye Keita, and 6’7” 275 lb. wide-body freshman, DaJuan Coleman. Read the rest of this entry »
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The Big East’s Top 25 (or so) Non-Conference Games of 2012-13

Posted by Dan Lyons on November 9th, 2012

While Big East basketball is always a spectacle, this conference season has even more added juice with the impending departures of Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and (eventually) Notre Dame.  However, before we get to conference games, the Big East is involved in some really intriguing non-conference games this season. Big East teams will be playing all over the United States, Germany, and on a few aircraft carriers. Let’s take a look at the best that the Big East has to offer in the non-conference slate this season.

Syracuse and San Diego State tip off the season on the deck of the USS Midway this Sunday (AP)

25. Pittsburgh v. Oakland, November 17, 7 PM

The Panthers have a rather light non-conference slate this season, but don’t expect them to look past the Golden Grizzlies. Oakland has a history of playing tough schedules, and won’t be intimidated by the Zoo. Oakland is coming off of a bit of a down year in 2011-12 when they finished 20-16 (11-7), but made the NCAA Tournament in both 2009-10, when they were knocked out in the first round by Pittsburgh, and 2010-11.

24. DePaul @ Auburn, November 30, 9 PM

Look for DePaul to try to do the conference proud when they head down to take on the Auburn Tigers as part of the SEC-Big East Challenge. This DePaul squad should be better than it has been in years past, returning dynamic forward Cleveland Melvin and dangerous guard Brandon Young.  Auburn is coming off of a poor 15-16 season, and could be ripe for a big non-conference road win for the Blue Demons.

23. Rutgers v. Iona, Madison Square Garden, December 8, 9:30 PM

One of these New York metropolitan-area teams is coming off of a great season that ended in a heartbreaking NCAA tournament loss to BYU. The other is continually striving to build its program, and aspires to have such success.  It almost seems backwards that Iona is the more accomplished team at the moment, but isn’t that what makes college basketball so great? A big performance by the Scarlet Knights at the Garden could go a long way in setting the tone for a run at a tournament berth in the Big East.

22. St. John’s v. Detroit, November 13, 2 PM

The Johnnies tip off their season against a very dangerous Detroit squad led by superstar Ray McCallum. St. John’s has a number of impressive young players themselves, and head coach Steve Lavin will return to the sideline after battling cancer last season. While many look forward to what should be a fun match-up between McCallum and D’Angelo Harrison, the St. John’s star was recently benched in the team’s final exhibition for disciplinary reasons. If Lavin continues to have issues with his top guard, it could prove very problematic for the Red Storm next week.

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2012-13 RTC Preseason All-American Teams

Posted by KDoyle on November 8th, 2012

With the season tipping off tomorrow, there’s no better time to roll out our preseason superlatives and All-America teams: National Player of the Year, National Freshman of the Year, and First, Second, and Third All-America teams. More than anything, our preseason All-America teams are here to foster discussion. Our crack panel of 10 national columnists provided ballots over the last week or so, and this is where we ended up.

  • Preseason National Player of the Year—Cody Zeller, Indiana
  • Preseason National Freshman of the Year—Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA

First Team All-America

Cody Zeller, Indiana (unanimous)—The day Cody Zeller committed to play basketball for Tom Crean at Indiana was the day Hoosier basketball would officially begin its climb back to national relevancy and prominence. The first three years weren’t easy for Crean, who compiled a dismal 28-66 combined record during those seasons, but Zeller was his key recruit that led Indiana to a 27-9 record last year and a trip to the Sweet Sixteen. Named Mr. Basketball for the state of Indiana as a senior at Washington High School, Zeller was destined for big things right from the get-go. His ability to run the floor like a 6’5″ athletic forward—despite standing at 7’0″ — and sound post-game with a smooth jumper — is a joy for purists of the game to watch. Now, in his sophomore year, he has the Hoosiers eyeing a National Championship.

Zeller is Everyone’s Cover Boy, and With Good Reason… IU is Back

Factoid: Sophomore Cody Zeller may be bigger than life on the basketball court, but his talents are multi-faceted. Off the court, he goes by the moniker The Big Handsome around the Indiana campus.

Twitter: @czeller40

Doug McDermott, Creighton (unanimous)—The ability to score from virtually anywhere on the court—whether it is from in the post of either shoulder, or beyond the three-point line—McDermott is perhaps the most talented and feared offensive player in the country. Shooting better than 60% from the field and a ridiculous 48.6% from three, McDermott is poised to put up video game offensive numbers in the Missouri Valley. There may not be a more efficient offensive player in the game—averaging nearly 23 PPG on fewer than 15 shots is impressive.

If Zeller Falters, McDermott Could Take the NPOY Crown

Factoid: Similar to fellow preseason First Team All-American C.J. McCollum who is notorious for being lightly recruited out of high school, McDermott didn’t exactly have a laundry list of schools knocking on the basketball office door at Ames High School. In fact, his own father wouldn’t even offer him a scholarship to play at Iowa State. And now, well, he just may be the best player in college basketball.

Twitter: @dougmcd3

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2012-13 RTC Conference Primers: Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on November 6th, 2012

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and a Pac-12 microsite writer. You can occasionally find him on Twitter at @Amurawa.

Top Storylines

  • Major Mountain? No one is going to confuse the Mountain West with the ACC or the Big East, but fans of this conference are getting used to the fact that its best teams are regularly relevant on the national scene. In the past three years, while a conference like the Pac-12 has been fortunate to get a mere eight NCAA Tournament bids, the MW has earned 11, more than any other non-BCS league. Two seasons ago there were a pair of Sweet Sixteen performances and a national sensation in Jimmer Fredette, while this year suggests the chance at success approaching that magical year, with two teams – UNLV and San Diego State – ranked in the top 20 of the recently released USA Today preseason poll and a couple more teams in the “others receiving votes” category.
  • New, new, new. One of the reasons for the MW’s continued success has been the ability of the conference, and its member institutions, to roll with the rapid changes in the basketball landscape. That’s reflected this season in a pair of new teams in the league – Fresno State and Nevada climb aboard while TCU drops out – as well as a host of new impact players. Aside from four ESPN top 100 freshmen this season (including the #7 prospect, UNLV’s Anthony Bennett), the conference welcomes in a handful of Division I transfers, like Khem Birch (UNLV, via Pitt), James Johnson (SDSU, via Virginia), J.J. O’Brien (SDSU, via Utah), Dwayne Polee (SDSU, via St. John’s) and Colton Iverson (Colorado State, via Minnesota), who are expected to make big impacts this season.
  • More television exposure? Last year’s MW television schedule featured seven regular season games on the ESPN family of networks, and one game on CBS. Of course, 91 other regular season games were televised on other national cable networks of one kind or another. But, with the shuttering of The Mtn., the conference’s cable network, this year’s television schedule is quite different. As far as national exposure on the big boy channels, things aren’t going to change much, with six conference appearances on ESPN networks. To make matters worse, instead of having every regular season conference game televised, channels like CBS Sports Network, NBC Sports Network on the Time Warner Cable Sportsnet will pick and choose MW games. All told, just 53 games features MW conference teams are scheduled for television on a national cable network, with 21 of those headed to the TWC channel which currently sports limited distribution.

Reader’s Take I


Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. San Diego State (12-4)
  2. UNLV (11-5)
  3. New Mexico (11-5)
  4. Colorado State (9-7)
  5. Nevada (8-8)
  6. Air Force (6-10)
  7. Wyoming (6-10)
  8. Fresno State (5-11)
  9. Boise State (4-12)
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Where 2012-13 Happens: Reason #8 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on November 1st, 2012

And away we go, headfirst into another season heralded by our 2012-13 edition of Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball, our annual compendium of YouTube clips from the previous season 100% guaranteed to make you wish games were starting tonight. We’ve captured here what we believe were the most compelling moments from last season, some of which will bring back the goosebumps and others of which will leave you shaking your head. Enjoy!

#8 – Where A Mountain West Floater Happens

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-11, and 2011-12 seasons.

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