Take Notes: Oregon State’s Scheduling Aids Tournament Push

Posted by Mike Lemaire on March 2nd, 2016

Buried in the middle of the always fun 5,000-word weekly Bubble Watch column from ESPN was a statement that requires additional unpacking. While analyzing the resumes of Pac-12 bubble teams, Eamonn Brennan mentioned that Oregon State remains “the nation’s best testament to the power of intelligent non-conference scheduling.”

Wayne Tinkle: Coach of the Year? (Godofredo Vasquez, USA Today)

Wayne Tinkle’s Team Is Finally Reaping the Benefits of Its Gutsy Scheduling (USA Today)

Brennan can say this so confidently because 10-loss teams barely flirting with .500 in conference play usually aren’t serious NCAA Tournament contenders, yet here we are in March with all of the respected bracketologists penciling the Beavers in as one of the 68 teams in the field. A team with Oregon State’s ho-hum record ordinarily wouldn’t even warrant a conversation, but thanks to a sparkling RPI and strength of schedule, Wayne Tinkle’s team is comfortably projected into the field. College basketball fans around the country can only hope that their schools are paying attention.

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Big Ten Weekend In Review: 03.01.16 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 1st, 2016

We’re now only 13 games away from complete resolution to the Big Ten regular season, as last weekend’s action, like much of the regular season, gave us some close games sprinkled among a few blowouts. Indiana clinched a share of the regular season crown without playing a game, and the four teams chasing the Hoosiers still have a double-bye in Indianapolis to play for. Here’s are the highlights from the second-to-last weekend of the regular season.

Keita Bates-Diop (right) influenced things offensively and defensively for Ohio State as they knocked off Iowa( Jay LaPrete, AP).

Keita Bates-Diop (right) influenced things offensively and defensively for Ohio State as they knocked off Iowa (Jay LaPrete, AP).

Player of the Weekend: With apologies to Illinois’ Malcolm Hill, who teamed with Kendrick Nunn to look like Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen toying with Toni Kukoc in the 1992 Olympics because Minnesota was playing without guards, Ohio State’s Keita Bates-Diop gets the nod because he essentially out-Uthoffed Iowa’s Jarrod Uthoff. He had a highly efficient scoring night with 19 points (8-of-11 shooting) and four blocks as Ohio State came back in the final few minutes to beat Iowa. The surging Buckeyes held an Iowa team that scores 31.4 percent of its points on the season from the three-point line to a quiet 3-of-12 from the perimeter, and Uthoff in particular continued to struggle (16 points on 5-of-14 shooting). Iowa is now in the midst of another late-season swoon.

Super Sub of the Weekend: Before Saturday’s game against Maryland, Purdue sophomore Dakota Mathias had only scored in double figures twice all season. Both of those instances occurred in games where Purdue scored over 100 points against weak competition. But Mathias saved his best game of the year for Saturday as Purdue held off Maryland for a big win in West Lafayette. Mathias has now shot 6-of-11 from distance over his last five games, hitting three treys against the Terrapins en route to a career-high 17 points for the game. One of Purdue’s strengths is its outstanding depth, and in order to make a postseason run, players like Mathias need to step up.

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Big Ten M5: 02.29.16 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on February 29th, 2016

morning5_bigten

  1. The combination of Xavier taking a loss at Seton Hall along with Michigan State winning its home game against Penn State moved the Spartans up to a #1 seed on Jerry Palm’s latest bracket. Tom Izzo’s squad has now won eight out of its last nine games, and although they don’t have a chance for an outright claim to the Big Ten regular season title, their overall resume which includes wins over Kansas and Louisville in non-conference action, combined with wins over Indiana, Maryland, and Wisconsin in Big Ten play makes them have a compelling case for a spot on the number one line in two weeks when the brackets are unleashed to the masses.
  2. Minnesota took on Illinois on Sunday night with a rather unique lineup. That’s because their top three guards were all benched due to a violation of team rules. Nate Mason, Kevin Dorsey, and Dupree McBrayer all had to sit, and the result was predictable. Illinois overwhelmed the Gophers in the second half, cruising to an 84-71 victory. It’s not known whether the trio will miss more than this game, and it casts a significant pall over the improvements the struggling team has made in winning two of their last three games.
  3. Analysts on the Big Ten Network used to refer to Tre Demps of Northwestern as “The Microwave” two years ago when he came off the bench and proceeded to give the Wildcats instant offense. For those born after 1985, its origin comes from Vinnie Johnson, a guard on the “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons who was known for the same thing. Kam Williams of Ohio State is the 2015-16 version, and his clutch baskets were vital for the Buckeyes as they knocked off Iowa Sunday afternoon. Williams went 5-for-5 from the floor for 11 points in the last eight minutes of a closely-fought win for Ohio State. While this win only brings Ohio State’s record to 2-8 against the RPI top 50 on the season, it certainly makes their once bleak NCAA Tournament hopes look a little better heading into a crucial road game at Michigan State next weekend.
  4. Maryland was doomed by a slow start and a lack of effort on the boards as they fell to Purdue on Saturday afternoon. The Terrapins are the fourth tallest team in the country, yet they managed to give up 19 offensive rebounds to the Boilermakers. They also went down 24-8 early, which ended up being too much of a hole for them to overcome. Melo Trimble continued to struggle shooting from the outside, and their starting frontcourt only managed 13 rebounds for the game. This team has the talent to make a deep late-season run, but one would think that it would have fixed some of its issues by this point in the season.
  5. One play does not win or lose a basketball game, but sometimes a specific play can be used as a strong symbol that it just isn’t your day. Take for example Derrick Walton Jr’s missed opportunity at the rim for Michigan in their loss to Wisconsin Sunday. Walton Jr had a wide-open path to the basket, blew the layup, and then the Wolverines gave up a layup to the Badgers on the other end. It was an example of how a potent offense could never really get things going as they dropped to 10-7 in league play in being held to 0.93 points per possession on the evening. Combine that offensive showing with getting blitzed on the glass, and you why Michigan lost, and why they might be sweating on Selection Sunday.
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Big Ten M5: 02.26.16 Edition

Posted by Patrick Engel (@PatrickEngel_) on February 26th, 2016

morning5_bigten

  1. Nebraska’s Shavon Shields played for the first time since a February 6 game against Rutgers when he suffered a serious concussion on a nasty fall. As if nothing had ever happened, the senior returned to the lineup last night against Penn State and scored a game-high 25 points. It was not enough for the Cornhuskers to win the game, however, as Shields’ off-balance 15-footer at the buzzer misfired, giving the Nittany Lions a 56-55 win.
  2. Bracketology becomes increasingly popular as the calendar inches ever closer to March. ESPN’s February 25 NCAA Tournament bracket projections from Joe Lunardi lists seven Big Ten teams among his field of 68: Michigan State is a #2 seed; Iowa #3; Maryland #3; Indiana #5; Purdue #5; Wisconsin #7; and Michigan #9. CBS SportsJerry Palm’s latest projections differ only slightly: Iowa is a seed line lower at #4, while Wisconsin comes in as a #9 seed and Michigan a #10 seed.
  3. Michigan’s Duncan Robinson started the season as one of the nation’s best shooters, but his prolonged slump in Big Ten play is a growing concern. He is converting only 31 percent of his three-pointers in the second half of conference play, prompting head coach John Beilein to consider shortening his minutes. Fortunately for Michigan, sophomore Aubrey Dawkins has picked up the slack in knocking down a conference-best 51 percent of three-pointers in Big Ten play.
  4. Michigan State has used a deep bench all season and the latest player to get an extended look in the wake of Kenny Goins’ knee injury is sophomore forward Marvin Clark Jr. He was a useful reserve during Sparty’s run to the Final Four a year ago and is finding his confidence in an expanded role. Clark played 19 minutes against Ohio State on Tuesday and made both his three-point attempts for a total of six points. His shooting (35.3% 3FG) has kept him head of Javon Bess in the rotation.
  5. During Wisconsin’s admittedly slow start to the season, some believed that mediocre recruiting was a key reason for the team’s lack of quality depth this season. Now, however, with Wisconsin sitting at 10-5 in the Big Ten, that notion has dissipated. The Wisconsin State Journal reviewed Bo Ryan’s class of 2011, finding that it had considerable talent from top to bottom. Frank Kaminsky and Traevon Jackson led the program to consecutive Final Fours but played their final seasons in 2014-15. Jarrod Uthoff became a star after transferring to Iowa, and George Marshall, now at South Dakota State, is leading the 22-7 Jackrabbits in scoring.
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Big Ten M5: 02.24.16 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 24th, 2016

morning5_bigten

  1. The Big Ten on Monday awarded Indiana forward Troy Williams its conference Player of the Week honors for averaging 18.5 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.5 assist and 2.5 steals per game in wins over Nebraska and Purdue last week. It was the second award of the year for a junior who has been instrumental in helping the Hoosiers move into contention for their second Big Ten title in four years. Williams may not have made the giant leap he had hoped — he averages fewer points and rebounds than last season — but he remains the team’s third-leading scorer and has improved on the defensive end. With his contributions leading the way, Tom Crean’s team hopes to win that regular season title as well as make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
  2. Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors went to Minnesota‘s Jordan Murphy for his 17 points and 11 rebounds against Maryland last Thursday. Although it wasn’t considered in the award, he forward followed up that performance with another terrific effort with 19 points and 14 rebounds in a win over Rutgers last night. His emergence is one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal season at Minnesota. He, along with classmate Nate Mason, gives Richard Pitino a glimmer of hope for Minnesota basketball going into the next season.
  3. Michigan State earned its sixth win in its last seven contests last night when Sparty handled Ohio State, 81-62. The Buckeyes prevented Denzel Valentine from scoring 20 points or dishing out 10 assists (he finished with “only” 17 points and eight assists), but they were unable to stop Bryn Forbes 27 points on 7-of-10 shooting from behind the three-point line. While a regular season title is still a long shot for a team two games back in the standings, Tom Izzo’s team is playing as well as any team in the country and is certainly in the mix for a #1 or #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. As always, the Spartans appear to be peaking at just the right time.
  4. As Michigan makes a push to solidify its place in the NCAA Tournament with a game against Northwestern tonight, the Wolverines may again find themselves without the services of senior guard Caris Levert. In fact, the Wolverines’ two upperclassmen leaders, Levert and Spike Albrechthave been absent from John Beilein‘s lineup for a majority of the season. Despite those limitations, Michigan has managed to win enough games to remain competitive in the Big Ten race and appears poised to get back to the NCAA Tournament. It will come one step closer to that objective if it protects home court against the Wildcats this evening.
  5. The biggest conference game of the week will take place tonight when Wisconsin visits Iowa in a game that has major implications for both teams. The Hawkeyes need a victory to keep up with Indiana in the loss column in pursuit of a Big Ten title. The Badgers with a win could seal their place in the NCAA Tournament. Wisconsin has steadily climbed back from a 2-5 Big Ten record to likely being a big win away from its 18th consecutive trip to March Madness. That would make quite the case for the administration to permanently hire Greg Gard and continue the Bo Ryan legacy in Madison for years to come.
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Mapping Ohio State’s Path to the NCAA Tournament

Posted by Patrick Engel (@PatrickEngel_) on February 23rd, 2016

After an uninspiring first half of the season, Ohio State has over the last few weeks slowly but surely crept back into the Big Ten race. The Buckeyes are unlikely to contend for the title but they are all alone in fourth place at 10-5. Teams among the top four of power conference standings in late February are usually considered safe bets for the NCAA Tournament, but Thad Matta‘s group is challenging that notion. After a miserable start to the season that included early losses to UT-Arlington and Louisiana Tech, the Buckeyes are now in position to lock up a bid with another good win or two. There’s just one problem, though: Winning another regular season game won’t be easy. Ohio State plays Michigan State twice in its final three games with a home date against Iowa sandwiched in-between.

Marc Loving and Ohio State face an important three-game stretch that will determine their postseason fortune (Barbara J. Perenic/The Columbus Dispatch)

Marc Loving and Ohio State face an important three-game stretch that will determine their postseason fortune (Barbara J. Perenic/The Columbus Dispatch)

Double-figure conference wins is usually enough for an at-large bid from the Big Ten, and every 11-win team in the history of the league has made the field of 68. But as we’ve learned in the era of expanded conferences, not all records are created equal. Eight of Ohio State’s conference wins came against Rutgers, Minnesota, Penn State, Illinois and Northwestern. The other two were notched against Nebraska and fellow bubble team Michigan. Furthermore, Ohio State has just one RPI top 100 win from the non-conference season (Kentucky). This means that the two wins over the Wolverines and Wildcats are the Buckeyes’ lone RPI top 100 wins of the season, and that they have more losses to teams outside the RPI top 100 (three) than wins over teams within it. Losses to Texas-Arlington, Louisiana Tech and Memphis all stink about as much or more as they did at the time. The tally to this point is that 18-10 record and an RPI rating of #75.

One more win pushes Ohio State to the 11-victory mark, but that won’t do much to improve the Buckeyes’ overall resume. Two more wins would result in a 4-8 record against the RPI top 50, but even 12 conference wins combined with an early Big Ten Tournament loss would make for a tense Selection Sunday. Three wins, however unlikely, means that Ohio State can think about seeding options instead of worrying about a bid. Go winless and the Buckeyes would need a deep conference tournament run and some luck around the country among the other bubble teams.

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The Big Ten’s Biggest Surprises, Improvements & Disappointments

Posted by Patrick Engel on February 16th, 2016

Iowa is atop the Big Ten after Valentine’s Day, Indiana is (mostly) better defensively and Minnesota still hasn’t won a conference game. Those are typical of the team surprises, improvements and disappointments that appear over the course of every Big Ten season. The same thing happens on an individual level: some players seem to come out of nowhere, others take impressive leaps in production, and still others regress or plateau. With conference play now two-thirds finished, here are some of the biggest surprises, improvements and disappointments among this season’s Big Ten players.

P.J. Thompson's ball-handling has helped give Purdue stability in the backcourt (Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports).

P.J. Thompson’s ball-handling has helped give Purdue stability in the backcourt. (Sandra Dukes/USA TODAY Sports)

Biggest Surprises

  • O.G. Anunoby, F, Indiana: The least-heralded member of Indiana’s freshman class is now a crucial part of its rotation. The Hoosiers found the freshman forward from Jefferson City, Missouri, while scouting another player, but he has been their best defender and owns the second-highest effective field goal percentage (64.8%) on the team (minimum 60 FGAs).
  • Nicholas Baer, G/F, Iowa: An unknown freshman walk-on in November, Baer gives Iowa productive minutes off the bench. He makes 43 percent of his threes and 52 percent of his twos, but is also second on the team with 18 blocks. That versatility means that he can play the three or the four positions.

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Big Ten Seeding Forecast: 02.16.16 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 16th, 2016

It’s been a little under a month since our previous seeding forecast and that means it’s time for an update. While a lot has happened over the last four weeks, the race for the Big Ten title and NCAA at-large bids have remained relatively even. There are still six Big Ten teams that appear comfortably within the field of 68 while a seventh remains firmly entrenched on the bubble. There’s also a three-way race for the #4 seed in the Big Ten Tournament and its accompanying double-bye. The table below shows each school’s updated likelihoods for finishing the regular season at each seed.

big ten seeding 14 feb 2016

Here are three takeaways from the data.

1. Iowa is the strong favorite to capture a regular season title. There was a three-way tie for first place between Iowa, Indiana and Maryland heading into last weekend. In fact, the Terrapins — which owns the tiebreaker over the Hawkeyes — had at the time almost a 50 percent chance of finishing in first place. But after Maryland lost to Wisconsin and Indiana lost to Michigan State, Iowa once again finds itself alone at the top. Along with its one-game lead, Iowa has a comparative advantage with its remaining schedule. The toughest games for the Hawkeyes in the final three weeks will be versus Indiana and at Michigan; Maryland, on the other hand, still has games against Michigan, at Purdue and at Indiana; Indiana must face Purdue and Maryland as well as travel to Iowa. With this kind of advantage in place, Iowa has sole possession of the Big Ten Championship within grasp for the first time in 36 years.
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Big Ten Weekend Look Ahead: 02.13.16 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 13th, 2016

Finally! After two weekends of mediocre action, Big Ten fans are treated to a packed slate of games with the top six contenders playing against one another or facing teams nipping at their heels. These games will have tremendous implications on the regular season title race, Big Ten tournament seeding and NCAA Tournament at-large bids. So set up camp on that couch this weekend, because there’s plenty of ball to be watched. Here the top Big Ten games of the weekend.

Yogi Ferrell will try and keep his Hoosiers in the Big Ten title race with a win against the Spartans.

Yogi Ferrell will try and keep his Hoosiers in the Big Ten title race with a win against the Spartans.

#18 Purdue at Michigan (Saturday 2:00 PM ET, ESPN2): This is essentially a playoff game to remain in the race for the regular season title — although the winner would still be a considerable long shot. Michigan only has two top 50 KenPom wins this season (Texas and Maryland). Their poor performance against elite competition has typecast the Wolverines as a good-not-great team. If Caris Levert returns to the lineup today, he may provide a spark Michigan needs to get a win over a ranked team and garner some momentum going into the final few weeks of the regular season. The Boilermakers, on the other hand, are not only trying to compete for a Big Ten title but also vying for a protected seed in the NCAA Tournament. This game will be decided by one metric: three-pointers made by Michigan. If the Wolverines don’t get hot from outside the Boilermakers’ front line will simply eat them up. If Purdue can bother the Michigan shooters enough, though, they’ll add another excellent road win on their resume.

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Who Is Michigan? Inside The Inconsistent Wolverines

Posted by Patrick Engel on February 10th, 2016

Michigan entered last week’s games against Indiana and Michigan State with confidence. The Wolverines were 7-2 in Big Ten play and winners of four straight. Six of those conference wins had come without All-Big Ten guard Caris LeVert. A week later, two blowout losses on its home floor leave Michigan with a lot of questions at a pivotal point in its season. Thought to be a sneaky Big Ten title contender and a near-lock for the NCAA tournament just a over a week ago, Michigan now sits in fourth place in the Big Ten standings. The Wolverines schedule doesn’t ease up, either; after a Wednesday road game at Minnesota, Michigan hosts Purdue before traveling to Ohio State and Maryland.

Michigan coach John Beilein and his team are searching for answers after blowout home losses to Indiana and Michigan State. (Lon Horwedel/AnnArbor.com)

Michigan coach John Beilein and his team are searching for answers after blowout home losses to Indiana and Michigan State. (Lon Horwedel/AnnArbor.com)

John Beilein’s offense is designed around the three-pointer. During most of his tenure in Ann Arbor, Michigan has possessed the shooters to make a high percentage of three-point attempts. This year is no exception: the team shoots 40.3 percent on three-pointers and has four players who shoot at least 45 percent from long-range. But the Wolverines have made only 24 of 87 (28%) three-point attempts over their last three games. Duncan Robinson, who has made 48 percent of his three-point attempts on the season, has made just 29.7 percent (14-47) in his last six games. In the Michigan State loss, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman had three wide-open looks from three-point range and missed them all. Michigan can beat Penn State and Minnesota without hitting a lot of its threes, but against Michigan State and the rest of the Big Ten’s best, they absolutely need those shots to fall.

Teams and players go through shooting slumps, but Michigan’s offensive struggles don’t feel like just another slump. Part of Michigan’s ability to make threes derives from its ability to find clean looks beyond the arc. Beilein’s offense involves a lot of ball movement and demands time to create such shots. In its two losses last week, Michigan didn’t move the ball well at all, assisting on only 40 percent of made field goals – a clip well under its 57 percent season average. The decline in assists per field goal made and the larger shooting struggles may be partially a product of an offense where the ball-handler is the only player moving. The result of the stagnation, at least of late, has been more predictable, easier-to-guard three-point attempts. Without LeVert, Michigan simply doesn’t have enough players who will consistently win in iso situations to make up for the lack of ball movement. It also doesn’t have a big man capable of producing offense with their back to the basket. Post-ups have never been a big component of Beilein’s offense, but they are a good weapon for offenses struggling to space the floor and find open shots. The lack of execution has created long scoring droughts, too: Indiana, for instance, ended the first half on a nine-minute, 25-0 run against the Wolverines.

Defensively, Michigan hasn’t been good either. Indiana and Michigan State averaged 1.16 and 1.29 points per possession in scoring 80 and 89 points against the Wolverines, respectively. The 70 and 73 points the Wolverines have scored in the two losses are also misleading, as Michigan struggled to score until each game’s final, meaningless minutes. Still, even after last week, Michigan is very much in the thick of the NCAA tournament discussion. Better yet for Wolverine fans, it’s clear that this team has the talent to start winning again, especially with LeVert’s impending return. But if the stagnant offense persists, Michigan could find itself spending another March at home.

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Big Ten Weekend Look Ahead: Super Bowl Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 6th, 2016

It’s Super Bowl weekend and that means college basketball is pushed aside for nonstop professional football talk, party planning, and most importantly, the Puppy Bowl. Given the busy weekend, there’s a dearth of quality matchups around the conference this weekend. However, there are a couple of games worth carving out time for while you’re planning the big party. One is an intrastate rivalry that has grown in relevance now that both teams are consistent contenders for the Big Ten title. The other contest is the only Big Ten game this weekend that pits two ranked teams against each other. Here are your Big Ten games to watch.

The Michigan-Michigan State rivalry has been must watch TV since John Beilein has arrived in Ann Arbor . (AP Photo/Tony Ding)

The Michigan-Michigan State rivalry has been must watch TV since John Beilein arrived in Ann Arbor. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)

  • #10 Michigan State at Michigan (Saturday 2:00 PM ET, CBS). After getting run off the court at home by Indiana on Tuesday, this game is close to a must-win for the Wolverines in terms of Big Ten title contention. Michigan is not the most talented team in the conference – this was evident last Tuesday when the Hoosiers did whatever they wanted against the Wolverines’ defense – but their soft schedule in the final half of the conference play gave them a relatively easy trail to the title. This path is narrowing thanks to the debacle on Tuesday. On the other side of things, Michigan State is on a three-game winning streak that started with a momentum-launching victory over Maryland two weeks ago. Michigan presents the Spartans with their first test against formidable competition since that win over the Terrapins, and will serve as a barometer as to whether Michigan State has returned to its elite non-conference form, or if they are just riding an emotional win to two wins over bottom-tier opponents.

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The RTC Big Ten Podcast: Debut Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on February 2nd, 2016

Welcome to the first-ever Big Ten microsite podcast! Big Ten microsite writers Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) and Patrick Engel (@PatrickEngel_) are here to give you a quickish overview of the league at the turn. In this episode, we analyze the two first-place teams in detail, select a few others that are poised to challenge for a regular season title, discuss whether any of the teams currently outside the bubble can get back on to it, consider a few Big Ten POY candidates, and finally talk about the few coaches on the hot seat. Let us know if you enjoyed the podcast and, if so, what topics we should cover next time, at @rushtheB1G. The complete rundown is below.

  • 1:06 – 8:35 — Indiana and Iowa
  • 8:36-17:39 — Maryland and Michigan’s regular season title hopes
  • 17:40-25:59 — Ohio State and Nebraska’s chances at an at-large bid
  • 26:00-31:41 — Jarrod Uthoff and A.J. Hammons as possible Big Ten POYs
  • 31:42-47:00 — Coaches on the hot seat
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