Big South Wrap & Tourney Preview

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 1st, 2011



Mark Bryant is the RTC correspondent for the Big South Conference. Get up to speed for the Big South conference tournament with the RTC conference wrap-up and tournament preview before it tips Tuesday night.

Power Rankings/Tournament Preview

The Big South tournament winner could receive as high as a 13-seed if Coastal Carolina parlays its regular season success into an automatic Tournament bid, but if there’s an upset along the way, a 16-seed could be more probable.

1. Coastal Carolina (26-4, 16-2) - Cliff Ellis and The Chanticleers plowed through the season’s first few months, garnering AP poll consideration, before dropping two games in February. A dark cloud formed after a story by the New York Times led the NCAA to investigate the recruitment of star guard Desmond Holloway. With Holloway ineligible while the matter is resolved, the team has also had to persevere through Kierre Greenwood‘s ACL tear and a prior suspension of Mike Holmes. Winning the Big South tourney is still in the cards, but the uncertainty would weigh heavily against any chances of pulling a first-round NCAA Tournament upset.

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The Other 26: Week 15

Posted by KDoyle on February 26th, 2011

Kevin Doyle is an RTC contributor.

Introduction

And down the stretch they come! Just like a commentator of a competitive horse race fervently belches when the horses make the final turn, college basketball commentators, analysts, and enthusiasts alike all speak of the game with greater eagerness and zeal at this time of the year. Judgment Week—still am not sure what ESPN is trying to do with this—has passed us, Championship Week is nearly upon us, and we all know what comes after that: the Madness!

While the majority of Other 26 teams around the country still have one or two remaining games left in the regular season, there are a handful of teams out there who have completed the second part of their season. Many coaches, especially those coaching in perennial single bid leagues, break down their year into three seasons: 1) the non-conference, 2) conference play, 3) the postseason. The opportunity is presented for many teams that have struggled during much of the season to get hot at the right time and advance onto the greatest postseason tournament in all of sports.

At the beginning of conference play, I wrote in a previous article the concept of “three games in March” which is often the mentality of teams from smaller conferences who have to win three games, or four in some cases, to advance to the Dance—it is their only way in. Well, here is that opportunity.

The conference tournaments will officially begin in the middle of next week with a few of the smaller conferences going at it. If one really wants to get technical though, the argument can be made that the Ivy League has a season-long conference tournament that commences at the beginning of league play.

The Other 26 Rankings

Tidbits from the Rankings

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ATB: Leave It to Beaver (After 26 Years)…

Posted by rtmsf on February 23rd, 2011

The Lede.  It was an interesting night of games out there in the college hoops nation, but the most intriguing part of the evening came from a Divison III school with a grand total of 950 undergraduate students, every one of whom could undoubtedly use our SAT scores back in the day as toilet paper.  Pasadena, where you at?

Caltech Celebrates Its First Conference Win in 26 Years (LA Times/G. Friedman)

Your Watercooler MomentCaltech Ends 310-Game Conference Losing Streak.  If there was ever a time for a fan base to RTC, it was tonight at Caltech’s Senior Night.  We typically don’t delve down into Division III very often unless a D-I team is going slummin’, but something like this is definitely worthy as the WC Moment.  The last time the Beavers won a game in its Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, January 23, 1985, none of its current players were even born yet (the school ended an overall 207-game losing streak back in 2007; things are looking up!).  The losing streak had extended to a stunning 310 games in the intervening 26 years, but the lovable losers from one of the nation’s most prestigious universities put an end to it tonight when Ryan Elmquist hit one of two free throws with three seconds left to give his team a one-point lead.  The ensuing half court shot by Occidental College was off the mark, Caltech won the game, 46-45, and the RTC was on. Congrats to the Beavers on their Senior Night.  Let’s just not make it another generation until the next one, ok?

Tonight’s Quick Hits

  • Matt Dickey’s Fifteen Seconds.  Well, actually 2.8 seconds, as that’s all it took for the junior UNC-Asheville guard to steal a long inbounds pass at halfcourt, take one dribble, and drop a leaning thirty-footer to beat Big South leading Coastal Carolina at the buzzer.  If he isn’t already, he’ll be all over the ESPN highlight packages this week for this play.  Wow.  CCU is still a full game ahead of second-place Liberty in the loss column of the Big South, but that was a terrible way to lose at home right there.

  • Bruce Pearl With His Dander Up.  It seemingly never fails.  As soon as the flames start licking at Bruce Pearl’s feet, his team comes up big with a win that nobody expects.  A 29-9 run to close out the last twelve minutes of the game in Memorial Gymnasium is almost unheard of for a visiting team, yet Pearl’s guys came from eleven down to win by nine in a shocking display of defensive prowess over the last third of tonight’s game.  Pearl getting notice of allegations from the NCAA today didn’t cause Vanderbilt to go ice cold from beyond the arc (Jeffery Taylor and John Jenkins combined for 1-9 from distance), but if we’ve learned anything about this man’s career, there seems to be a strong correlation between other teams playing badly at precisely the time we stop believing in him.  UT isn’t a lock for the NCAA Tournament just yet, but tonight’s win will go a long way toward that end.  Who here wants to bet against Pearl?
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Checking in on… the Big South

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 4th, 2011

Mark Bryant is the RTC correspondent for the Big South.

A Look Back

  • Showdown Results: Coastal Carolina and Liberty have made it abundantly clear they are the top two teams in the Big South Conference this season, with both teams setting a blistering pace and staying three-plus games ahead of all other teams.  But the squads have now faced off twice this season, with the Chanticleers getting the better of the Flames both times, extending Coastal’s win streak to 19 and keeping CCU undefeated in conference as of this writing
  • Traffic Jam: After those top two teams, there is quite the clog in the middle of the standings: five teams sport records from 7-5 to 5-7, all playing contender roles for making the upper half of the conference tournament field. UNC Asheville and Charleston Southern hold the high ground at 7-5 each right now, with Winthrop pacing at 6-6 and VMI and High Point trying to stay alive at 5-7.
  • Strugglers and Stragglers: If we grant that the leaders and contenders listed above account for seven spots in the Big South Championship field coming up in March, that leaves only one slot in the competition for the remaining three teams.  Given that Presbyterian College (4-8) cannot participate due to NCAA division transition rules, that leaves Gardner-Webb and Radford (each 2-10) fighting for one remaining seed (and likely a date at Coastal Carolina on March 1st).
  • Bracketbusters!: The Big South aligned itself with the ESPN Bracketbusters event as an “all-in” conference before the year, but granted Coastal Carolina an exemption to participate in another tournament event early in the season, one which would preclude playing in the BB game.  Oh, the value of hindsight…knowing now that Coastal is top ten in the mid-majors polls and receiving votes in the overall national polls, running a huge string of wins, certain to be a TV game contender…it could have been a boon for all, but instead, the Chants took their only two losses in that other event, and they’ll sit while the rest of the league plays.  There will be one TV game, with Iona playing at Liberty February 19 at 3pm on ESPNU.

Power Rankings

  1. Coastal Carolina (21-2, 12-0) – The Chants would still hold this position regardless of Thursday’s result, but with a season sweep over Liberty now, CCU has reinforced its stranglehold on the summit.   The fastest Big South team ever to cross the 20-win plateau (22 games), Coastal seemingly remains on cruise control.  Riding the 19-game winning streak that has turned 2-2 into 21-2, the question becomes, “when might this team stumble?”  Coach Cliff Ellis will work hard to be sure it’s NOT the conference final again, where last year’s promising run was cut short.
  2. Liberty (16-8, 10-2) – It’s become a source of frustration now for the Flames (at least for their fans), playing such a sensational season but unable to catch or defeat Coastal Carolina.  Unless things take a turn for the Chanticleers, if the Flames are going to come out on top in the end, it would likely have to come against CCU on Coastal’s floor in the tournament.  Liberty does have a chance to gain some attention of its own with a national TV appearance in the ESPN Bracketbusters event.
  3. UNC Asheville (12-10, 7-5) – The Bulldogs and Bucs will likely keep trading off in the 3-4 spots on this list down the stretch, but it sure feels as if things are headed the right direction for coach Eddie Biedenbach.  The last win, a rout over PC (88-55), demonstrates that Asheville means business.  The experience and shooting are coming together for a squad that boasts three career 1000-point scorers on the floor in J.P. Primm, Matt Dickey, & John Williams.
  4. Charleston Southern (13-11. 7-5) – It doesn’t always come easy for CSU: get pushed to overtime in defeating Radford, drop a close one to High Point–but then the Bucs can put a hundred on VMI in one of the Keydets’ standard run-and-gun games.  The quest for consistency may never get answered by this club, but all they may need is a couple of their “on” games in a row to do some damage.
  5. Winthrop (10-12, 6-6) – The Eagles keep inviting folks to shovel dirt on them, then toss the dirt right back off.   We remain fascinated by the ability WU has to lurk on the perimeter in recent seasons.  It’s not quite like the team’s role of frontrunner and dominator of years not so long ago, but it can be just as dangerous at times–as Coastal found out to its regret in last year’s title game.
  6. VMI (12-10, 5-7) - Oh, VMI, that familiar pattern of putting up 90 points per night but surrendering a hundred.  The Keydets are poison to any team that can’t keep up with the pace or that finds its shots not going one day, but the lack of defense by VMI and the awareness of how to play along with this style by the Big South competitors has kept the Keydets from being a serious contender to this point.
  7. High Point (8-13, 5-7) – It’s still not the HPU team we expected to see at the start of the season, but the slide has at least been slowed down.  Now if we can just see HPU get its momentum running in a positive direction for a change, we might see junior guard Nick Barbour and company climb back up the ranks.
  8. Presbyterian College (10-14, 4-8) - Credit to sophomore guard Khalid Mutakabbir, one of the Blue Hose giving all-out efforts despite knowing there can be no postseason play for PC.  They have done their best to push teams–such as the 76-74 overtime win over Winthrop, but for every one of those games, you can often find a close loss and a big loss in its vicinity.  The spoiler role will have to suffice for PC, it seems.
  9. Gardner-Webb (7-17, 2-10) – As much as a 58-50 win over CSU must’ve felt like a relief, in ending a brutal nine-game losing streak, the Runnin’  Bulldogs got headed right back in the wrong direction, currently riding a new four-game skid.
  10. Radford (5-17, 2-10) - The Highlanders surprised some folks by edging past Winthrop this week, but what would really be a surprise would be a road win–Radford is the only Big South team this season without a single win away from home.

A Look Ahead

It’s worth bringing up again, given the Big South’s unusual tournament format: the top four squads will all host first round games, the regular season champion’s site hosts the semifinal games, and the top-seeded survivor to the finals will host that game.  So there are two critical races going on, involving most of the teams in the Conference.  The battle for the top appears to be a two-horse race, with one of those horses sporting a strong lead (two games plus tiebreaker, essentially a three-game edge with six to play).  Given the assumption that those two teams, Coastal and Liberty, are hosting games, with the probability that CCU holds the top seed, we then see that Asheville and CSU have the current edge for the other hosting positions, but that Winthrop, VMI, and High Point all have the potential to get in that mix.  As cited above, the only other “intrigue” would be whether Radford or GWU gets the final entry to the field.  One more note–look closely at the top contenders to host: three of the four have notoriously small gyms–Coastal, Asheville, and CSU.  Those facilities make for tough tickets and for inconveniences to TV, but hold decent home court advantages for the teams themselves.

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Checking in on… the Big South

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 29th, 2010

Mark Bryant, Coordinator of New Media for the Big South Conference and writer of Big South SHOUT, is an RTC correspondent.  [ed. note: this post was written prior to the Nov. 26-28 games]

A Look Back

  • V = 5: For the first time in modern era play, VMI has opened its season 5-0.  While none of these victories have been great shockers or eye-openers, it remains an attention-grabbing start—the best opening run in the Big South this year.  That jumpstart will be tested with a road trip to West Virginia.
  • Hello, There!: The Big South has had a few surprises in store early this season:  UNC Asheville won at Auburn in overtime (70-69), Winthrop defeated Wake Forest in Winston-Salem as part of the NIT Tip-Off (83-74), Presbyterian College downed Princeton (69-67), and two members have taken down Charlotte — Gardner-Webb in the opener (78-70) and Coastal Carolina in double overtime (79-75).  Radford hopes that trend continues—the Highlanders have Charlotte next.
  • Feasting on Home Cooking: Admittedly, the schedule-making is a little tilted at the start of the season, generally with tougher opponents on the road or at neutral sites in tournaments, as opposed to mostly (but not completely) softer opposition at home.  That said, how about this: the Big South is undefeated at home so far this season (19-0) …nice start.

Power Rankings

  1. Coastal Carolina (5-2 / 0-0)…  Okay, so the Chanticleers opened with two giant wins over small colleges, which doesn’t tell us a whole lot, but let’s get a look at the second week.  CCU had a four-game week at the Charleston Classic, dropping games to the host, College of Charleston, and to Big East power Georgetown, before bouncing back with two victories—including a 2OT thriller over Charlotte in what was the team’s fourth game in six days.  The early lessons of resilience should serve the Chants well as the year progresses.  And while plenty of eyes are on Chad Gray and Kierre Greenwood, junior guard Desmond Holloway asserted himself this week by averaging 20 points per game in that tough four-game stretch.
  2. VMI (5-0 / 0-0)…  I was not going to elevate the Keydets to this spot without a little more weight behind those victories, but upon further reflection, VMI is out to the best start of anybody in the conference—AND they’ve got that running, gunning offense rolling right out of the gate.  So for the moment, let’s not take anything away from the fact that VMI has done what it wants so far.  Once again VMI will bid for the nation’s best scoring average–the Keydets are averaging over 90 points per game so far, and they have led all teams in scoring for each of the last four years.  Through five games, VMI’s Stan Okoye and Keith Gabriel each average better than 20 points per game to help power that engine.
  3. UNC Asheville (2-2 / 0-0)…  Coach Eddie Biedenbach may have the right combination working for him right now, as the Bulldogs have demonstrated their talents early on this season: D.J. Cunningham is among league leaders in rebounds and blocks, J.P. Primm is the Big South steals leader, and Matt Dickey is near the top in scoring.  Only VMI is scoring more per game this year, and Asheville’s come-from-behind effort to force and win overtime at Auburn shows the grit that goes with the skill.  Watch this team carefully.
  4. Winthrop (2-3 / 0-0)…  Call this pick the benefit of the doubt, but coach Randy Peele’s Eagles know how to “grind it out” (Peele’s favorite phrase), and they already boast a win over an ACC team on its own floor this season.  While Wake Forest may not be as well-armed this season, that’s still nothing to sneeze at, and Winthrop will do what it always does: frustrate opponents and make every game a fight to the finish.
  5. High Point (2-2 / 0-0)…  The Panthers have had an unremarkable beginning to the year, but they also get some credit for having Preseason Player of the Year Nick Barbour, who can be a difference-maker on any night.  HPU opened with two home wins against lesser teams and two road losses to more credible opponents.  The good news for upcoming games: two home conference contests.  The bad news: NO home games from December 5 – January 12.
  6. Gardner-Webb (3-2 / 0-0)… The Runnin’ Bulldogs have come out on the positive side so far under first-year coach Chris Holtmann.  Like High Point, they have two home victories against small schools and two road losses—in this case, both at major programs (Florida State and Michigan).  The tipping point for GWU this year is winning a game they would likely have lost a year ago: the opener at Charlotte.
  7. Presbyterian College (2-4 / 0-0)…  So will the real PC please stand up?  Is this the team that got blown out at Vanderbilt (88-47) or the one that hung with Kansas State before getting caught at the end (76-67)?  The one that beat Eastern Kentucky and Princeton in close games, or the one that got handled by Bucknell and James Madison?  That’s the problem here—the bottom few teams in the Big South all have questions.  Unfortunately for the Blue Hose, even if they’re the Jekyll and not the Hyde here, they still won’t be able to play any postseason games as they continue their transition to Division I play.
  8. Liberty (2-4 / 0-0)…  The Flames have the same familiar pattern: home wins they should have, and road losses that were probably expected.  Liberty has shown the ability to bounce back from aggressive scheduling losses before, so let’s not drop them to the bottom just for falling to the likes of Notre Dame, Texas Tech, and South Florida.
  9. Radford (2-2 / 0-0)…  Same early issues for the Highlanders as most of their peers: expected home wins and road losses, and that’s how this season has begun.  This team will not get its due until it makes it clear that they’ve found a way to plug that (literally) big hole left behind by the departure of center Art Parakhouski.  The lack of RU presence near the tops of most league leader boards right now shows that they may still be looking.
  10. Charleston Southern (2-3 / 0-0)…  It seems painful to drop the Buccaneers to the bottom, but someone has to hold this spot.  CSU has a lot of talented players and a good mix of experience (Jamarco Warren) and youth (Jeremy Sexton, Sheldon Strickland)—plus they certainly can beat anybody if the threes are falling, because this team can bomb with the best of them.  All that said, the Bucs have not been able to wow anyone in the early going—consider this rank a challenge for the team to pick itself up for a run up the list.

A Look Ahead

While there are a number of games across the conference for the Thanksgiving weekend, the real deal for the upcoming weeks is the first glimpse of conference play.  The way the season is structured, the Big South has two early December games as part of the schedule for most teams.  Given the tilt toward home teams so far, here’s where the squads will be for those two games on the December 2nd and 4th.

  • HOME: High Point, Liberty, Radford, VMI, Coastal Carolina (12/4 only)
  • ROAD: Gardner-Webb, PC, Asheville, Winthrop, CSU (12/4 only)

All those games will help shape early perception of the Big South race, but one game that has me intrigued is the contrasting style in the Winthrop at VMI clash: will VMI be able to push its desired pace and continue its early season roll or will Winthrop be able to get in the way, slow things down and “grind out” another win?  That’s among the early answers the December conference games will offer—should be a fun sequence of games.

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Checking in on… the Big South

Posted by rtmsf on February 13th, 2010

Mark Bryant, Coordinator of New Media for the Big South Conference and writer of Big South SHOUT, is an RTC correspondent.

Standings

  1. Coastal Carolina           11-3 / 21-5
  2. Radford                        10-4 / 14-10
  3. Winthrop                        9-4 / 13-10
  4. UNC Asheville               8-6 / 11-14
  5. High Point                      7-6 / 12-12
  6. Liberty                           7-6 / 12-13
  7. Charleston Southern       6-8 / 11-13
  8. VMI                               4-10/ 9-15
  9. Gardner-Webb               4-10/ 7-17
  10. Presbyterian College       2-11/ 4-21

Top Storylines

Coastal Holds Serve, Radford Keeps Pace. No, the Chanticleers couldn’t make it through unscathed, but they’re still rolling strong in the lead at 11-3 in the Big South.  As of February 12th, Coastal had not yet lost consecutive games this season—but will that still hold by Valentine’s Day?  CCU’s earlier 12-game winning streak ended at Radford’s hands January 14th, and those teams meet again February 13th—with Coastal Carolina coming off of a loss at High Point, trying to avoid back-to-back defeats.  And the Highlanders seek the opportunity to wrest first place away, as RU would hold the tiebreaker with a win and a sweep over the Chants.

Eagles Soar.  Can we say no one really saw this one coming?  Naturally you can never write off a program of Winthrop’s strength and tradition, but this was a team see-sawing between winning and losing runs in the early part of the season—and now we see WU with five straight wins and eight of the last nine to fly up the standings into third.  If Winthrop can hang on, it means postseason basketball would return to Rock Hill after an uncharacteristic absence in 2009…but the schedule won’t make it easy: WU will finish the season with three games in five days against Asheville, High Point, and Radford, the last two on the road.

The Three Races? Naturally there’s a battle for first place, one likely to remain between Coastal Carolina and Radford, as it has for most of the season…and there’s the important fight to be in the top four, because that means hosting in the first round, and there are four teams in a tight tangle for fourth right now…but we have one more standings stand-off: the difference between eighth and ninth.  The Big South Championship takes eight teams—VMI and Gardner-Webb are tied for eighth (at 4-10), trying just to get in…and Thursday night, VMI defeated GWU to force that tie.  The Keydets would rather not fall from second last year to non-qualifier this year.

Looking Ahead

With only four to five Big South games remaining for every team, and with no seeds locked down yet, each game becomes that much more significant to how the whole season will be viewed for these teams.  Late season matchups pitting foes in close races will shape the Championship field, such as Coastal @ Radford, CSU @ Liberty, Winthrop @ HPU, and UNCA @ Winthrop.

Looking Behind

Rises and falls, rises and falls…while Coastal Carolina and Radford have been the steady pace-setters, others have had surges at the leaders and cooled down—first High Point, then Charleston Southern, and more recently UNC Asheville.  Currently Winthrop is still on the upswing, so we’ll see if the Eagles can hold on to the higher spot—third at the moment.  Those up-and-down teams cited: HPU, CSU, & UNCA, are three of the four squads fighting for the fourth spot (along with Liberty, who has maintained its slow-and-steady pace hovering around the cut line throughout).

Team Capsules

  • Charleston Southern – The Bucs need to right the ship: January started with five wins in six games, but CSU has balanced that by losing five of six since then.  On any given day, the team expects to rely on scoring from Jamarco Warren and rebounding from Kelvin Martin, but it’s the contribution from freshman guard Jeremy Sexton that has been a pleasant surprise.
  • Coastal CarolinaJoseph Harris remains among the league leaders in scoring, rebounding, and shooting percentage to be the fuel for Coastal’s run, but he’s not alone out there.  In fact, the Mario Edwards-to-Chris Evans alley-oop combination against GWU hit the #7 position on the SportsCenter Top Ten one night!  Thanks in part to back-to-back 30+ point wins over GWU and UNCA, CCU leads the Big South in scoring margin with a whopping +15.6.
  • Gardner-Webb – the Runnin’ Bulldogs have been the Strugglin’ Bulldogs for most of the season, but the Conference season still had possibilities before their most recent stretch of five losses in six games.  Now GWU is in a fight just to make the Championship field, as noted above.  C.J. Hailey is the only GWU Bulldog in the Big South’s top 25 scorers, averaging 13.0 ppg.
  • High Point – the Panthers can bomb away some shots—looking only at Conference play, HPU has the Big South’s best 3-point shooting percentage (.371) and its top 3-point scorer in Eugene Harris (with 3.0/game).  Harris joins teammate Nick Barbour in the top four in scoring for Big South games this season.  And home is sweet for High Point: overall, the Panthers are 9-1 at home and only 3-11 on the road.
  • Liberty –  how close are the Flames to dead-even?  One game under .500 overall, one game over in the Big South…in 25 total games, LU has been outscored by merely 15 points and in 13 Conference games, outscored by just 6…and no streaks in Big South play, win or lose, longer than two games.  Given all that, Liberty has been up and down, but the average is pretty much a flat line.
  • Presbyterian College – It’s certainly a dubious honor to lead the nation in minutes played by freshmen (3410 of a possible 5075 minutes), but that’s the situation at PC this season.  In Big South games, the highest minutes/game average belongs to Khalid Mutakabbir of the Blue Hose—and yes, he’s a freshman (with 35.5 min./game).
  • Radford“Big Art” Parakhouski remains the focal point for RU (and for NBA scouts): he is the Big South leader in scoring (21.7), rebounding (13.4 – including leads in both offensive (5.38) and defensive (8.00) boards), and also shooting percentage (.589).  Meanwhile, teammate Amir Johnson leads the conference in assists (5.73/game).
  • UNC Asheville – it’s all about teamwork in Asheville: the Bulldogs have no one among the top 19 scorers in the Big South this season, but they have four of the top 25—J.P. Primm, John Williams, Matt Dickey, and Chris Stephenson, all averaging between 10-12 points per game. The Bulldogs lead the Big South in blocks, with 5.8 blocked shots per game.
  • VMI – the song remains the same this year for the Keydets: VMI leads the Big South in scoring offense with 89.7 ppg, but comes in dead last in scoring defense, with 96.8 ppg.  More good news/bad news: tops in the Conference in steals (11.00/game), but last in rebounding margin (-12.3).  Those disparities have resulted in games played at a dizzying pace, but not in favor of the Keydets.
  • Winthrop –  in its current five-game winning streak, Winthrop has held each opponent under 40% shooting.   WU has won eight of the last nine—holding three opponents under 50 points during that span.  Another win will extend the Eagles’ Big South record for most 10-win Conference seasons—to ten.
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