Circle of March: Duke Edition (Animated)

Posted by rtmsf on April 8th, 2015

And so it’s done. From 333 eligible teams 36 days ago to just one standing as the clock struck midnight on Tuesday, Duke is the 2014-15 National Champion, and once again the Circle of March has officially and regrettably come full circle. Below is our animated edition. On to next year, folks!

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Eliminations (04.06.15)

  • Wisconsin

 

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: Championship Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on April 7th, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

March Madness is finally upon us, and we here at RTC are here to make everything a little bit easier for you. From the First Four until One Shining Moment, we’ll be dropping daily tidbits of knowledge regarding the teams in each region.

Duke

Coach K's Blue Devils Cut Down the Nets for the Fifth Time (USA Today Images)

Coach K’s Blue Devils Cut Down the Nets for the Fifth Time (USA Today Images)

  • Over the past three decades, Coach K has gained a reputation for winning with three- and four-year players. However, in recent years he has changed his strategy a bit and it paid off last night. Duke’s freshmen scored 60 of the Blue Devils’ 68 points, including all 37 of them in the second half. “I’m grateful for those young guys,” senior Quinn Cook said, “because, you know, for them to perform like that on the stage like this says a lot about [their] confidence. I’m just thankful that they came to Duke.”
  • For Duke, it was Grayson Allen who stepped up as an unexpected hero in the second half of the National Championship game. Duke’s least-heralded freshman, a player who averaged just four points per game this season, contributed 16 big points, most of which came when Duke needed them most. “We were kind of dead in the water,” Coach K said. “We were nine points down and Grayson just put us on his back.”
  • Frank Kaminsky kept Jahlil Okafor in check and in foul trouble for most of the game, but Okafor was finally effective in crunch time. Despite only scoring 10 points in 22 minutes of action, Okafor came through with two huge buckets in the final three minutes of the game.
  • It wasn’t Jahlil Okafor or Justise Winslow – the crown jewels of Duke’s freshman class – who came away with Most Outstanding Player honors, but Tyus Jones, the point guard who held everything together for the Blue Devils all season long. With 23 points that included two dagger three-pointers in the final four minutes, Jones earned it.
  • Duke was known for its elite offense this year, but it was its “gritty” play down the stretch that got the Blue Devils to the promised land. “We were close [to being dead in the water],” Coach K said afterward. “Those last eight to nine minutes were spectacular basketball by our kids. Gritty basketball.”

Wisconsin

And the Agony of Being on the Losing End (USA Today Images)

And the Agony of Being on the Losing End (USA Today Images)

  • For Bo Ryan, it was tough to resist ripping the (controversial) officials during last night’s Championship Game loss to Duke. “You just have to be able to handle all the hands and the checking. There was more body contact in this game than any game we’ve played all year and I just feel sorry for my guys that all of a sudden a game was like that,” Ryan said.“I think they had a… they’re struggling with that a little bit. We missed some opportunities, they hit some tough shots, but you know — it’s just a shame that it had to be played that way.”
  • Bo Ryan wasn’t the only Badger to complain about the referees, as sophomore point guard Bronson Koenig got in on the action after the game. When asked about what gave Duke the momentum after Wisconsin had built a nine-point lead, Koenig replied, “Pick which and-one was called for them.”
  • Frank Kaminsky,  to no one’s surprise, had an outstanding game with 21 points and 12 rebounds, but it simply wasn’t enough for the Badgers.
  • With his breakthrough junior campaign now over, the big question in Madison is whether Sam Dekker will return to school for his senior season. Dekker may have a sour taste in his mouth after losing in last night’s National Championship Game, but a phenomenal NCAA Tournament almost certainly solidified him as a first round pick.
  • After last night’s disappointing loss, Bo Ryan seemingly took a shot at Duke and its surplus of NBA-bound freshmen. “All the seniors that I’ve had — hard to say the word. But every player that’s played through the program, okay, we don’t do a rent-a-player. You know what I mean? Try to take a fifth-year guy. That’s okay. If other people do that, that’s okay,” Ryan said. “I like trying to build from within. It’s just the way I am. And to see these guys grow over the years and to be here last year and lose a tough game, boom, they came back.”
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Final Four Previews: Wisconsin/Duke Will Win If…

Posted by Andrew Murawa & Tommy Lemoine on April 6th, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

Championship Monday is always bitter sweet for college basketball fans. On the one hand, it means the two best teams in the country will finally play for the ultimate crown and go down in the history books. On the other hand, it also means that the college basketball season is finally coming to an end. For this particular 2014-15 season, however, what an ending this is set to be. While the nation didn’t quite get the “dream” finals matchup, tonight’s contest is not a bad consolation prize by any means as arguably the best offensive basketball team in recent memory goes up against arguably the most traditional of traditional powers that the sport has ever seen. We’re just a couple hours away from tip-off, but in the meantime …

No shock here - Frank Kaminsky is the key player in tonight's National Title game. (AP Photo/Chris Steppig, Pool)

No shock here – Frank Kaminsky is the key player in tonight’s National Title game. (AP Photo/Chris Steppig, Pool)

Wisconsin Will Win If

  • It continues to play like the greatest collegiate offense in recent history, which it most assuredly is. For the year, Wisconsin’s adjusted offensive efficiency is 128.5, equivalent to 128 points per 100 offensive possessions against an average defense, the best by a rather significant margin. In the NCAA Tournament, with higher stakes and tougher opponents, the Badgers are still averaging 128 points per 100 offensive possessions, even after playing two of the season’s best three defenses in their past two games. While Duke’s is playing its best defensive basketball of the season (they’re allowing 87 points per 100 defensive possessions in the tournament), at this point doubting the effectiveness of the Wisconsin offense is questionable at best.
  • Frank Kaminsky gets the better of the Jahlil Okafor. The key matchup to watch, of course, will be Kaminsky vs. Okafor (the only two unanimous RTC All-American choices) although of course, it won’t always be a mano v. mano type of thing. However, it is a fascinating matchup. Okafor may be the best post-up big man since Tim Duncan, while Kaminsky’s ability to be equally effective inside or out gives him a great advantage. Much of Wisconsin’s offense is predicated on the ability of its talented big men to step away from the hoop, open up the floor and create opportunities for clean looks. Okafor is in no way foul prone, but if the relatively inexperienced freshman gets frustrated by Kaminsky’s veteran wiles, the Blue Devils could be behind the eight-ball. Read the rest of this entry »
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Circle of March: Vol. XXVI

Posted by rtmsf on April 6th, 2015

And then there were two. With Saturday’s eliminations of Kentucky and Michigan State, the Circle of March is down to its final permutation before we crown this season’s National Champion.

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Eliminations (04.04.15)

  • Michigan State
  • Kentucky
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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 04.05.15 Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on April 5th, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

March Madness is finally upon us, and we here at RTC are here to make everything a little bit easier for you. From the First Four until One Shining Moment, we’ll be dropping daily tidbits of knowledge regarding the teams in each region.

Duke

Coach K and Duke Will Compete For Their Fifth Title Monday Night (USA Today Images)

Coach K and Duke Will Compete For Their Fifth Title Monday Night (USA Today Images)

  • Duke has been criticized this season for not being as defensively sharp as some of the past Blue Devils teams. After last night’s dominant Final Four victory over Michigan State, however, the doubters are starting to come around. “A lot of people said we couldn’t play defense,” Duke guard Matt Jones said. “For the most part in the NCAA Tournament, we’ve been a very good defensive team. Now we just have to do it one more time on Monday.”
  • Taunting or not, there’s no doubt that Grayson Allen‘s monster dunk sent a message to Michigan State.
  • On Monday night, Duke will play for a National Championship in the same place where it won its last one: Indianapolis.
  • Jahlil Okafor‘s father believes that his son should have been named National Player of the Year over Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky. Okafor will have the chance to prove it on Monday, as the Blue Devils will go up against Kaminsky’s team.
  • Justise Winslow is a name you might want to remember for the future… Take it from Charles Barkley. During the pregame show last night, Barkley referred to Winslow as “Winstons Justice.” Ouch.

Wisconsin

  • Sam Dekker wasn’t as dominant as he had been in the past two games, but he was just as clutch. Tied 60-60, Dekker hit a step-back three to give Wisconsin the lead, then drew a charge on Kentucky’s very next possession.
  • Perhaps Frank Kaminsky‘s 2011 Tweet of “I hate Kentucky” foreshadowed last night’s victory over the previously undefeated Wildcats.
  • Wisconsin did it. Against all odds, the Badgers gave Kentucky its first loss of the season in a matchup they’ve wanted since last March. “This is something we’ve been talking about since day one this season,” Sam Dekker said. “Look where we are now.”
  • Somehow, Trey Lyle’s slap on Josh Gasser wasn’t called a flagrant one foul, but it didn’t matter for Wisconsin.
  • Wisconsin lost to Duke earlier this season but the Badgers are far from scared. “They were a tough team,” [point guard Bronson] Koenig said. “They have a great backcourt and they’ve got Jahlil [Okafor]. So it’s going to be a tough game.”

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Final Four Previews: Duke/Michigan State Will Win If…

Posted by Bennet Hayes & Tommy Lemoine on April 4th, 2015

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The time has finally come for all the hand-wringing, all the expectations, all the anticipation, and all the office pools between Jim from accounting and Bonnie the receptionist to be decided. In what undoubtedly has evolved into one of the more intriguing Final Fours in recent memory, the story lines bleeding out of Indianapolis this week has been plentiful. Will Coach Cal and the ‘Cats finish off The Perfect Season? Will Wisconsin play spoiler? Will the traditional power in blue once again reign supreme? Will the boys from East Lansing show that a team can win a ‘ship without a boatload of McDonald All-Americans? We’ll all find out soon. In the meantime…

Duke Will Win If…

Tom Izzo’s team has done things this March that Tom Izzo’s teams seem to do every March. One Michigan State postseason streak, however, has yet to continue. In each of the last 14 seasons, Tom Izzo’s Spartans have lost an NCAA Tournament game.

Duke's Leading Trio Of Freshmen (Pictured With Matt Jones, #13) Are The Reason Duke Will Advance To Championship Monday. (The Charlotte Observer)

Duke’s Leading Trio Of Freshmen (Justise Winslow, Tyus Jones, Jahlil Okafor) Are The Reason Duke Will Advance To Championship Monday. (The Charlotte Observer)

Expect that streak to continue Saturday. In a battle of teams with elite coaches and similarly thin benches, Duke’s star power and defense will prove to be difference-makers. By most accounts, Jahlil Okafor has been the second-best player in America this season. He was neither the best nor the second-best player in Houston last weekend, but Okafor is poised for a rebound (or 15) against an undersized Michigan State squad, which has only two regulars taller than 6’6” (Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling). The consensus two best players in that South regional – fellow Blue Devil freshmen Justise Winslow and South Region MOP Tyus Jones – will also feature prominently this weekend. Winslow’s profile has risen as much as any player’s this NCAA Tournament, and with mostly good reason. The enigmatic forward has saved his best basketball of the season for March, averaging 14 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1.8 blocks per game in the Tournament. Throw in Jones, the steady hand guiding the leash on this explosive Duke offense, and the case could easily be made that Duke will have the three best players on the floor in this game. Read the rest of this entry »

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Final Four Fact Sheet: Wisconsin Badgers

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on April 2nd, 2015

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Midway through a week before the most highly-anticipated Final Four in years, let’s do a reset on each of the four teams still standing. Today’s victims: Michigan State (published this morning) and Wisconsin.

How Wisconsin Got Here

West Region Champions. The West Region’s top unit began its NCAA Tournament run by downing #16 seed Coastal Carolina, then fighting off pesky #8 seed Oregon in the round of 32. Wisconsin headed out to Los Angeles the following weekend, where it overcame a seven-point deficit to beat #4 seed North Carolina before pouring in 1.33 points per possession against #2 seed Arizona to reach its second straight Final Four.

Wisconsin is the most efficient offensive team in a long time. (Hans Gutknecht/Los Angeles Daily News)

Wisconsin is the most efficient offensive team in a long time. (Hans Gutknecht/Los Angeles Daily News)

The Coach

Bo Ryan. Wisconsin has made the NCAA Tournament in each of Ryan’s 14 seasons in Madison and never once finished worse than fourth place in the Big Ten standings. He’s been an enormously successful head coach from the get-go, and yet until recently the prevailing narrative was that his ‘system’ – tailoring recruiting to fit his swing offense instead of the other way around – precluded any deep March runs. So much for that. The 67-year-old has now led the Badgers to back-to-back Final Fours, developed unheralded recruit Frank Kaminsky into a legitimate NBA prospect, enabled blue-chipper Sam Dekker to fully realize his talent, and put the Badgers in position to compete for its first National Championship since 1941.

Style

Ryan’s swing offense is predicated on floor spacing, good perimeter ball movement, off-ball screening and cutting. It’s incredibly slow – the second-slowest in college basketball (21.7 seconds per possession) – and also incredibly effective. Wisconsin leads the country in adjusted offensive efficiency. The Badgers take 37.5 percent of their shots from behind the arc, the highest rate among Final Four teams, while earning trips to the free throw line at the second-lowest rate ahead of only Michigan State. On the other end, Wisconsin focuses on playing tough, half-court man-to-man defense without fouling. Read the rest of this entry »

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Rushed Reactions: #7 Michigan State 76, #4 Louisville 70 (OT)

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 29th, 2015

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

Michigan State is headed to Indianapolis. (Dennis Nett / Syracuse.com)

Michigan State is headed to Indianapolis. (Dennis Nett / Syracuse.com)

  1. Overtime giveth, overtime taketh away. Michigan State went 2-5 in overtime games prior to today, including a six-point home loss to Richard Pitino-coached Minnesota in February and an 11-point defeat against Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game. Louisville had only played one overtime contest before this afternoon – a 10-point victory over North Carolina. Yet, despite that recent history – with the stakes higher than ever – the basketball gods looked favorably upon the Spartans during the extra period. Bryn Forbes (14 points) knocked down a three-pointer to tip things off. The Cardinals, on the other hand, missed two early shots, including a layup. Branden Dawson found himself in perfect position for a late, game-clinching offensive rebound and putback that essentially sealed the win. “Sometimes it can be a cruel game,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said afterward, referring to the fickle nature of bonus basketball. In another tight game with razor-thin margin for error, good fortune finally went the way of Michigan State.
  2. Michigan State clamped down in second half. Louisville shredded Michigan State’s interior defense in the first half, shooting 13-of-27 from two-point land and scoring 31 of its 40 points from inside the arc or at the free throw line. Cardinal forward Montrezl Harrell – who scored 24 points against North Carolina State on Friday – scored 12 in the game’s opening 11 minutes, helping his team grab an eight-point lead at the break. Then the Spartans clamped down. Over the final 25 minutes of regulation and overtime, Louisville shot just 6-of-32 from the field and mustered only an additional 30 points. Michigan State shut down the lane – limiting the Cardinals’ dribble penetration and collapsing on Harrell (who only scored four points the rest of the way) – and did a better job extending on shooters. That defensive stinginess enabled Izzo’s club to climb back in the game and ultimately wind up on top.
  3. Another Elite Eight thriller. As if last night’s Notre Dame-Kentucky game wasn’t enough, the Elite Eight delivered yet another thrilling finish in Syracuse today. The back-and-forth second half was filled with momentum swings and fraught with drama, including Mangok Mathiang’s game-tying free throw at the end of regulation that seemingly hung in the air for minutes before falling through the net. All told, the lead changed 11 different times and was tied on nine different occasions before Michigan State grabbed the final edge in overtime. If regional weekend is a sign of things to come, then next week’s Final Four should be nothing short of excellent.

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Circle of March: Vol. XXIV

Posted by rtmsf on March 29th, 2015

What a fun couple of games in the first half of the Elite Eight tonight. Here’s hoping for two more on Sunday afternoon. Six remain!

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Eliminations (03.28.15)

  • Notre Dame
  • Arizona
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NCAA Game Analysis: Elite Eight Sunday

Posted by Bennet Hayes & Tommy Lemoine on March 29th, 2015

RTC_NCAA15

The Elite Eight is here. Two more games that have a chance to become classics. Let’s break them down.

#4 Louisville vs. #7 Michigan State – East Region Elite Right (at Syracuse, NY) – at 2:20 PM ET on CBS

Denzel Valentine and the Spartans hope to wind up in Indy next weekend. (Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports)

Denzel Valentine and the Spartans hope to wind up in Indy next weekend. (Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports)

Rick Pitino and Tom Izzo are no strangers to this stage, or each other. The Hall of Fame Louisville coach ranks fourth all-time with seven Final Four appearances, including two since 2012. The 20th-year Michigan State head man trails just behind with six, along with four Elite Eight trips since 2009. And for the third time in seven years, their teams will meet in the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. This is familiar territory. What’s not familiar, though, is the route each team took to reach this point. Unlike in 2009 and 2012 – when both teams were either #1 or #2-seeds – the Cardinals and Spartans enter this afternoon’s contest having endured rocky seasons with somewhat limited expectations. Izzo’s club lost 11 games this year, including a baffling home loss to Texas Southern in mid-December. Pitino’s unit dismissed point guard and top three-point shooter Chris Jones in late February, further exacerbating its offensive woes. Yet here they both are, playing for the right to move on to Indianapolis.

So what should we expect from these resilient teams? For Louisville, this much we know: its defense – ranked fifth nationally in adjusted efficiency – will be stout. As per usual for Pitino-coached squads, it will apply heavy ball pressure and limit good looks from behind the arc (30% 3PT defense). What’s been surprising about its three-game run, however, is the offensive production. Against Northern Iowa and North Carolina State, the Cardinals scored 1.2 and 1.17 points per possession, respectively, and received high-efficiency, high-production performances from both Terry Rozier (25 points; 146 ORtg against the Panthers) and Montrezl Harrell (24 points; 150 ORtg against the Wolfpack). The newfound offensive consistency – especially in the half-court – has turned them into a substantially more well-rounded unit, one that looks much closer to the team that began the year 11-0.

The specific areas of Michigan State’s recent improvement are slightly harder to pin-point but no less impactful. Power forward Branden Dawson has been playing his best basketball of the season – on both ends of the court – since the start of the Big Ten tournament onward. The Spartans have done a better job taking care of the ball, suffering just five miscues against Oklahoma on Friday night. And Travis Trice (20.6 PPG in NCAA Tournament) has emerged as the teams’ consistent, go-to scorer – something it lacked earlier in the year. All of the little things seem to be coming together for Izzo’s group at the right time.

This afternoon’s matchup might ultimately come down to a few key factors: Louisville’s ability to score around the rim against Michigan State’s interior defense (43.6% 2PT), and whether the Spartans can keep their offensive cool against the Cardinals’ various matchup zone and man-to-man defensive looks. Oddly, North Carolina State kept itself alive on Friday by knocking down shots from behind the arc (9-for-20 3FG) against Louisville, but struggled to score in the paint. Izzo’s club will need a little bit of both today, and certainly needs to take care of the ball. Likewise, Dawson, Matt Costello, and the rest of Michigan State’s big men cannot allow Harrell and Louisville’s penetrating guards nearly as many good looks near the basket as they found on Friday. In the end, I like Michigan State’s ability to crash the offensive glass (33.9% OReb) against the Cardinals’ sub-par defensive rebounding (30.9% DReb) to be the difference – not to mention the fact that doubting Izzo on the back-end of an NCAA Tournament weekend seems foolish. Expect a thrilling, hotly-contested and well-coached contest either way.

The RTC Certified Pick: Michigan State

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Kentucky 68, #3 Notre Dame 66

Posted by rtmsf on March 28th, 2015

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

The Wildcats Survived and Advanced to 38-0 in Thrilling Fashion (USA Today Images)

The Wildcats Survived and Advanced to 38-0 in Thrilling Fashion (USA Today Images)

  1. What a game. That was without question the best game of this year’s NCAA Tournament and if you take a step back it ranks up there in terms of all-time NCAA Tournament games as well. If that desperation three by Jerian Grant had dropped you could make a case for this being the greatest game in NCAA Tournament history and that shot being the greatest as well (only the 1992 Duke-Kentucky game with Laettner would compare). You had a pair of sensational offensive performances from Zach Auguste (20 points) and Karl-Anthony Towns (25 points) who each went 10-of-13 from the field in keeping their teams in contention. Although Notre Dame only went 4-of-14 from three tonight, they seemed to hit nearly every big three except for the final one. On top of that, both teams made huge plays down the stretch. The game, which was already being played at a very high level, ramped up to another level when Aaron Harrison and Jerian Grant hit massive and deep three-pointers on consecutive possessions. In the end, Andrew Harrison was able to step up and hit two clutch free throws followed by Grant’s desperation shot, and the Wildcats survived with their undefeated season intact as they head to Indianapolis.
  2. Notre Dame was not afraid. It sounds ridiculous to say that the ACC champion should be intimidated by anybody, but perhaps the most important thing that Notre Dame did today was to treat Kentucky like any other team on its schedule. Notre Dame is clearly talented, but outside of Grant and maybe Jackson, none of the Irish players would get significant minutes in Kentucky’s rotation (more a reflection of Kentucky’s ridiculous depth than Notre Dame’s lack of talent). For much of the season, the narrative has been that to beat Kentucky you need to hit three-pointers and avoid engaging them in the paint where their size can overwhelm you. Notre Dame did just the opposite of that early, forgoing the three and taking it right at the Wildcats. The final box score will show that Irish hit four three-pointers on the night, but they only hit one in the first half (on just five attempts) and the ones later in the game were the result of penetration and phenomenal ball movement.
  3. You need to be lucky (and really good) to go undefeated. Credit Kentucky for finding a way to win yet again, but this was their stiffest challenge all season long. They have played several tight games over the course of the year, but this was the first time that they were in a game against a team this good and unlikely to beat itself. No matter how good you are, however, you need a little luck to get through these types of games. Kentucky might not have been at its absolute peak tonight, but they played well, and unlike UNLV in 1991, Kentucky found a way to survive its own upset (at least for now). Having said that, the Wildcats could have easily folded or imploded especially when Notre Dame went up by six points with 6:14 left. Instead they showed they are more than just the most talented college team we can remember by showing their mental toughness and finding yet another way to win. There was never really a question of whether they would play together; instead, it was a question of who would step up and they found plenty of players who were capable of making big plays on both ends down the stretch.

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Circle of March: Vol. XXIII

Posted by rtmsf on March 28th, 2015

And then there were eight. We now move into the hurry up and wait part of the NCAA Tournament, with long delays between the action. Still, we’re on pace to have only four teams standing in about 36 hours. Enjoy the Elite Eight!

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Eliminations (03.27.15)

  • Utah
  • Oklahoma
  • UCLA
  • NC State
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