Kansas Offense Clicking on All Cylinders With Its Biggest Questions Answered

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 30th, 2014

Back in October, when we had nothing on which to evaluate the season but preview magazines and computer projections, the biggest questions surrounding Kansas were whether Naadir Tharpe would develop into a mature, trustworthy distributor, and how long it would take for Andrew Wiggins to mesh into Bill Self‘s balanced system. As we now near the halfway mark of conference play, the Jayhawks appear to have fully answered both of those questions. It’s why Kansas looks poised to lock down a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and why they have to be considered among the heavy favorites to cut down the nets in Arlington.

A newly-confident Andrew Wiggins has Kansas plowing through conference play. Again. (Denny Medley/USA TODAY)

A newly-confident Andrew Wiggins has Kansas plowing through conference play. Again. (Denny Medley/USA TODAY)

League play is supposed to be tougher than non-league play, but Tharpe apparently missed that memo. The junior has been terrific in seven games against Big 12 opponents, scoring 11.9 points and dishing out 5.6 assists per game to just 1.7 turnovers per outing. All of those numbers are better than his non-conference splits. While many of his made field goals have been the worst kind to take (long twos), he’s hit plenty of them, so while it may not be a sustainable method of shot selection, his execution has opened up space for his teammates, and there may not be a bigger beneficiary on the team than Wiggins. After exploding against TCU over the weekend, he he had another big night on Wednesday against Iowa State, scoring an efficient 29 points (a new career high) on just 16 shots. He looked more comfortable and confident than perhaps at any other point in the season, calmly making 4-of-6 three-pointers, and when Kansas needed to get some separation with the game in the balance late in the second half, he was there to provide it.

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Big 12 Power Rankings: Kansas is Finally Finding Itself

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 13th, 2014

Going into last Wednesday’s game against Oklahoma, Bill Self told his players that conference play was a “new season” and that everything would be “fresh and new from this point forward.” The young Jayhawks have heeded that message so far, getting past the Sooners and soundly beating Kansas State on Saturday. With a 2-0 start in the Big 12, we all figured they would rise in this week’s power rankings, but by how much? Is your top 10 shaped differently than ours? That’s what the comments are for.

It appears safe to close the panic button for Bill Self and the Jayhawks. (AP Photo)

It appears safe to close the panic button for Bill Self and the Jayhawks. (AP Photo)

1. Kansas — 6 points (previous: 3rd; Brian-1st, Kory-1st, Nate-3rd, Taylor-1st)

Comment: “It’s looking like Kansas’ non-conference struggles were nothing more than one of the youngest teams in the country playing one of the toughest schedules in the country. The Jayhawks have looked good the last two games and now have four legitimate threats to have a big game any on night: Andrew Wiggins,  Perry Ellis, Joel Embiid, and Wayne Selden.” – Kory Carpenter (@Kory_Carpenter)

2. Iowa State — 7 points (previous: 1st; Brian-2nd, Kory-2nd, Nate-1st, Taylor-2nd)

Comment: “I didn’t feel like I should drop the Cyclones in my top 10 — they lost to a pretty good Oklahoma team by five on the road. The winner of Kansas-Iowa State tonight will likely take my top spot next week.” – Nate Kotisso (@natekotisso)

3. Oklahoma State — 13 points (previous: 4th; Brian-3rd, Kory-3rd, Nate-4th, Taylor-3rd)

Comment: “Travis Ford’s squad avoided a disastrous start to conference play by knocking down a big three late to give them the win in Morgantown. If the Cowboys would have dropped two of their first three in league play to teams in the middle tier of the conference, they could have kissed their Big 12 title hopes goodbye.” – Taylor Erickson (@tc_erickson)

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Four Takeaways From Kansas’ Win Over Oklahoma

Posted by Kory Carpenter on January 9th, 2014

It’s true that a team’s conference opener is never a “must-win game,” but the road to Kansas’ 10th straight Big 12 championship would have gotten a lot tougher had the Jayhawks lost at Oklahoma Wednesday evening. The Sooners aren’t bad at all, but with the next four Kansas games coming against Kansas State, Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Baylor, the Jayhawks’ hole in the conference race would have felt much bigger than 0-1. Alas, Kansas escaped with a 90-83 victory in Norman, improving to 10-4 on the year and showing some glimpses of their potential in March. Here are four key takeaways from last night’s win.

Wayne Selden had everything working against the Sooners. (AP)

Wayne Selden had everything working against the Sooners. (AP)

  1. Wayne Selden scored in double-figures for just the fifth time this season, finishing with a career-high 24 points and showing us why he is a projected first round draft pick in June. He was 5-of-10 from three-point range, and while it appeared to be a flukish shooting night (his three-point shooting on the season is at 37.5 percent), it should give him plenty of confidence going forward. The Jayhawks desperately need consistent long-range shooting to open up the lane for its drivers and big men, and Selden is as good a candidate as any. Read the rest of this entry »
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Four Takeaways From Kansas’ Loss to San Diego State

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 6th, 2014

The Jayhawks were handed a rare home non-conference loss by Steve Fisher’s Aztecs on Sunday afternoon. Here are the top four things we learned about Bill Self’s team in the surprising defeat.

Frank Mason wasn't the only Jayhawk who had problems getting up quality shots. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Frank Mason wasn’t the only Jayhawk who had problems getting up quality shots. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

  1. Interior toughness leaves a lot to be desired. One look at Joel Embiid’s line – 12 points, 12 rebounds, and five blocks – would suggest otherwise, but this was a night for Kansas to forget when it came to interior defense. San Diego State won despite taking only eight three-pointers and shooting just 37 percent from the field, meaning they got it done with rebounding and putbacks. The Jayhawks deeply miss Jeff Withey, who excelled at swatting shots in a way that allowed his team to take over possession. On Sunday, Kansas blocked 13 shots, but most of those went right back to the Aztecs, and on some instances, SDSU laid the ball right back into the basket within a few seconds. Given the final score of 61-57, a couple of bounces may have been the difference between Kansas winning and losing this game, but while the analytical take is to say that it was just bad luck, this isn’t the first time the Jayhawks have been beaten on the interior. That’s somewhat disconcerting for Bill Self’s team going forward. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 M5: 12.30.13 Edition

Posted by Taylor Erickson on December 30th, 2013

morning5_big12

  1. With the Big 12 season soon to be underway, conference foes will battle it out on the hardwood on nearly a nightly basis. Kansas and Iowa State will also go toe-to-toe in a recruiting battle for one of the top remaining prospects in the class of 2014 in 6’5″ shooting guard Rashad Vaughn. Vaughn is Rival’s 7th ranked recruit, and a teammate of Kansas commit Kelly Oubre, who attends Findlay Prep in Henderson, Nevada, with Vaughn.  Kentucky, North Carolina, and UNLV also made Vaughn’s final five schools, but many believe Iowa State will be the school to beat to earn his commitment.
  2. Speaking of Iowa State, the school announced on Sunday that junior guard K.J. Bluford has decided to leave the program.  Bluford was in his first season with the Cyclones after transferring from Northeast Nebraska Community College, and has averaged 2.7 points per game for Fred Hoiberg’s squad this year. Hoiberg’s strategy to comb the transfer market yearly for new additions to his squad has worked with tremendous success, and given how little impact Bluford has had this season, this loss shouldn’t have a huge impact on Iowa State moving forward.
  3. It’s been obvious through the non-conference season that the top of the Big 12 – Kansas, Oklahoma State, Baylor, and Iowa State – is perhaps better than anyone thought heading into the season, but lost in the shuffle is the quiet 11-1 start Lon Kruger and Oklahoma have gotten off to, with their lone loss coming at the hands of Michigan State. As Dick Vitale points out in his most recent column, Oklahoma will have a chance to quickly prove how viable that record is as they begin Big 12 play with a gauntlet of games out of the gate. Getting off to a good start will be key in strengthening a resume for post season play.
  4. If history is any indicator, the Christmas break will pay dividends for Kansas as they push towards league play. Bill Self’s team used the break the last week to recover from a variety of injuries, including a bruised nerve suffered by forward Perry Ellis and a nagging hip pointer that has kept guard Andrew White III out of the last few contests. It’s not uncommon to see some Bill Self teams struggle before the break, but it will be important for this team to take a big step forward like many teams in the past.
  5. TCU continued their improved play this season on Sunday with a 77-64 win over Texas Southern, and while the victory is nice, the play of junior forward Amric Fields may be the bigger story.  Fields scored 17 points in the win as he continues his return after missing all but three games a season ago due to an ACL injury. Head coach Trent Johnson has been mindful of Fields’ minutes while Fields works to get back into playing shape.
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Tarik Black Breaks Through For Kansas

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 23rd, 2013

When Tarik Black transferred to Kansas back in May, the perception was that the former Memphis Tiger would contribute experience, stability, and strength down low while the Jayhawks developed Perry Ellis into a consistent threat and showed Joel Embiid what it took to succeed at the college level. Kansas needed to rebuild its frontcourt after Jeff Withey and Kevin Young graduated, and Black was going to be relied upon to do for Bill Self what several players have done for coaches looking to the NCAA’s post-graduate transfer rule for help with roster turnover: provide a leg up and buy the staff time to develop its younger pieces. Then the season started, but a weird thing happened. Black sat and sat and sat.

Tarik Black could be emerging for the Jayhawks just in time for conference play. (Charlie Riedel/AP)

Tarik Black could be emerging for the Jayhawks just in time for conference play. (Charlie Riedel/AP)

Unable to stay out of foul trouble, Black played just six minutes against Duke in Kansas’ biggest game of their non-conference slate. He played eight minutes in the team’s first loss, a 63-59 defeat at the hands of Villanova. He committed at least three fouls in six of his first seven games and seven of his first eight as a Jayhawk. Even when given extended minutes, he struggled to stay productive, missing close looks, while Embiid showed such accelerated development that he earned Black’s spot in the starting lineup. As a point of reference, when Embiid started playing organized basketball three years ago, Black was beginning his collegiate career after committing to Memphis as a highly-touted prospect. Read the rest of this entry »

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Four Takeaways From Kansas’ Win Over New Mexico

Posted by kory Carpenter is a RTC Big 12 contributor. You can find him on Twitter @Kory_Carpenter on December 16th, 2013

Kansas rebounded from last week’s loss to Florida nicely Saturday night with an 80-63 win over New Mexico in Kansas City. The Jayhawks had lost three out of four games coming into that one, but showed signs of improvement against a good Lobos squad. It was a strong enough performance to jump Kansas from #13 to #6 on kenpom.com. Here are a few takeaways from Saturday night’s win.

Don't expect Joel Embiid to be in Lawrence much longer. (Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports)

Don’t expect Joel Embiid to be in Lawrence much longer. (Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Naadir Tharpe looks to be Bill Self’s point guard going forward. He had lost the starting job over the previous two games to freshman Frank Mason, but the switch wasn’t successful. Mason has a higher ceiling but he isn’t a true point guard, at least not at this point in his career. In the two games he started against Colorado and Florida, Mason averaged only two assists per game and committed seven turnovers. Tharpe returned to the starting unit against New Mexico, played 37 minutes, and had a better than 2:1 assist/turnover ratio in the contest (nine assists, four turnovers). The question remains whether he can bring that kind of performance to bear for six consecutive games in March, but there is no use looking anywhere else at this point.
  2. Bill Self joked after the game that the more freshman center Joel Embiid plays, the less time he will spend in Lawrence. The Cameroon native had 18 points in 25 minutes, shot 80 percent from the free throw line, grabbed six rebounds, rejected four shots, and gave us an Hakeem Olajuwon/Dream Shake impression that not many other college players can do (and really, how many pros?). With so few talented centers in the NBA and a history of GMs drafting on the notion of potential, don’t be shocked if Embiid jumps over the superstar freshman trio of Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle and gets selected No. 1 overall in next summer’s NBA Draft. He has that much upside. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 M5: 12.16.13 Edition

Posted by Kory Carpenter on December 16th, 2013

morning5_big12

  1. If you missed Iowa State’s annual game against Iowa Friday night, you missed a great one. Both teams were ranked for the first time in what seems like forever (26 years), and the sold-out Hilton Coliseum crowd was rewarded with an 85-82 Cyclones’ win over the Hawkeyes. Georges Niang had 24 points, telling Bobby La Gesse of the Ames Tribune: “I felt like it was my night.” Iowa State improved to 8-0 with the win and barring a home upset against George Mason or Northern Illinois over the next two-plus, will enter 2014 and Big 12 play undefeated.
  2. If you haven’t seen Kansas center Joel Embiid’s Hakeem Olajuwon/Dream Shake impression yet, drop what you’re doing and watch the GIF at the bottom of this SI.com piece, or check out the full video here. It’s amazing that Embiid was a soccer player until just a few years ago who is still relatively new to playing basketball. He shot up the recruiting rankings during his last year of high school and is shooting up NBA mock drafts this season. Don’t be shocked if he becomes a top-three pick next summer.
  3. Marcus Smart appears to have changed his game following Oklahoma State’s loss to Memphis two weeks ago. “I’m just trying to focus and make sure I don’t force a lot of things because I do have a talented group of guys around me,” he told John Helsley of The Oklahoman after the Cowboys’ 70-55 win over Louisiana Tech Saturday. Smart had 13 points, five assists, and four steals in the win.
  4. CBSSports.com NBA writer Matt Moore updated his 2014 mock draft over the weekend and Andrew Wiggins fell to the second pick overall behind Duke freshman Jabari Parker. Joel Embiid was fourth, Marcus Smart seventh, Wayne Selden eighth, Perry Ellis 25th, and Isaiah Austin 29th. Second round selections included Cory Jefferson at 44th and Le’Bryan Nash at 51st. Moore had this to say about Nash, the former five-star recruit: “Such a highly touted high school player doesn’t seem to have enough to offer a sure player to make a roster, but he’s not bad enough to fall out of the draft completely, right?”
  5. Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid have gotten most of the national spotlight this season, and rightly so, as both players are likely top-five picks. But it’s no coincidence that as Perry Ellis goes, so go the Jayhawks,  Jeff Borzello at CBSSports.com writes. As he notes, Ellis has struggled in Kansas’ bad games and been great in big wins, most notably his 24-point, nine-rebound performance in the Jayhawks’ 94-83 over Duke last month.
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College Basketball by the Tweets: Some Good Tuesday Night Games

Posted by David Harten on December 11th, 2013

bythetweets

“Quality over quantity” might be the best way to describe Tuesday night in college basketball. A majority of schools are in finals week, and as a result, players need their study time. So that means rest. Or easy opponents. Or both. But that wasn’t the case with No. 13 Kansas and No. 19 Florida yesterday. It’s safe to assume that these two schools aren’t in finals prep this week, so they took the opportunity to play each other in Gainesville. Jayhawks coach Bill Self went with four freshmen in the starting lineup. It perhaps wasn’t the greatest of ideas against the Gators’ dual point guard system, but it was the Gators’ zone that stifled Joel Embiid, Perry Ellis and most of the rest of the Jayhawks, leading to a 67-61 win. This prompted a short debate about KU’s offense versus the zone.

Part of the situation with Self seemed weird. Why start four freshmen? It almost seemed like a move that Chuck Daly would make, a la the 1992 Dream Team’s scrimmage against that college all-star team (although I’d be willing to bet Self wouldn’t throw the game.) Maybe it was a move to prepare the Jayhawks’ youth for the conference season, when trips to Manhattan, Stillwater, Ames and Norman await.

That youth showed early for Kansas, who allowed the Gators to go on an blistering 21-0 run. Andrew Wiggins keyed a near comeback, bringing his team back to within range before Florida held them off. For the most part, Kansas was sloppy with the ball, couldn’t shoot and was horrible defensively.

It all added up to a 67-61 loss. Read the rest of this entry »

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Previewing Saturday’s Kansas/Colorado Battle

Posted by Brian Goodman (@bsgoodman) & Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on December 6th, 2013

There are a lot of interesting non-conference battles around the country this weekend in advance of finals coming up in the next few weeks. Big 12 correspondent Brian Goodman (@bsgoodman) and Pac-12 writer Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) teamed up to offer this breakdown of one of them: Kansas at Colorado, Saturday 1:15 PM MST on ESPN2.

Kansas will win if… it gets its offense back in order. After beating Wake Forest last week, the Jayhawks turned in underwhelming performances against Villanova and UTEP, shooting less than 40 percent from the field in both games. The reasons behind Kansas’ struggles have gravitated from the odd setting of the Battle 4 Atlantis, to KU’s inexperience, to the fact that Andrew Wiggins played through illness. Bill Self weighed in earlier this week and felt as though last month’s win over Duke “spoiled them a little,” perhaps leading to a more passive attitude than what we’re used to seeing out of Self’s teams. Regardless of what you want to point to as the biggest factor, the Jayhawks need to get their scorers out of their recent funks, and the best way for them to do that is to go inside and test Josh Scott and Wesley Gordon early. If Perry Ellis, Wiggins and Joel Embiid establish inside dominance in the first half, it will go a long way toward opening cleaner looks behind the three-point line, an area where the Jayhawks are much better than what they showed in three games in the Bahamas.

Andrew Wiggins And Company Will Look To Bounce Back From Last Weekend's Disappointment With A Road Win At Colorado

Andrew Wiggins And Company Will Look To Bounce Back From Last Weekend’s Disappointment With A Road Win At Colorado

Kansas will lose if… its backcourt struggles. We haven’t hit winter break yet, but Bill Self is already shaking up his lineup, opting to start freshman Frank Mason over junior Naadir Tharpe, per KUSports.com. Normally, going with potential over experience would be more of a shock, but on this team, in this season, what’s one more freshman being elevated into a more prominent role? Mason has opened eyes in the early going with his fearlessness despite standing just 5’11”, and while he isn’t a pass-first point guard (at least not yet), he can find the open man when defenses collapse on him. The point guard spot hasn’t been a gaping liability for the Jayhawks, but history suggests that Kansas’ best teams have featured floor generals with more of a bulldog mentality in the mold of Sherron Collins or Tyshawn Taylor, and that’s what Mason can provide. Will he embrace that role from the get-go, or will the minutes still shake out to more of a committee setup? While the Jayhawks have talented creators up and down their roster, they’ll be reliant on passers to deliver the ball in high-percentage spots until those playmakers gain the confidence and aggression necessary for Kansas to reach its potential. That’s where Askia Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie can cause problems against a less-experienced guard like Mason. Mix in the altitude and the knowledge that a young Kansas team will be playing its first true road game of the season and we could have a surprise on our hands.

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Feast Week Mission Briefing: Kansas in the Battle 4 Atlantis

Posted by Kory Carpenter (@Kory_Carpenter) on November 27th, 2013

With Feast Week already in high gear, we’re outlining the roads ahead for prominent Big 12 teams involved in neutral site events this week.

What They’ve Done So Far: The #2 Kansas Jayhawks have played as well as fans could have expected through four games this season. They have beaten three cupcakes by 22.3 PPG and knocked off then-#4 Duke at the Champions Classic in Chicago. The inside-out combination of sophomore forward Perry Ellis and freshman guard Andrew Wiggins is averaging 16.8 PPG, freshman center Joel Embiid showed flashes of greatness in his 16-point, 13-rebound performance against Iona, and the Jayhawks lead the country in field goal shooting at 56.8 percent. The one major concern heading into the season — point guard play — has been anything but a problem early. Junior Naadir Tharpe is averaging 6.7 APG with a 3.3 to 1 assist-to-turnover ratio, and freshman backup Frank Mason has been nearly as impressive, playing 18 MPG and averaging 8.3 PPG, 3.5 APG, and just 0.5 turnovers per game. Bill Self has about 87 different lineups he can throw out at anytime — he can go big, small, fast or slow and there isn’t much of a dropoff between each combination. The Jayhawks are deeper than any team Self has had; they have three potential one-and-done freshmen in the starting lineup in Andrew Wiggins, Wayne Selden and Joel Embiid; and, they have veterans like Naadir Tharpe and Perry Ellis to guide the youngsters. It’s not too early to say Final Four or Bust with this team.

Andrew Wiggins Leads Kansas To The Bahamas This Week.

Andrew Wiggins Leads Kansas To The Bahamas This Week.

First Round Preview Wake Forest is 5-0 but the competition has been less than stellar in that record. Wins over Colgate, VMI, Presbyterian, Jacksonville, and The Citadel aren’t proper warm-ups for a Top 25 team, much less a team as talented as Kansas. Defensively, the Jayhawks will need to slow down sophomore guard Codi Miller-McIntyre, who leads the Demon Deacons with 18.6 PPG and 4.8 APG. He opened the season with four straight 20-point games and is the focal point for the Deacons’ offense. Rebounding will be key in this first round match-up. Wake Forest is currently second in the nation with 49.2 RPG, but Kansas is grabbing 83 percent of its opponents’ misses, fifth best in the country. The Demon Deacons aren’t far behind themselves at 81 percent.

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Big 12 M5: 11.19.13 Edition

Posted by KoryCarpenter on November 19th, 2013

morning5_big12

  1. Iowa State senior Melvin Ejim and Kansas underclassmen Perry Ellis and Andrew Wiggins earned Big 12 weekly honors, which were announced on Monday. Ellis, a sophomore forward, scored 24 points in last week’s win against Duke. Wiggins was named Big 12 Newcomer of the Week after finishing with 22 points against Duke. Ejim, a senior forward, made his season debut against #7 Michigan Sunday afternoon and led all scorers with 22 points and nine rebounds.
  2. Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg couldn’t have asked for a better visit from Rivals.com’s #7 overall player Rashad Vaughn last weekend. It was capped with an impressive 77-70 win over #7 Michigan Sunday afternoon in Hilton Coliseum. Vaughn told Randy Peterson of the Des Moines Register that the relationships he builds with coaches and schools will be a big factor in his recruitment, and the fact that Hoiberg played major college ball seems to be a positive for the Cyclones. Vaughn has offers from fellow Big 12 schools Baylor and Kansas as well as North Carolina and a handful of others. For the Big 12’s sake, Vaughn moving to Ames would be great for the league.
  3. Bill Self didn’t expect his team to jump Louisville for the #2 spot in this week’s AP poll, less than a week after knocking off #4 Duke in Chicago. “That doesn’t make any sense to me,” he told the Kansas City Star’s Rustin Dodd Monday. Actually, it makes plenty of sense. The only thing worse than preseason rankings is voters hesitating to move teams down just because they won. National rankings should be based on resumes, not how your ballot looked last week. If Kansas has a better resume than Louisville when the ballot is due, the Jayhawks should be ahead of them.
  4. Oklahoma signed three recruits on signing day last week and as Ryan Aber points out, head coach Lon Kruger filled the holes he needed to fill to keep the momentum going around the Sooner basketball program. Two of the players, Dante Buford and Khadeem Lattin, are in the Rivals Top 150 for the class of 2014 and both players should make immediate impacts in the front court for the Sooners next season as freshmen.
  5. If West Virginia plans on bouncing back after last season’s forgettable showing, Eron Harris and Juwan Staten will have to play big roles offensively. They did just that on Sunday in a 96-83 win over Duquesne in Morgantown. The defense left a lot to be desired, but 61 combined points from Harris and Staten was more than enough for the Mountaineers. As Staten told Garrett Cullen here, the new hand checking rules should help both players immensely this season.
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