Big East Key Offseason Questions: Part I

Posted by Justin Kundrat on April 12th, 2016

The NCAA Tournament is now behind us and the days of transfers, NBA Draft declarations and coaching moves are upon us. April signals yet another ending, as we tear down everything we knew and build anew. The offseason has a way of inspiring hope that a new season will bring about improvement, that maybe this time things will be different. Consider where the Big East’s very own Villanova was just one year ago this spring. That unknown is why the offseason is such an intriguing time. Below is a list of key questions that each Big East team will attempt to solve over the coming six months.

ButlerWho will replace the scoring void left behind by Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones?

Kellen Dunham, Butler's third all-time leading scorer, won't be easily replaced. (Photo: Getty)

Kellen Dunham, Butler’s third all-time leading scorer, won’t easily be replaced. (Photo: Getty)

Butler has appeared in several “way too early” Top 25 rankings with little explanation as to why. The team will lose four of its seven rotation players, with Dunham and Jones having accounted for 38 percent of its scoring output this season. Rising junior hybrid forward Kelan Martin (15.7 PPG) will assume the duty of primary scorer, having already demonstrated an ability to do so numerous times. The question marks come next. Forward Andrew Chrabascz seemingly regressed as the season proceeded, although his potential as a stretch forward within Butler’s offense is intriguing. The remaining offensive responsibility will fall on George Washington transfer Kethan Savage and senior Tyler Lewis, with the hope that incoming freshman Joey Brunk can also contribute.

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Big East Tournament Takeaways: Thursday Evening Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 11th, 2016

A great day at Madison Square Garden ended in exciting fashion with Seton Hall’s gutty victory over Creighton in the nightcap. A long day of basketball yesterday sets up two terrific semifinal matchups tonight when No. 1 Villanova faces No. 4 Providence and No. 2 Xavier meets No. 3 Seton Hall.

Marquette (20-13): The result of Marquette’s game with Xavier was clear after the first few minutes, as the Golden Eagles looked out of gas after a grueling game on Wednesday night and never matched the Musketeers’ intensity. Marquette has been a work in progress all year with so many young players to integrate into the program, and that remains true heading toward what may become a NIT bid. Any extra games this year will be good for a group lacking in any sort of postseason experience.

Xavier's Intensity Far Outpaced Marquette (Photo: USAT Sports)

Xavier’s Intensity Far Outpaced Marquette (Photo: USAT Sports)

Xavier (27-4):  Chris Mack’s team was fired up from the start last night and never relented. It was an impressive offensive display from a Xavier team that has been well-balanced all season. Trevon Bluiett (24 points on 14 shots) led the way offensively, but the most important takeaway here may be the energy Xavier stored for use in the rest of the tournament. The Musketeers didn’t have to use nearly as much effort as its next opponent, Seton Hall, or even possible championship game opponents Villanova and Providence. When you’re playing the same number of games as days in the event, conservation of energy is important. Xavier may reap the benefits of yesterday’s easy victory in providing a stockpile for the next two nights.

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Big East Tournament Takeaways: Wednesday Evening

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 10th, 2016

The Big East Tournament officially tipped off on Wednesday night with two opening round games in New York City. The first game between Georgetown and DePaul was a tight battle until the second half, when the Hoyas used their 50 percent shooting to pull away for a 70-53 win. The second game featured a wild swing of events, with Marquette relinquishing a 17-point lead over St. John’s before escaping with a win. Here are some quick takeaways for each of the Big East Tourney’s opening day participants.

Georgetown Lives to Fight Another Day (USA Today Images)

Georgetown Lives to Fight Another Day (USA Today Images)

Georgetown (15-17): Senior center Bradley Hayes was back in action after missing six games and the impact was felt almost instantly. Last night’s win was only Georgetown’s second in its last 11 games, but after suffering a number of close losses this season, the Hoyas’ record doesn’t do the team much justice. The key takeaway last night was that, with Hayes back in the lineup and the team facing a season-ending loss, Georgetown finally played with a sense of urgency. The Hoyas’ defense was rock-solid, holding DePaul to just 0.79 points per possession, and D’Vauntes-Smith Rivera put together one of his most efficient games of the season. Things might not be too rosy for Georgetown in its upcoming test against Villanova, but at least John Thompson, III’s squad will head into that game with some confidence.

DePaul (9-22): A disappointing end to a disappointing season is the only way to put it for DePaul. The Blue Demons struggled mightily in conference play, collecting just three wins and proving uncompetitive in a number of its losses. The plus-side is that the team loses just one key contributor, with Billy Garrett Jr. presumably returning for his senior season alongside promising freshman guard Eli Cain. If there’s one key takeaway from this season, it’s the unwavering confidence that Cain demonstrated, attacking the basket at will and serving as one of DePaul’s most reliable shooters. First year head coach Dave Leitao will have plenty to do this summer as he takes a long-term view with his program.

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Otskey’s Big East Observations: 01.15.16 Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 15th, 2016

Early conference results can sometimes be deceiving. While the Big East is one of only two major conferences with a true round-robin format, the start to conference play for Butler and Georgetown has been quite different. These teams currently sit at 1-3 and 4-1, respectively, even though the Bulldogs are widely regarded to be the better team. While Georgetown was handed a soft opening stretch to conference play, one that included two games with DePaul, one with St. John’s and a home tilt against Marquette, Butler has had to play the likes of Xavier, Providence and Villanova right off the bat. Everything will even out eventually, but sometimes a tough start to league play can take away momentum created in the non-conference, something Butler (11-1 non-conference record) did quite well. But should there be concern now that the Bulldogs are heading in the wrong direction? Absolutely. Chris Holtmann’s team ranks a dismal No. 157 in adjusted defensive efficiency for the season and dead last in the 10-team Big East when considering conference games only. Butler has struggled all season with adjusting to life without Kameron Woods, who was a dominant rebounder last season. The Bulldogs are undersized in the frontcourt and need to figure out a way to rebound and defend if they are going to bounce back from a rough start to league play.

Chris Holtmann and Butler were dealt no favors by the Big East schedule makers. (AP)

Chris Holtmann and Butler were dealt no favors by the Big East schedule makers. (AP)

We will find out a lot more about Georgetown in the coming weeks. The Hoyas now begin a stretch of six straight games against KenPom top 50 teams after their soft open to the Big East schedule. Turnovers, rebounding and perimeter defense remain issues for this team, and the loss of Paul White for the rest of this season hurts its depth. Georgetown showed glimpses of strong play in the non-conference, but when you remember the good with the bad — head-scratching losses to some legitimately bad teams — it is difficult to make a confident judgement on the team. One thing that is a safe bet: The Hoyas will go as far as D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera can take them.

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LSU’s Resume Might Be Better Than You Think…

Posted by Andrew Gripshover on January 7th, 2016

LSU has suddenly gone from a team likely to miss the NIT to potentially the top dog in the SEC after knocking off the top two teams in the preseason SEC coaches poll. Everyone who was resigned to Ben Simmons having the most forgettable of one-and-done college careers is now again dreaming of him lighting up March Madness. Clearly no team did more for their NCAA Tournament profile over the past week than the Bayou Bengals, which added a top 15 RPI signature win (Kentucky) to a top 100 RPI road win (Vanderbilt). Granted, LSU’s 9-5 overall record with an RPI of #127 means there’s a lot more work ahead, but let’s take a deeper dive into the Tigers’ profile to date — it may not turn out to be as poor as it initially looks.

And just like that, Ben Simmons and LSU are right back in the national picture. (Getty)

And just like that, LSU is right back in the national picture. (Getty)

  • Houston might end up a “good” loss. The Cougars are now 13-2 and 3-0 in the American (having won at Temple on Saturday by a whopping 27 points), and it’s possible that No. 120 RPI Houston is the best team other than SMU in this league. But the key here is getting inside the top 100 of the RPI so that LSU’s 105-98 overtime defeat to the Cougars on December 13 won’t be classified as a “bad loss.” If Kelvin Sampson’s squad can continue putting together a great season, this loss will look increasingly better on the Tigers’ resume.

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Marquette Slowly Rebuilding But Hope is on the Horizon

Posted by Chris Stone on January 5th, 2016

Under former coaches Tom Crean and Buzz Williams, Marquette made the NCAA Tournament in eight straight seasons from 2006-13. Despite all of that success, a tumultuous period in program history began just one season removed from a 2013 trip to the Elite Eight. It begin with a sour relationship between Williams and former athletic director Larry Williams (no relation). The latter Williams resigned in December 2013 amid a cloud of uncertainty. The former Williams, for his part, surprisingly left the program for Virginia Tech at the end of the 2013-14 season. In retrospect, the decision was calculated. Williams decided that Marquette, a school with no football program and mired in the thick of a shaky Big East realignment, was not well-poised for future success. The Golden Eagles’ 17-15 record that season certainly wasn’t reassuring.

Steve Wojchiechowski is in the midst of a rebuild at Marquette. (Mark Hoffman/The Journal Sentinel)

Steve Wojchiechowski is in the midst of a rebuild at Marquette. (Mark Hoffman/The Journal Sentinel)

Steve Wojciechowski, the associate head coach at Duke at the time, saw Marquette differently than Williams. He saw a school where, similar to his alma mater in Durham, the men’s basketball program is an integral part of the university. He also recognized that the program has a proud and passionate fan base that will not accept mediocrity. In his first season, Marquette finished 13-19 and once again missed the NCAA Tournament, but a top-10 recruiting class that included highly-touted freshman Henry Ellenson brought a rejuvenated sense of hope. Those expectations were tempered very quickly at the start of the season. In the span of a single November week, the Golden Eagles lost their home opener to Belmont, needed overtime to get past IUPUI, and was walloped by Iowa. They bounced back with neutral court victories over LSU and Arizona State in Brooklyn en route to a 10-2 record that also included a surprising victory over Wisconsin in Madison. The beginning of Big East play, however, brought forth some new adversity. After a disappointing home loss by 20 points to Seton Hall, Marquette hit 0-2 in league play after an 80-70 loss to Georgetown on Saturday. Read the rest of this entry »

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Otskey’s Big East Observations: 12.03.15 Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 3rd, 2015

One season removed from sending six of its 10 teams to the NCAA Tournament, the Big East has again started the season with a bang. To date, the conference has amassed an 18-13 record against teams currently ranked in the top 100 of Ken Pomeroy’s ratings, with only Creighton, DePaul and St. John’s not yet in the win column. Against Power Five conference opponents, the league as a whole sports a 16-12 record. With a strong start under its belt, the question will inevitably turn to how many teams the Big East can place in the NCAA Tournament this year? It is probably safe to say that a minimum of four will go with a good chance for a fifth given the way Providence has been playing. However, it is still early and a lot of things can happen between now and March. As far as a sixth team, the odds are not as great but there is something of a chance. Marquette, Seton Hall and Creighton could very well fight for the sixth and final Big East NCAA berth when all is said and done in this league.

Jay Wright and Villanova have been on point. (Getty)

Jay Wright and Villanova, who sit at the top of the Big East standings at 7-0, is leading what is a tremendous conference pack so far this season. (Getty)

Right now, the edge would have to go to the Golden Eagles and Pirates. While Marquette’s (5-2) weak non-conference schedule will be an anchor, the Golden Eagles are a team that should get better as the season moves along and could win 10 games in the league. Its two wins before Thanksgiving at the Barclays Center against LSU and Arizona State were critical after starting the season with two early losses. As for Seton Hall (5-2), it has quietly picked up top-100 victories over Georgia and Mississippi and has another chance to grab a quality win at home against a banged-up Wichita State team that should get back to playing good hoops once Fred VanVleet returns. If Kevin Willard’s squad can finish the non-conference slate at 10-2 and get to 9-9 in conference, it will be right on the bubble come Selection Sunday. Creighton is in a tough position because of a non-conference schedule that provides limited opportunities for quality wins. It has already lost at Indiana, and while a game at Oklahoma later this month is certainly a top-notch opponent, it is unrealistic to think the Bluejays can win that one. After blowing a great chance for a top-100 win this week at home against Arizona State, Greg McDermott’s team will have a lot of work to do in conference play. Ultimately, five NCAA teams seems like the proper over/under for the Big East this year. Read the rest of this entry »

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Morning Five: 11.24.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on November 24th, 2015

morning5

  1. Normally people go to Maui to relax (or take four months of paternity leave), but for Kansas the trip has been a lot more interesting and mostly for stuff that has been happening off the court. The big news is the lack of news from the NCAA about Cheick Diallo, which has led Kansas to take the somewhat surprising approach of publicly criticizing the NCAA. This wouldn’t be the first time that a school has criticized the NCAA, but they usually do it by feeding media sources who do the school’s dirty work for them. The other news was the decision to suspend Brannen Greene for six games after complaining about playing time. Fans and some media might make a big deal out of this, but we doubt it will have a significant impact in the long-term as long as Greene comes back with his head on straight although it does raise some questions about their leadership when an upperclassman does something like that.
  2. Wichita State will likely be without senior point guard Fred VanVleet for this week’s Advocare Invitational in Orlando as he tries to recover from a hamstring injury. VanVleet, who has been limited this season by a series of injuries, is expected to be back for the team’s game against Saint Louis on December 5. With the Shockers senior leadership in VanVleet and Ron Baker we don’t think this will be an issue of making the NCAA Tournament, but losses at this point in the season could have a pretty big impact on what type of seed they receive on Selection Sunday.
  3. On Friday, the 10th class was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame. While Charlie Scott was assigned the role of “headliner” of the class by many media sources the others in the class aren’t too shabby either with the list of inductees including John Havlicek, Quinn Buckner, Rolando Blackman, and Lou Henson. The event, which is held annually as part of the CBE Classic in Kansas City, typically goes under the radar, which is unfortunate because it would be a great way to teach fans about the history of the game. The other problem (and probably the bigger one) is the fact that the Naismith Hall of Fame gets the majority of the attention making the college basketball one a second-tier version.
  4. In the grand scheme of things it was a meaningless game (even for this college basketball season), but last night’s marquee game was the national premier of Ben Simmons. While Simmons and LSU lost to Marquette the big takeaway from the night was that Simmons is probably already the best player in the country and it might not matter because of the rest of his team and the interesting strategy they sometimes employ. Simmons had 21 points, 20 rebounds, and seven assists, but the thing that will end up being the most talked about part of the game was his decision to pass twice in the waning seconds including the last pass of the game that forced Jalyn Patterson to take an extremely difficult three when a two would have won the game. We aren’t sure how many more marquee games we will see Simmons play in college, but we are sure there will be plenty of hyperbole and the accompanying over-the-top analysis this season.
  5. We have read a lot about the injury risks athletes are exposed to, but we have not read much in traditional media about the health risks that coaches face. As Brendan Prunty points out many college basketball coaches suffer from vocal cord trauma–the result of constant yelling. Many of you have noticed some of the short-term changes with the raspy voices of coaches that seem to appear fairly early in the season (something that has become a bit of a joke at this point), but as Prunty notes the consequences can be more severe.
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Marquette’s Season Hinges on a Single Phrase: Why Not Us?

Posted by Justin Kundrat on March 12th, 2015

The future remains bright for first-year Marquette head coach Steve Wojciechowski. Players, coaches and fans all knew this would be a rebuilding year for the Golden Eagles, with the staff focused on developing its younger players and instilling a defense-first mindset to eventually return the program to winning ways. Transfers Matt Carlino and Luke Fischer brought much needed offensive firepower to Milwaukee this season, but Marquette still finished 13-18 overall and just 4-14 in Big East play, competing in many close games that they were simply unable to close. Next season promises more: After receiving a commitment from consensus top-five recruit, Henry Ellenson, Wojo proceeded to add four additional four-star recruits across a range of positions, bolstering the team ahead of the departures of seniors Derrick Wilson, Juan Anderson and Carlino.

With little on the line, Mark Carlino and Marquette played about "as well as we could play" according to head coach Steve. (AP/Frank Franklin II)

With little on the line, Mark Carlino and Marquette played about “as well as we could play” according to head coach Steve Wojciechowski in the upset over Seton Hall. (AP/Frank Franklin II)

So with very little on the line this week, Wojciechowski instituted a new mindset for his team as it entered the Big East Tournament. “Why not us? Seeds don’t matter,” Wojciechowski said. “I’ve been in situations where I have been coaching on teams who have been the No. 1 seed and we got our butts kicked. Seeds don’t matter. [For] everybody it’s a fresh start.” Maybe the Golden Eagles don’t have the most talented or athletic group of players, and certainly the season hasn’t gone the way they had hoped, but the players seem largely unphased by it. “We’re huge underdogs, so we have nothing to lose and we’re going to play that way,” Carlino said. “Hopefully play aggressive and play to win.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Big East Weekend Wrap: Vol. VIII

Posted by Justin Kundrat on January 20th, 2015

The Big East Weekend Wrap covers news and notes from the previous weekend’s games.

Big East parity continues, as Villanova’s attempts to separate itself from the field have failed while teams like Providence, Georgetown, Butler and Seton Hall are all pushing the Wildcats. With eight of 10 league teams now carrying two or three conference losses, the next six weeks of action should be a bloodbath for those positions in the standings. Below are three key takeaways from the weekend’s (including Monday!) Big East action.

It Was That Kind of Night at Georgetown Monday (USA Today Images)

It Was an RTC Kind of Monday Night at Georgetown (USA Today Images)

  1. Marquette and Creighton remain shockingly competitive in “rebuilding seasons.” Marquette struggled defensively in the early part of the season, but the Golden Eagles seem to have figured things out since transfer Luke Fischer entered the lineup in mid-December. Steve Wojciechowski as a result has his team playing lockdown defense, mixing zone with man-to-man looks in a fashion that has confused Big East opponents. The offense, overly reliant on Matt Carlino, has still sputtered at times, but Duane Wilson and Fischer have made good progress and will serve as core contributors next season. While Marquette currently stands at 2-3 in the conference standings, their average margin of defeat in those three games has been just 4.3 points per game. At Creighton, even though the Bluejays sit at the bottom of the standings with an 0-6 record, they continue to sell out the CenturyLink center and have been competitive in every one of its league home games. They also suffered a one-point loss at Xavier, lost by two to Seton Hall and recently pushed Providence to the very end before falling. While Greg McDermott will lose a number of key seniors again after this season, the play of his youngsters such as Isaiah Zierden, Zach Hansen, James Milliken and Toby Hegner has been promising. Creighton fans are hoping that redshirt freshman sniper Ronnie Harrell, along with incoming center Justin Patton, will turn things around next season. Read the rest of this entry »
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Steve Wojciechowski Quietly Rebuilding Marquette With Young Talent

Posted by Alex Moscoso on January 7th, 2015

The path to a head coaching position at a high major university is not a beaten one; many of today’s coaches ascended different ladders to get to their current positions. Some coaches got there by taking little-known schools to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament; others took an open position at the same school when their boss moved on; while still others first served as high-profile assistants to established coaches in more prestigious programs. Marquette’s first-year head coach, Steve Wojciechowski, falls into the latter category with a pedigree few others can boast. After a successful four-year playing career at Duke, he spent 15 years apprenticing for one of the best to ever coach the sport, Mike Krzyzewski. But despite the unimpeachable regard everyone holds for his former coach and mentor, success at the highest levels has not been guaranteed for Krzyzewski’s acolytes. Now that Wojciechowski is the leader of one of the most tradition-rich programs in the country, he’s hoping to start a tradition of his own in Milwaukee. On Tuesday night in Washington, DC, he came very close to getting the first truly big win of his young career when Marquette battled the Hoyas to a tight six-point loss.

Steve Wojciechowski's first job as a head coach is to rebuild a proud Marquette program.

Steve Wojciechowski’s first job as a head coach is to rebuild a proud Marquette program (Gary Porter).

When the 38-year old accepted the Marquette job last spring, the program was not in the same shape as it had been when it made eight straight NCAA Tournaments from 2006-13. After a disappointing 17-15 season, former head coach Buzz Williams downgraded to Virginia Tech because of the uncertainty of the athletic director’s position (currently being filled by interim AD, Bill Cords), and a general concern about the new Big East’s visibility in moving from ESPN to Fox Sports 1 as its primary television carrier. Another factor in his departure may have been the stark realization that his current roster simply was not all that competitive. After Shaka Smart and Cuonzo Martin passed on the Marquette job, this opened the door for Wojciechowski to become a first-time head coach at a respected basketball program with an opportunity to rebuild it in his own image.

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Morning Five: 12.10.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on December 10th, 2014

morning5

  1. Most people think of December as a time to spend with family, but it is also one of the most popular times of the year for players to announce that they will be transferring. This typically happens when players go home for Christmas break and presumably have friends and family telling them how much better they are than the starters. This year, a few players go an early jump on transferring as they aren’t even waiting for the end of the semester. at Marquette, sophomores Deonte Burton and John Dawson will be transferring leaving the Golden Eagles with just eight scholarship players. While Dawson is a seldom-used reserve, Burton was a top-50 recruit in the class of 2013, but has played less than expected and with Marquette’s highly-touted incoming class he probably felt it was best to move on. At Wake Forest, sophomore guard Miles Overton will also be transferring. While Overton, only averaged 3.4 points per game during his time there he did have a 14-point and 8-point game in the past two weeks.
  2. Louisville finally received word from the NCAA about freshman Shaqquan Aaron as it was announced that he will be suspended for nine games (30 percent of the regular season) of which he has already missed eight including last night’s win over Indiana. The NCAA ruled that Aaron’s family had received “extra benefits related to housing” along with other undisclosed things. Aaron, a borderline top-30 recruit last year, will have to sit out Sunday’s game against UNC-Wilmington before making his debut against Western Kentucky on December 20.
  3. Kansas junior forward Jamari Traylor (3.3 points and 3.9 rebounds per game) will not play in tonight’s game against Georgetown after being suspended following his arrest early on Sunday morning for interfering with a police officer. The details around the incident are unclear, but Traylor was arrested with a Kansas football player following a fight where someone was assaulted with the police still investigating the matter. Based on Bill Self’s comments it appears that Traylor was a bystander, who was arrested for essentially not complying with a police officer rather than being an active participant in the assault.
  4. One of the common complaints with early-season schedules is the fact that many teams play meaningless games to boost their records presumably to make both coaches (hello, bonus money) and athletic directors look better. Fortunately some programs appreciate the importance of playing big-name programs for the good of both their own program and the sport. So whenever we see schools scheduled is big-time match-ups we appreciate it. As such we have to applaud both Kentucky and UCLA, the two most historically significant programs in the sport, for agreeing to play a home-and-home in 2015 and 2016. The schools, which will play each other this season in the CBS Sports Classic on December 20 in Chicago will play at Pauley Pavilion on December 3, 2015 and Rupp Arena on December 3, 2016. While it is hard to believe, this will be the first time that either program has played at the other’s home arena.
  5. Speaking of Kentucky, one of the remarkable things about the team (outside of how talented they are and their platoon system) is just how dominant their defense has been. As Gary Parrish points out, this Kentucky team has a chance to be one of the best defensive teams in college basketball history. This is certainly high praise, but the numbers, which admittedly don’t go that far back, seem to support the argument. While this Kentucky team might lack the signature defender like previous Kentucky teams had with Anthony Davis or Nerlens Noel or looking even further back Georgetown with Patrick Ewing, they do have much more length (at least in terms of numbers/depth) than almost any team that we can remember. So while it is still very early to be asking the undefeated question, the one thing the Wildcats have in their favor is a defense that will probably require a team getting very hot from beyond the arc to make an upset a realistic possibility.
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