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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Final Four Fact Sheet: Kansas Jayhawks

Posted by Walker Carey on March 28th, 2018

Now that the Final Four is set, our writers have put together a fact sheet on each of the four teams still remaining. Next, #1 Kansas,  from the South Region.

How Kansas Got Here

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

Midwest Region Champions. Kansas became the region’s NCAA Tournament representative following an epic 85-81 overtime win over #2 Duke in Sunday’s instant classic regional final. The Jayhawks began their run to San Antonio with a somewhat close 16-point victory over #16 Penn before experiencing some pressure in both its Second Round triumph over #8 Seton Hall and Sweet Sixteen win over #5 Clemson. Kansas’ win over the Blue Devils in the Elite Eight was arguably the game of the NCAA Tournament and further illustrated Midwest Regional Most Outstanding Player Malik Newman‘s March star turn. The redshirt sophomore swingman finished with a career-high 32 points and scored all 13 of Kansas’ points during the extra period.

The Coach

Bill Self. The Hall of Fame coach should have all the nonsensical “he cannot win the big game” talk regarding his recent career put to bed for at least a year, as Self has taken what many view as one of his least talented Kansas teams back to the Final Four. This will be Self’s third Final Four appearance. His was in San Antonio in 2008 when his Jayhawks beat North Carolina and Memphis to take home the school’s third national title. Self also took Kansas to the 2012 Final Four in New Orleans where it beat Ohio State in the national semifinals before falling to Kentucky in the championship game. With the Final Four again in San Antonio, expect there to be a lot of national discussion revolving around whether Self will once again be able to capture the San Antonio magic.

Style

Bill Self’s Kansas teams have normally run their offenses through a traditional back-to-the-basket big man. While sophomore center Udoka Azubuike is a more than capable offensive weapon, these Jayhawks have been heavily dominated by their guard play. Guards Newman, Devonte’ Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk and Lagerald Vick all start and are the team’s leaders in minutes played. The guard-heavy lineup has worked all season, as Kansas is ranked fifth nationally in offensive efficiency and averages a healthy 81.4 points per game. The Jayhawks also shoot 40.3 percent from the three-point line, so perimeter shooting is a definite strength. To beat Kansas, you have to slow down its guards — and considering the talent in its backcourt — an exceptionally difficult task for any team.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Kansas 85, #2 Duke 81 (OT)

Posted by Walker Carey on March 25th, 2018

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

Three Key Takeaways.

Kansas Outlasted Duke to Get Bill Self to His Third Final Four (USA Today Images)

  1. Kansas winning the rebounding battle was surprising and played a huge role in the win. Leading into the game, a lot of the talk about tonight’s Elite Eight match-up was focused on how Kansas was going to have a very difficult time keeping Duke off the glass. It turns out all that talk went for naught, however, as Kansas was the team that dominated the rebounding category. The Jayhawks finished with a 47-32 advantage on the glass while grabbing an amazing 17 offensive rebounds. The most impressive Jayhawk on the glass was senior guard Svi Mykhailiuk, who finished with 10 caroms — and it sure seemed like each one came at huge spots in the game. Sophomore big man Udoka Azubuike battled foul trouble for most of his night, but he still found a way to collect eight boards (five offensive) while freshman reserve forward Silvio De Sousa played 26 important minutes and gathered 10 more rebounds of his own. It was a team effort for the Jayhawks on the glass and that cohesiveness and hard work led to them finishing with such an advantage over what was considered a far superior rebounding team.
  2. Duke’s offensive strategy was perplexing. Kansas is an excellent offensive team but it had struggled throughout the season on the defensive end of the court. A lot of the Jayhawks’ struggle was because the Jayhawks exclusively play four guards and teams with good size could often take advantage. Duke certainly qualifies as a team with more size than Kansas, but the Blue Devils were unable to take advantage of that frontcourt disparity. At no point during the game did it seem like Duke was making a concerted effort to run its offense through its incredibly talented front line. Freshman star forward Marvin Bagley III only finished the game with nine field goal attempts. Fellow freshman big man Wendell Carter Jr. battled foul trouble for much of the game while only attempting nine shots of his own, and sophomore reserve Javin DeLaurier did not appear engaged on the offensive end in his 13 minutes of action. The Duke guards dominated the ball throughout the game, with Grayson Allen, Trevon Duval and Gary Trent Jr. finishing with 13, 16 and 18 field goal attempts, respectively. There are no sure things in life or college basketball, but it certainly seems like Duke would be headed to the Final Four instead of Kansas if it had found a way to get Bagley and Carter more involved.
  3. Malik Newman was the best player on the court. Duke was supposed to have all of the stars in this game. Grayson Allen is probably the most famous player in college basketball. Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter, Jr. will both be lottery picks very soon. Trevon Duval and Gary Trent, Jr. arrived in Durham as ballyhooed prospects. The Blue Devils were supposed to have the best player on the court, but it did not turn out like that as Kansas sophomore Malik Newman took on that role from the opening tip to overtime’s final buzzer. Newman finished with a game-high 32 points and it was his three-pointer from the corner with 1:49 remaining that gave the Jayhawks a three-point lead that it would never relinquish.

Player of the Game. Malik Newman, Kansas. The sophomore guard came up time after time again tonight for the Jayhawks. Each time Kansas needed a big shot, it seemed like the transfer Newman came through with the goods. He scored all 13 of the Jayhawks’ points in the overtime period — 32 in total for the night — and he also did an excellent job defensively on Duke’s Grayson Allen. Allen finished his final collegiate game with just 12 points on 3-of-13 shooting. If Kansas wants two more wins in San Antonio, it is going to need this version of Newman to make the trip.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Kansas 80, #5 Clemson 76

Posted by Walker Carey on March 23rd, 2018

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

Three Key Takeaways.

Kansas Heads Back to the Elite Eight For the Third Year in a Row (USA Today Images)

  1. Udoka Azubuike showed how important he is to Kansas’ success. The sophomore big man is finally back from a knee injury that kept him out of the Big 12 Tournament and limited his minutes during the First and Second Rounds of this NCAA Tournament. With Azubuike now healthy, Kansas forced the issue with him early and often as he finished the evening with 14 points on 7-of-9 shooting and grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds. While those statistics suggest to the casual eye that he just had a good game, you have to look beyond the box score to realize just how important he is to Kansas’ success. The Jayhawks at the very least look his way for an easy bucket every time he’s on the floor, and he is a stalwart in the middle on the defensive end. If Kansas is to win Sunday and advance to Bill Self’s third Final Four, what Azubuike brings to the fold on both ends of the court will be an important factor.
  2. Devonte’ Graham needs to play better if Kansas wants a trip to the Final Four. The final statistics show that Graham finished with a pretty standard outing, totaling 16 points while collecting five rebounds and four assists on the night. While the senior point guard gathered his numbers, he would also be the first to say that he did not play nearly as well as he needs to for his team to advance to San Antonio. Graham made just one of seven shots from three-point range and finished just 4-of-12 from the field. He also committed three uncharacteristic turnovers, including one where he threw the ball away followed by an ill-advised foul that gave Clemson an and-one opportunity. Graham has been quite steady throughout his collegiate career so it is certainly reasonable to expect he will play better against Duke or Syracuse on Sunday. Kansas is going to need a quality performance from him because it cannot advance to another Final Four without Devonte’ Graham playing like the Big 12 Player of the Year.
  3. Clemson deserves a ton of credit for fighting until the final buzzer. There are no good losses or moral victories in the NCAA Tournament, but Clemson’s performance tonight would certainly qualify if there were. Playing in front of a very partisan Kansas crowd, the Tigers fell behind by 20 points early in the second half and it looked like their run was over. It would have been understandable if Brad Brownell‘s squad simply went through the motions for the remainder of the game, but the Tigers instead fought tooth and nail to the final buzzer to lose by only four points. Behind senior guard Gabe DeVoe‘s career-high 31 points and some tenacious defense, Clemson put considerable game pressure on Kansas as the final minutes ticked away. Their efforts were ultimately unsuccessful, but you would have to be a significantly jaded individual if you do not come away from that game impressed with Clemson’s fight.

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Big 12 Keys to Sweet Sixteen Success

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 21st, 2018

Last weekend, the Big 12 propelled four teams into the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 2002. That year, two of those teams  (Kansas and Oklahoma) went on to make the Final Four, although neither prevailed in their respective National Semifinal game. As KansasTexas Tech, West Virginia and Kansas State prepare for their second weekend action, here are each team’s keys to surviving to play another game.

Kansas guard Malik Newman is shooting a scorching 57 percent from deep over his last nine games. (Nick Krug/KUSports.com)

  • Kansas: Avoid a cold shooting night. Kansas has been one of the most prolific and consistent three-point shooting teams in the country this season. As a team, the Jayhawks have shot 40.3 percent from distance with only one outing at less than 35 percent over their last nine games. Clemson doesn’t have a ton of length and is perfectly fine in letting opponents fire away while they focus on forcing tough angles inside, so while Udoka Azubuike starting is a positive development, Friday’s outcome will likely hinge more on whether the Jayhawks hit their threes early. A hot-shooting Kansas team will cause problems for the Tigers very quickly, but if they start off cold and lose confidence, the Jayhawks will be as vulnerable as they’ve been on their worst days of the season.
  • Texas Tech: Capitalize on the injury to Purdue center Isaac Haas. The Red Raiders have been a tremendous defensive team all season, but have had trouble containing highly efficient big men, so the elbow injury that Purdue’s Isaac Haas suffered in the Round of 64 should be a boon to Chris Beard‘s team whether he plays or not. Matt Haarms will alter some shots, but the key for Texas Tech will be to not let his presence keep them from attacking closeouts and drawing contact. The Red Raiders will also need to discourage Purdue’s shooters on the defensive end, an area in which they haven’t excelled despite their athleticism and depth. Still, I like their chances.

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NCAA Regional Reset: Midwest Region

Posted by Walker Carey on March 21st, 2018

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

Same Favorite: #2 Duke (28-7). The Blue Devils did nothing in the first weekend to lessen their status as the favorite to advance to San Antonio from this region — in fact, they probably strengthened their case with a pair of dominant victories over #15 Iona and #7 Rhode Island. Neither the Gaels nor Rams had enough size or talent to keep up with Duke last weekend in a pair of blowout wins. Mike Krzyzewski‘s club now advances to face ACC rival Syracuse in the Sweet Sixteen for their second match-up of the season — the two teams most recently met in February where Duke logged a 60-44 home victory. Given the versatile firepower that the Blue Devils have on the offensive end of the court along with Syracuse’s scoring issues, it is wise to presume another Duke victory and a slot in the regional finals against either #2 Kansas or #5 Clemson. Beating Duke is one thing and Syracuse is capable of doing so certain scenarios, but beating Duke when it is clearly firing on all cylinders is quite another story.

Duke Mowed Down Two Opponents on Its Way to the Sweet Sixteen (USA Today Images)

Horse of Darkness: #5 Clemson (25-9). No Sweet Sixteen team quite flew under the radar more than Clemson during the opening weekend. The Tigers kicked off tournament play with a comfortable and relatively drama-free 11-point victory over #12 New Mexico State, which had been a popular upset pick. While chaos engulfed the Second Round on Sunday, the Tigers brought out their big guns in a dominant 84-53 win over #4 Auburn. The Tigers’ Sweet Sixteen match-up with #1 Kansas is only daunting in name alone, as these Jayhawks are beatable. If Brad Brownell‘s group can carry over its first weekend efficiency to this week, it could have a chance at duplicating its intrastate rival’s run from last season and advancing to the first Final Four in program history.

Biggest Surprise (First Weekend): #3 Michigan State’s unexpected demise. Most national pundits initially viewed this region as either #2 Duke or #3 Michigan State’s to win. While the Blue Devils still have a shot to come out of the East region, the Spartans’ season ended in stunning fashion on Sunday in a ghastly 55-53 loss to #11 Syracuse. Michigan State slogged through the defeat by shooting just 25.8 percent from the field, 21.6 percent from three-point range, and committing 14 turnovers. Additionally, freshman star Jaren Jackson Jr. played only 14 ineffective minutes while Tom Izzo opted instead for sixth-year senior Ben Carter in his place down the stretch. To make matters even worse, Sparty took the loss at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, a venue that is just 90 miles from the Michigan State campus in East Lansing.

Completely Expected (First Weekend): #2 Duke. There was never much doubt whether Duke was headed to the Sweet Sixteen last weekend. The Blue Devils impressively rolled through both Iona and Rhode Island without much tension — Duke won the two games by a combined 47 points. Marvin Bagley III and Gary Trent Jr. averaged 22.0 PPG and 17.0 PPG, respectively, while freshman forward Wendell Carter Jr. was a dominant presence on the defensive end of the court.

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Big 12 Conversation: NCAA Tournament Takes, Part I

Posted by Brian Goodman & Chris Stone on March 14th, 2018

With Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas Tech set to play in the Round of 64 tomorrow, Big 12 microsite writers Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) and Chris Stone (@cstonehoops) break down the burning questions facing the Sooners, Jayhawks and Red Raiders.

Will tomorrow be the last day we see Trae Young in an Oklahoma uniform? (Sue Ogrocki/AP)

Brian Goodman: A lot of people are understandably down on Oklahoma after their disastrous finish to the regular season and early exit in the Big 12 Tournament, but the Big Dance can have a way of breathing new life into teams who are limping into it. Do you see the Sooners turning over a new leaf tomorrow afternoon?

Chris Stone: The Sooners don’t exactly look like they want to be playing basketball anymore, so I’m leaning no here. The team doesn’t seem like they enjoy playing together; Trae Young is admittedly tuckered out; and the defense has been a disaster. I expect Rhode Island’s Jared Terrell to set the tone defensively in this game by getting into Young early. It wouldn’t surprise me if Oklahoma wilts from there.

BG: Silvio De Sousa and Malik Newman needed to have big games for Kansas last weekend in the Big 12 Tournament and both delivered. With Udoka Azubuike still on the mend, how important are those two players to the team’s overall prospects?

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RTC Bracket Prep: Midwest Region

Posted by Walker Carey on March 13th, 2018

Yesterday and today we will be rolling out our region-by-region analysis for the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Here, Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) breaks down the Midwest Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC Midwest Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCMWRegion).

Favorite: #2 Duke (26-7, 13-5 ACC). While Kansas is the top seed in the region, Duke’s overall talent makes the Blue Devils the favorite. According to KenPom, Duke ranks third in the country in offensive efficiency and seventh in defensive efficiency. The Blue Devils are led by senior guard Grayson Allen (15.7 PPG, 4.5 APG) and freshman phenom Marvin Bagley III (21.1 PPG, 11.5 RPG), which gives it a decided talent advantage on both the perimeter and inside nearly every time they take the floor. Neither Rhode Island nor Oklahoma possesses the offensive firepower to knock off Duke in the Round of 32, while a potential Sweet Sixteen match-up with Michigan State represents a rematch of a Champions Classic showdown where Allen scored a career-high 37 points in leading his team to victory. Considering #1 Kansas’ general inconsistency and questions surrounding the health of big man Udoka Azuibuike, the Blue Devils’ path to another Final Four appears clear.

Grayson Allen’s Last Hurrah Starts in the Midwest Region (USA Today Images)

Should They Falter: #1 Kansas (27-7, 13-5 Big 12). For a team that earned its 14th consecutive regular season Big 12 title this season, Kansas certainly experienced plenty of national doubt. There have been legitimate questions about the Jayhawks’ overall depth and interior play all season — and those discussion points were not helped by Azuibuike suffering a knee injury prior the to the Big 12 Tournament. That said, Kansas was able to win three games in three days at the Big 12 Tournament to take home the title and the Jayhawks appear to be playing their best basketball of the season. With senior guards Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk leading the charge, coupled with the emergence of sophomore guard Malik Newman, Kansas has enough offensive prowess to keep up with anyone in the field.

Grossly Overseeded: #10 Oklahoma (18-13, 8-10 Big 12). The Sooners were one of the best stories of the early portion of this season. Freshman guard Trae Young was drawing favorable comparisons to Stephen Curry for his outstanding perimeter game, and it appeared Lon Kruger‘s group was equipped to rise from the ashes of last season’s debacle to ascend to the program’s second Final Four in the last three years. That all came to a screeching halt when the calendar turned to 2018. Since Big 12 play began, Oklahoma has gone just 8-12 and has not won a game away from Norman. While Young looked fresh and explosive in the early season, he has looked tired and lethargic since (an astronomical nation-leading usage rate of 38.6 percent surely contributes). The committee has repeatedly acknowledged that it values early season play just as much as it does the late season, so you can certainly understand why the Sooners were selected to the Field of 68. The surprising part is how firmly they were in — getting a #10 seed and avoiding the First Four is a generous draw for a team that has struggled so much.

Criminally Underseeded: #14 Bucknell (25-9, 16-2 Patriot League). Following a loss to Boston University on January 2, Bucknell was saddled with a mediocre 7-8 record and was looking for answers. The Bison finished the year, however, by winning 18 of their last 19 games and dominating the Patriot League Tournament — winning their semifinal and championship games by 31 and 29 points, respectively. It seems like everything is humming along nicely for Nathan Davis‘ group as the NCAA Tournament commences this week. That is why it was surprising to see the Bison earn only a #14 seed and a rather intimidating match-up with a very talented Michigan State squad in Detroit. Advancing past the First Round will be a tough ask of Bucknell.

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NCAA Tournament Instareaction: Big 12 Teams

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 11th, 2018

Every passing postseason where a Big 12 team gets bounced in embarrassing fashion or fails to maximize its potential by way of an otherwise-excusable loss becomes another pock mark on the conference’s reputation. Oklahoma got the Big 12 off the schneid with a Final Four Run in 2016, but it hasn’t been enough. There’s never been more pressure on the league to produce than there is this year, and seven teams will get a bite at the apple. Another Big 12 team has to break through eventually… right?

Kansas (#1 Midwest)

Behind senior guard Devonte’ Graham, Kansas will aim to cut down the nets in San Antonio. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

  • Best Case: The recent breakouts of Malik Newman and Silvio De Sousa continue into the NCAA Tournament, buying additional time for Udoka Azubuike to recover from his MCL injury. With the Jayhawks’ starting center at full strength for the second weekend, Bill Self makes his third Final Four as the Kansas head coach.
  • Worst Case: Foul trouble and a cold shooting night around the perimeter spell another early exit, this time in the Round of 32.

Texas Tech (#3 East)

  • Best Case: Keenan EvansZach Smith and Justin Gray take advantage of a nearly week-long break and get healthy, and the Red Raiders channel the best version of themselves to their first ever Elite Eight appearance.
  • Worst Case: The Red Raiders continue to slide and are defeated at the hands of Stephen F. Austin, a team that bears some striking similarities to the West Virginia team that bested Tech in two of their three meetings.

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Rushed Reactions: Kansas 83, Kansas State 67

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 9th, 2018

RTC’s Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman) is providing on-site coverage of the Big 12 Tournament.

Three Key Takeaways.

Kansas Cruised Past K-State in the Big 12 Tournament Semifinals (USA Today Images)

  1. Kansas’ bomb squad lifts team to victory. With center Udoka Azubuike recovering from an MCL sprain, the Jayhawks knew what they had to do to maintain control and they went out and did it. Twenty-eight of Kansas’ 60 attempts from the field came from beyond the arc, and they connected on 39.3 percent of their tries. Devonte’ Graham was relatively quiet (3-of-11 FG), but he still found a way to approach his season averages, scoring 15 points and dishing out eight assists against just three turnovers. It wasn’t always pretty, as Kansas State at one point cut a 16-point deficit down to two, but it was enough to move on to the championship game tomorrow night.
  2. Personnel issues set Kansas State back. Already without the services of first team All-Big 12 forward Dean Wade, Kansas State was further hampered just a minute into the game when guard Barry Brown took an inadvertent shot to the eye from Graham. Trainers quickly took Brown to the locker room for evaluation and he warmed up on the court prior to the start of the second half, but he never re-entered the contest. Without its two best playmakers, offense quickly became a chore for Bruce Weber‘s team. Forward Makol Mawien was incredibly efficient in the post on his way to a game-high 29 points, but his night was more of an indictment of Mitch Lightfoot‘s interior defense than it was an endorsement of his own game. The Wildcats’ jump shooters had trouble producing all night, which only underscores Wade’s importance to the team.
  3. Kansas needs Udoka Azuibuike healthy in order to make a deep NCAA Tournament run. Between Wade, Azubuike and Mohamed Bamba, Big 12 big men have been dropping like flies, but no team has as much at stake in the health of its frontcourt centerpiece as Kansas. While Silvio De Sousa pitched in with 11 rebounds in 19 minutes of action, he was frequently lost on offense, leading Bill Self to look down his bench knowing that it offered little in the way of solutions. Meanwhile, Lightfoot helped free up Kansas’ shooters and cleaned up a couple of misses, but couldn’t keep up defensively with an average post player in Mawien. With Azubuike, the Jayhawks have Final Four potential. Without him, their season could be over in the blink of an eye.

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