ACC Non-Conference Games: Ten Worth Watching

Posted by Matt Auerbach on October 23rd, 2018

Even in the face of fervent anticipation, the start of the college hoops season has a way of sneaking up on us. Now only two weeks away and with the brutal gauntlet of a full conference slate coming seven weeks after that, it feels like a good time to preview the 10 most compelling non-conference match-ups that ACC members will encounter during the upcoming campaign. This list excludes preseason tourneys (Duke heading to Maui, for example, among others) and the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge, which we will preview in more depth ahead of those events. Here we go, in calendar order, starting with the Champions Classic on opening night.

It’s Always Must-See College Basketball when Duke Meets Kentucky (USA Today Images)

  • November 6- Duke vs. Kentucky (Champions Classic, Indianapolis). In a very off-brand, sensible decision, the NCAA has stopped burying the season’s annual tip-off on a pedestrian Friday night and instead will utilize the grand stage of the Champions Classic to get things going. In the nightcap game of the Indianapolis event, two teams with legitimate championship aspirations and talent galore will meet once again. For Duke, the nation’s top-rated incoming class features do-everything wing R.J. Barrett along with explosive man-child Zion Williamson, Cam Reddish and Tre Jones (brother of Tyus Jones, the 2015 NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player). In an unusual turn of events, it will be Kentucky that is armed with the more experienced roster, as the Blue Devils’ leading returning scorer will be junior big man Marques Bolden (3.9 PPG), while the Wildcats retained sophomores Quade Green, P.J. Washington and Nick Richardsfrom last year’s Sweet Sixteen squad.
  • November 6: Florida at Florida State. This annual tussle will serve as the rivals’ season opener this year, as the Gators look to avenge a home thrashing by the Seminoles last season. Florida State returns seven of its top nine scorers, including leading man Phil Cofer, from a squad that was within a whisker of the Final Four a year ago. The cupboard is not bare for Mike White, either, as Florida features a dynamic, experienced tandem on the wings in seniors KeVaughn Allen and Jalen Hudson. Numerous explosive athletes on both sides of the floor will make this game worth flipping to during the commercial breaks of the Duke/Kentucky tilt.
  • November 15: Connecticut vs Syracuse (Madison Square Garden). Two old Big East foes will rekindle their long and storied rivalry at a familiar venue in New York City. The Orange return all of their top pieces from last year’s Sweet Sixteen squad, including the ACC’s third-leading scorer, Tyus Battle. He will be joined by a pair of exciting rising sophomores in Oshae Brissett and Marek Dolezaj along with freshmen Jalen Carey and Buddy Boeheim, giving Syracuse a roster that should easily result in a top-half ACC finish. New Connecticut head coach Danny Hurley will begin the process of getting this proud program back on track after consecutive sub-.500 seasons that led to the ouster of onetime championship coach Kevin Ollie.

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ACC M5: Offseason Storyline Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 16th, 2018

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We are now just three weeks away from opening night in college basketball, so it’s time to start our preseason coverage here at the ACC microsite. Over the next several weeks we will provide key question previews of all 15 ACC schools and we will also be reporting from ACC Operation Basketball in Charlotte a bit later this month. But first, let’s catch up on some of the most important storylines affecting ACC schools since the season ended last April.

  1. FBI Trial. Perhaps the biggest offseason story in college basketball is taking place right now in a New York City federal courtroom. The FBI’s investigation into the shady world of big-time recruiting has led to a criminal trial of several former Adidas employees who are accused of defrauding colleges by paying recruits (and their families) to sign with certain schools. Not surprisingly, the riveting testimony has generally revealed that college basketball programs are not really “victims” in this process; rather, as CBSSports.com’s Gary Parrish points out, they are co-conspirators. Two ACC schools are mired in this web as former assistant coaches at Louisville and NC State have been accused of paying recruits. The oddest reaction to the evidence that has been released so far came from North Carolina’s Roy Williams, who claimed that he was “dumbfounded” by the recent revelations. This is the same coach that has publicly stated he once turned Florida in to the NCAA for its recruitment of Mike Miller nearly 20 years ago.
  2. NCAA Reform. After receiving a number of recommendations last spring from the Dr. Condoleezza Rice-led Commission on College Basketball, the NCAA Board of Governors and Division I Board of Directors announced some reform measures — such as giving athletes more flexibility in professional opportunities — in how the sport operates. Unfortunately, none of these incremental changes will really address the root cause of the behavior that has been uncovered in the ongoing FBI investigation. As long as the antiquated model of student-athlete amateurism exists, there will continue to be a market for talented high school players to receive money and benefits from interested parties.
  3. New Regimes Begin. The ACC’s two new head coaches — Louisville’s Chris Mack and Pittsburgh’s Jeff Capel — spent the late spring and summer restocking and preserving their respective rosters. When Mack took over the Cardinals’ program, he inherited just six returning players (including only one starter), one redshirt transfer and no incoming freshmen. Mack responded by signing three graduate transfers, two of whom, Christen Cunningham (Samford) and Khwan Fore (Richmond), should see major backcourt minutes in his first season. For Capel, job one was to convince several holdovers from the disastrous Kevin Stallings era to remain with the program — the longtime Duke assistant not only managed to perform that task, but he also signed some highly-rated freshmen to fill out the squad in his initial campaign in the Steel City.
  4. Bye Bye, RPI. Finally! Believe it or not… Ronald Reagan was sitting in the Oval Office when we last had an NCAA Tournament field selected without using the RPI. As the guiding metric for the Selection Committee since way back in 1981, the RPI has been an outdated tool for at least a decade in the era of advanced analytics. But as this article from SBNation.com points out, plenty of mystery surrounds the replacement rating system being called the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET). As with the RPI, the NET will be used primarily as a sorting tool in the hope that Quadrant results – part of the evaluation system put in place a year ago – will better reflect actual team strength. There will be no shortage of discussion, and we shall see how it works when March rolls around.
  5. Conference Hype. The ACC is receiving considerable preseason love from the national media heading into the 2018-19 season. Seven league members are in both the CBSSports.com and ESPN.com preseason Top 25 ratings while NBCSports.com places eight ACC teams in its version. As expected, each of last year’s top three teams in the league – Virginia, Duke and North Carolina – are once again regarded as consensus top-10 squads. Several ACC players are showing up on preseason All-America teams as well, led by North Carolina senior Luke Maye and Duke superstar freshmen R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson. We got an early peek at Coach K’s talented young duo in August, when the Blue Devils played three exhibition games in Canada.
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ACC Year in Review: Virginia’s Disappointment Stains Otherwise Strong ACC Season

Posted by Matt Auerbach on April 13th, 2018

For the first time since the 2014 Final Four in Arlington, Texas, the ACC was without representation during the season’s final weekend. Despite that disappointment, the ACC still finished the year rated as the second strongest conference via KenPom, with two of its nine NCAA Tournament entrants — Florida State and Duke — falling just a game short of a trip to San Antonio. That said, ACC regular season and tournament champion Virginia dominated the conference in stupendous fashion, winning the regular season by four games over runner-up Duke in large part thanks to the stingiest defense since the 38-1 Kentucky team in 2015. A convincing three-day run in Brooklyn left little doubt that Virginia was a worthy #1 overall seed heading into the Big Dance. We all know what happened next.

Virginia Became the First #1 Seed to Lose to a #16 Seed (USA Today Images)

  • Biggest Surprise: What happened in Charlotte several weeks ago defied all the laws of common sense and conventional basketball wisdom. The ignominious distinction of becoming the first #1 seed to fall to a #16 will sting the Virginia program for years — perhaps decades — but given the passage of time we can also start to begin to appreciate a tremendous season submarined by an inexplicable 40-minute sample size. And while that upset alone is the exact definition of a surprise, a Cavaliers team that was picked to finish sixth in the preseason laying waste to the entire ACC for three months qualifies as a legitimate surprise on its own right.

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ACC Offseason Storylines to Follow

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on April 11th, 2018

With the 2017-18 season in the books, here are a few ACC storylines to follow over the next several months. 

FBI Investigation / NCAA Action

Last September the college basketball world was rocked by news that the FBI was sticking its nose into the seedy underbelly of the sport’s recruiting practices. Several prominent programs were identified as involved in pay-for-play schemes, with ACC members Louisville and Miami experiencing significant subsequent fallout from those allegations. The Cardinals, for example, fired Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino right before the start of practice, leaving inexperienced assistant coach David Padgett to lead the team to a disappointing NIT berth. Furthermore, the NCAA is expected to eventually revisit its sanctions against the Louisville program from the stripper scandal to determine if more penalties are warranted. At Miami, head coach Jim Larranaga saw his integrity questioned for the first time in his lengthy career, which may have affected his team’s performance on the floor which culminated in a forgettable 0-2 postseason. The greater impact of the FBI probe on the two schools has unquestionably been in recruiting – neither team has yet to sign a newcomer for the 2018-19 campaign, leaving incredibly thin rosters in place heading into this offseason.

Jim Larranaga has to rebuild his reputation as well as Miami’s roster in the wake of the FBI’s investigation into NCAA basketball recruiting. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

After the FBI case was initially made public, the implication was that many more schools and athletes would eventually be caught up in the government’s web of wiretaps, plea bargains and confessions. We didn’t hear any more information from the FBI until this week, however, when the government claimed that at least one member of the N.C. State coaching staff was allegedly involved in a cash payment to the family of Dennis Smith in late 2015. So far, all of the allegations involve schools and players tied to the shoe company Adidas, but if shenanigans related to Nike are also exposed, expect a number of prominent other schools (including ACC heavyweights) to be affected. While we wait on further developments in this expanding case, it’s already worth noting that the credibility of one of the FBI star witnesses as well as the conduct of one of its chief investigators has been called into question. Stay tuned.

Rule Changes – On and off the Court

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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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ACC M5: 02.23.17 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 23rd, 2017

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  1. Syracuse Post-Standard: Before I get started, I hope you caught that SyracuseDuke game last night. The big home win probably puts the Orange on the right side of the bubble for now (although this is far from assured), and John Gillon‘s contested three that banked through was the team’s second game-winner of the month. Duke only has its second half defense to blame for the loss. The Blue Devils played plenty well enough on offense, but allowing Syracuse to go a blistering 18-of-26 from the field in the second half was more than a good night on the glass could overcome. But back to the story at hand: Apparently an upset Syracuse fan called Georgia Tech head coach Josh Pastner to complain about fans chanting “air ball” at Gillon. Thankfully, Gillon’s 26-point, six-assist performance last night shows he wasn’t too impacted by the vitriol.
  2. Roanoke Times: Clemson may have sold its soul for a football championship (and its fans are likely at peace with that). After Tuesday night’s loss to Virginia Tech, the Tigers are now 1-7 in games decided by five p0ints or fewer in ACC play (they lost another game by six points). That gives Brad Brownell’s club a slight edge over Wake Forest in ranking lowest in ACC “Luck,” according to Ken Pomeroy (the Demon Deacons, by contrast, are 3-4 in ACC games decided by five points or fewer). If in fact Clemson still has its soul, that would imply some regression (or progression) to the mean, which could mean an exciting week in Brooklyn for the Tigers.
  3. Sports Illustrated: This is your annual reminder that the ACC will likely be replacing four Hall of Fame coaches in coming years, not to mention Miami’s Jim Larranaga. The only obvious choice is Jeff Capel almost certainly getting the chance to succeed Mike Krzyzweski at Duke (although given enough time, Chris Collins may have too much success at Northwestern to ignore). It remains to be seen whether North Carolina learned its lesson from hiring Matt Doherty, or whether the Tar Heel Way will take precedence over a surer pick. I don’t see the Tar Heels hiring Texas’ Shaka Smart, but Arizona’s Sean Miller would have a tough time saying no. Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin makes perfect sense at Louisville (and he’s criminally underrated nationally). Replacing Jim Boeheim at Syracuse looks simultaneously the easiest and most challenging. There’s a successor already in place (Mike Hopkins), but there’s been no evidence of any momentum to hand over the keys.
  4. Duke Basketball Report: Try to avoid the unnecessary aside about North Carolina’s academic scandal (the Raleigh News & Observer covered it better than any paper in the country and was relentless in uncovering new facets of the case). Other than that, I agree wholeheartedly with Al Featherston’s description of the NC State job. It’s a good but not elite job. Hiring Sidney Lowe (and the media narrative following Herb Sendek’s ousting) put the program in a really tough long-term spot. Mark Gottfried dug out of the hole but his team looked totally lost this year. Featherston’s best point is that a lot of luck goes into hiring a basketball coach. NC State could make a great hire (and that includes many people other than Archie Miller — UNC Wilmington’s Kevin Keatts and North Carolina Central’s Levelle Moton both come to mind). They could also make another hire that’s a band-aid, or worse.
  5. WRAL Sports Fan: Props to the ACC for ending the asinine process where anyone who contributed $15 could vote for postseason awards. That led to a huge advantage for North Carolina schools. Now each team will be represented by an equal number of people. In a league the size (both in terms of number of teams and geographic area) of the ACC, this makes the most sense.
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Jayson Tatum’s Move to Power Forward Sparked Duke

Posted by Charlie Maikis on February 22nd, 2017

Duke entered this season with high expectations in large part because of several highly-regarded incoming freshmen. Among those touted newcomers was forward Jayson Tatum, a game-changing talent who is poised to become a high-lottery selection in June. Tatum was expected to contribute immediately, in much the same way that recent star Duke freshmen Jabari Parker, Jahlil Okafor and Brandon Ingram have done. The beginning of his tenure in Durham, though, was anything but smooth. Because of Duke’s abundance of more traditional big men like Amile Jefferson, Harry Giles and Marques Bolden, Tatum often found himself on the floor with two other interior players. For a player with legitimate perimeter capabilities but also a preference for operating around the rim, the cramped spacing and clogged driving lanes resulting from this arrangement inhibited both his production as well as Duke’s offense.

Duke’s Jayson Tatum had 19 points and seven rebounds in the Blue Devils’ 99-94 weekend victory over Wake Forest. (Associated Press)

Since a January 23 Big Monday home loss to NC State, Duke’s season has completely turned around. Tatum became the starting power forward alongside Jefferson and a three-guard backcourt in the very next game against Wake Forest, and Duke has won seven straight entering tonight’s game at Syracuse (including six victories against KenPom top-40 units). Tatum followed up his ascent to the starting five with the best game of his young career against Notre Dame a few days later, contributing a double-double of 19 points and a career-high 14 rebounds. The Irish had considerable trouble defending the freshman, as he proved too strong for VJ Beachem and too quick for Bonzie Colson. Many of his looks came from isolations. With the guards spotting up in positions around the perimeter, Tatum was able to utilize a mid-range post-up and bully his way to the rim without fear of help defense recovering quickly enough. Per Synergy Sports, he scored six points on six isolation plays in that game, a solid number for a relatively inefficient play type.

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ACC M5: 01.26.17 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on January 26th, 2017

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  1. The Players’ Tribune: Every year there’s at least one story out of the league that puts everything into perspective. Basketball, after all, is just a game. Sure, there’s future money and fame at stake, but stories like this from TPT highlight the contradiction of the game’s impact on those who play it while also shedding light on how little a win-loss record means next to personal relationships. Duke interim head coach Jeff Capel‘s post on his father’s ALS diagnosis is beautiful, funny and gutting.
  2. Raleigh News & Observer: Welp, it was good while it lasted. Florida State was in pole position to take the ACC regular season crown until the Seminoles suffered a hideous loss at Georgia Tech on Wednesday night. Florida State isn’t the first team to get caught slumping in Atlanta this season, but a drubbing by 22 points will raise eyebrows for those who are rightfully labeling the Seminoles as legitimate ACC contenders. Andrew Carter’s article here is still worth highlighting since Leonard Hamilton‘s team has a favorable schedule from here on out (at least compared with the other contenders). For the record, I probably would put my money on North Carolina or Virginia, but Hamilton arguably has his best team ever in Tallahassee.
  3. Winston-Salem Journal: So close to equaling his predecessor’s ACC road win total in just one season, Danny Manning‘s team came up just short of knocking off Jim Boeheim’s roller coaster team at Syracuse. The improvement Manning’s team has shown this year might be more impressive than what Hamilton has done at Florida State (even if the Demon Deacons are fighting an uphill battle to get to a .500 conference record). Bottom line: Wake Forest is good. A lack of quality non-conference wins will hurt their chances on Selection Sunday, but they may ultimately find their way on to the bubble thanks to sophomore forward John Collins‘ outstanding efforts.
  4. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: I hope no parents turned on the Pittsburgh vs. Louisville game on Tuesday night, as it was an X-rated woodshedding by the Cardinals — in Pittsburgh, no less. As Craig Meyer writes, Kevin Stallings publicly called out his team for lacking leadership on Monday, and his team responded in kind by completely quitting on him. Stallings was always something of a head-scratching hire after Jamie Dixon found greener pastures in Texas, but this season is going much worse than even his biggest doubters could have imagined. The Panthers have far more talent than their 1-6 ACC record indicates, but that necessarily falls on Stallings. First years in a new job are always tough, but Pittsburgh can’t afford to slide toward basketball oblivion while the rest of the conference continues to improve.
  5. Backing the Pack: Dennis Smith ended NC State‘s multi-decade losing streak in Cameron Indoor Stadium with a show for the ages on Monday night, capping it off with a dunk that didn’t count but could be heard over the silent Crazies crowd and all around the Triangle. That game could be a serious turning point for both teams. Is this the confidence boost the Wolfpack needed to salvage what was looking like a lost season? Is this the wakeup call for Duke‘s band of talented freshmen who often play much worse than the sum of their parts? Truthfully, I don’t know. The Blue Devils missed a lot of open shots and were probably the better team for much of the night, but NC State had the best player on the floor in Smith (and Abdul-Malik Abu played a tremendous game too). Don’t read too much into one game, but it’s clear that Duke has chemistry issues and Smith is an amazing talent.

EXTRA: The ACC announced its Basketball Legends class for this year, highlighted by late, great NC State coach Jim Valvano.

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Duke’s Lineup Change: Beginning of Something Special?

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on January 23rd, 2017

With Duke down 11 points after a listless first half against Miami on Saturday night, acting head coach Jeff Capel decided some personnel changes were in order. Starters Grayson Allen, Luke Kennard and Harry Giles began the second half on the bench as Duke turned around the game — and maybe its season — with an overwhelming comeback performance to beat the Hurricanes by 12 points. Capel is now 2-2 in his new role, and it already appears that he is willing to shake things up to get his team’s attention. Capel was asked about the lineup change afterward, saying, “We just went with guys that we felt were going to give us energy.” It was something of a gamble for the interim coach — benching two of the team’s three top scorers and an elite freshman — but the results, both from a viewers’ as well as a statistical perspective, were dramatic.

Senior Matt Jones led Duke in its big comeback win over Miami. (Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports)

To begin the second half against Miami, regular starters Amile Jefferson and Jayson Tatum were joined by senior Matt Jones and freshmen Frank Jackson and Marques Bolden. As a result, the tone of the game immediately changed. Over the first five minutes of the half, the Blue Devils converted five steals into 12 points, the beginning of a 20-0 run that shocked the confident Hurricanes and ultimately finished off the game. Jones was the catalyst, setting the pace defensively and scoring all 13 of his points in the first eight minutes. Jackson was also effective in finishing with 10 points and four assists versus zero turnovers. And with eight points, four rebounds and some impressive defense against Miami’s guards on the pick-and-roll, it was the breakout game from Bolden that Duke has been waiting for. Of course, it didn’t hurt to have Jefferson back (especially on the defensive end) after missing the last two games with a bruised foot.

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