Set Your TiVo: 02.22.12

Posted by EJacoby on February 22nd, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

There are a lot of good teams in action on Wednesday, but most of them are strong favorites in their games. The two best matchups of the night are taking place in the Big East and Big Ten.

Here’s the breakdown and what else to watch for:

West Virginia at #17 Notre Dame – 7:00 PM ET on ESPN2 (****)

Mike Brey's Team Has Won Eight in a Row and Looks Really Strong (AP Photo/J. Raymond)

  • It seems like every game that West Virginia plays is a toss-up, and this one is no different. The Mountaineers have lost five of their last seven but are coming off a big win at Pittsburgh where they were slight underdogs. They are once again slight underdogs in South Bend to take on the red-hot Fighting Irish. WVU usually plays strong perimeter defense, which will force the Irish guards into running more difficult offense, but will the Mountaineers’ own guards provide enough scoring punch? Truck Bryant has been a good secondary scorer at 16.6 PPG in Big East play, but no other guard averages more than eight points per night. They need someone else to step up to complement Bryant and Kevin Jones. Jones remains a stud this season and you can all but lock up 20 points and 10 rebounds from him. The Mountaineers will try to out-tough the Irish by controlling the boards with their 54.1% rebounding percentage in Big East games, tops in the conference.
  • Notre Dame hasn’t lost in over a month, winning eight straight games and all in impressive fashion. They didn’t look great in their Saturday night game at Villanova, but the Irish still came back from a 20-point deficit and closed out a road game in overtime. Five different Notre Dame players have led the team in scoring during its winning streak, and the offense has been tremendously well-rounded. They can pound the ball inside to Jack Cooley (12.2 PPG, 9.3 RPG), find surging Pat Connaughton from the outside (12.6 PPG in his last five games), or use strong guard duo Eric Atkins (13.0 PPG) and Jerian Grant (12.9 PPG) to make plays. The question will be whether Mike Brey‘s team can execute against WVU’s tough defense or grab any offensive boards against the strong defensive rebounding team.
  • West Virginia is the best rebounding team in the Big East while Notre Dame’s 49.4% rebound percentage is just 13th in the conference. The Mountaineers could control this game if they dominate the boards, but otherwise the Irish should find a much easier time scoring with their diverse offensive sets. Notre Dame is just a three-point favorite in what is expected to be a tight matchup.

#5 Michigan State at Minnesota – 8:30 PM ET on Big Ten Network (***)

  • Michigan State has won five straight, seven of its last eight, and looks like a strong candidate for an NCAA #1 seed. Draymond Green is fully healthy and continues to state his case for Big Ten Player of the Year, but it’s the secondary players that have come along. Freshman Branden Dawson continues to improve and has massive upside as a swing forward, while bigs Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix continue to play better and better as the season progresses. The Spartans remain one of the strongest defensive teams in the country and seem incredibly difficult to score on during stretches. There’s no reason to expect anything different against a struggling Golden Gophers offense. Tom Izzo‘s team is peaking yet again in the late stage of the season.
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After the Buzzer: A Wild and Wacky Wednesday Night to Close Out November…

Posted by rtmsf on December 1st, 2011

Tonight’s Lede. Big Ten Does It Again. Day two of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge finished in the same way as the first — with a Big Ten beatdown. The midwestern-based conference rode wins from Michigan State and Minnesota at home along with Penn State and Indiana on the road, to notch another 4-2 night and win the event convincingly, 8-4. Four of those eight victories this year came on ACC hardwood, showing that Big Ten teams can pick up victories in hostile environments regardless of location. It’s difficult to draw too much from late November events like these, but the eye and sniff test in watching pieces of the twelve games over the last two nights is highly suggestive that the Big Ten appears to go seven or eight teams deep this year for NCAA Tournament consideration, while the ACC looks to be in the neighborhood of five or six. As our columnist Evan Jacoby wrote in Night Line last night, the Big Ten has unquestionably earned the right to hold the mantle as the top conference in college basketball a few weeks into the season. The ACC appears to be in the mid-pack, perhaps as high as third but also maybe the worst of the five power conferences (the Pac-12 has some work to do to earn our good graces again).

Your Watercooler Moment. Double Overtime in the Thunderdome.

How Jacked Up Does the ThunderDome Look? (h/t @amurawa)

That’s right, we’re passing on the #4 North Carolina vs. #7 Wisconsin snoozer in favor of a high-intensity, mid-major game that went two overtimes and featured enough twists, turns and amazing plays to outdo the entire ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Luckily, our man Andrew Murawa was there for all 50 minutes of the action. Here’s his report (and some highlights from the UCSB side here).

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World University Games Featuring Many Returning Stars Tips Off Saturday

Posted by rtmsf on August 11th, 2011

The second major international basketball event of the summer involving collegians is set to tip off on Saturday, and Team USA appears that it will take a heavily perimeter-oriented team into the World University Games in Shenzhen, China.  Of the twelve-man roster of mostly rising juniors and seniors, the Yanks appear to be at a serious size disadvantage with only Greg Mangano (Yale) standing at 6’10” and the beefy but 6’8″-ish forwards Tim Abromaitis (Notre Dame), Trevor Mbakwe (Minnesota), JaMychal Green (Alabama) and Draymond Green (Michigan State) likely to be giving up several inches against many of their opponents.

As discussed when the tryout roster was released in June, the WUG hasn’t been kind to Team USA over the last decade of competition.  Only the 2005 team featuring Duke’s Shelden Williams brought home the gold medal, and even a 2009 team that had the pending NPOY Evan Turner on its squad could only merit a bronze.  Apologies to Ashton Gibbs (Pittsburgh) and Abromaitis, but it’s unlikely there’s a 2011-12 NPOY hiding on this roster, which means that Matt Painter‘s team will need to take advantage of his cadre of three-point bombers that he has at his disposal.  Gibbs, Abromaitis, Marcus Denmon (Missouri), John Jenkins (Vanderbilt), Darius Miller (Kentucky), and Orlando Johnson (UC Santa Barbara) all made better than 40% from distance last season.

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Weekend NCAA Diary From Tampa

Posted by rtmsf on March 21st, 2011

As you’re no doubt aware, we’ve had our cadre of correspondents traveling around the country to each of the eight NCAA sites over the weekend.  We’ve asked the guys to produce a weekend diary of the games they witnessed including analysis, commentary and opinion concerning the sights and sounds at their venues.  Our hope is that the diaries will give you insights into the games that you may not have otherwise had from watching them on television or catching the highlights package afterward.  Let us know how we do…

Note: for all of the opening weekend diaries, click here.

Location: Tampa, FL
Round: Third
Teams: Florida, UCLA, Kentucky, West Virginia
Date: 19 March 2011
Correspondent: Collin Sherwin

The Gators Advance to S16 First Time Since Back-to-Back (GS/A. Daye)
  • Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones from Kentucky are expected to head to the NBA, and they’ll both be high enough picks in a lousy draft that they probably should leave (assuming there’s no lockout that takes an entire year away). Tyler Honeycutt from UCLA really impressed me as well. He really controls the game for a smaller forward, and can fill it either off the bounce or on the perimeter. His comparable is probably a lesser Stephen Curry, and the rumor is he’s going to the League as well. If there was ever a year to justify leaving early, this is it.
  • I don’t see how Florida does it. It took some miracle shots from Erving Walker to get them past a more talented UCLA that dominated them inside. Reeves Nelson and Josh Smith were having their way with the Florida bigs, but somehow didn’t seem to be getting the ball enough. The Gators had no answer for the tandem inside, and are the classic “donut” team without a legitimate big. Patric Young for UF really looks like a manchild out there, and has a huge motor, but he’s still a bit raw. He could be a solution in the future, but I was honestly surprised that UCLA didn’t pull that game out. On most nights, the 7th seeded Bruins would advance, but Walker picked the right day to have possibly the best game of his career. The shot he hit from his rear end with about a minute to go left me with two images; the ball going in and the roar from the crowd, and a UCLA assistant coach slamming his portfolio into the chair next to him in frustration.
  • At halftime of UK-WVU, with the Wildcats down 41-33, I had no doubt Kentucky would win. No team that athletic and strong can be held down forever. John Calipari isn’t known as an X’s and O’s guy, but his adjustments to the WVU matchup zone were what led his team to a 9-0 run to start the second half. And I’m not sure why against inferior opponents he continues to call set plays. With the talent he has on the floor, their basic dribble drive motion offense is more than enough for teams to deal with by itself. Why waste some shot clock on a set when if you stick to your pattern you’re most likely going to get a good look in 35 seconds?
  • I think Chandler Parsons is almost too unselfish, and needs to assert himself more as a scorer. He’s 6’10 with unlimited range and clearly a good basketball IQ. I wouldn’t mind seeing him attack more, even if to help free up more space for his teammates. Would like to see him gain more of that killer instinct, but part of the problem is Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker have the ball in their hands a very high percentage of the time. I think the Gators have to find him a way to get more touches in spots where he can score.

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NCAA Second Round Game Analysis – Thursday

Posted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2011

Now that the Play-In First Four games are finished, let’s get back to normalcy with the best weekend of the year beginning this afternoon.  Sixteen games, eight sites, four television channels, and several million brackets busted by roughly 3:30 PM eastern time.

#5 West Virginia vs. #11 Clemson – East Region Second Round (at Tampa, FL) – 12:15 pm ET on CBS

Expect a low-scoring, gritty and physical opener for Thursday’s NCAA Tournament action, and not just because the tip time is barely after noon and Clemson arrived in Tampa just before the sun came up on Wednesday. Both of these teams pride themselves in their toughness defensively and play extremely hard on every possession. Clemson specializes in limiting opposing offenses inside the arc behind senior forward Jerai Grant prowess in the paint, while West Virginia limits their competition to below 30% shooting from the three-point line. While both Brad Brownell and Bob Huggins have a history of trotting out stalwart defenses, the edge offensively has to side with the Mountaineers. Kevin Jones has been playing his best basketball of the season as of late, posting three double-doubles in his last four outings. Casey Mitchell is a 38% gunner from deep that is tremendous off screens in catch and shoot situations where he barely needs any room to fire. Deniz Kilicli and John Flowers have aided what has turned out to be the sixth best offensive rebounding team in the nation, no surprise coming from a Huggins-coached squad. Clemson is merely middle of the pack in Division I in allowing offensive rebounds, so the Mountaineer frontline may be able to churn out extra possessions for their perimeter weapons throughout this game. Limiting Grant is certainly a challenge, but the WV frontline should be up to the task. Combine tired legs with Mitchell feasting on a perimeter defense that just surrendered 12 threes to UAB and the edge in this 5/12 matchup has to side with the Mountaineers.

The RTC Certified Pick: West Virginia.

#8 Butler vs. #9 Old Dominion – Southeast Region Second Round (at Washington, D.C.) – 12:40 pm ET on truTV.

Both teams have won their past nine games en route to conference tournament championships. Defense has been the key for each club during their winning streaks with Butler giving up 58 PPG and ODU at 57.7 PPG against over their last nine games. Old Dominion is one of the best rebounding teams in the nation and that is where they have to take advantage of the Bulldogs. This game will be played almost exclusively in the half court with both teams preferring a slower pace. Butler ranks #11 in defensive rebounding percentage but the Monarchs are the best offensive rebounding team in the land. Blaine Taylor’s team must win this battle and protect the basketball in order to advance. They struggle at times with turnovers and lots of giveaways will negate their expected edge on the glass. Look for the Monarchs to work inside utilizing star big man Frank Hassell as well as Keyon Carter and Kent Bazemore. Butler allows 48.7% FG inside the arc and that could hurt them against the frontcourt-oriented Monarchs. Butler shoots almost 21 threes per game behind Shelvin Mack, Zach Hahn and even Matt Howard (44%). Add in the recent play of Shawn Vanzant and you have a team playing as well as they have all year. ODU is very poor against the three, their biggest vulnerability. Bazemore is a terrific defender and needs to come up big on that end against the Bulldog guards. Both teams are experienced and obviously did well in last year’s tournament so they won’t be intimidated by the big stage. While the focus will be on Howard vs. Hassell in the post, this game could be determined by guard play.

The RTC Certified Pick: Butler.

#4 Louisville vs. #13 Morehead State – Southwest Region Second Round (at Denver, CO) – 1:40 pm ET on TBS.

We’re quite sure that Louisville head coach Rick Pitino could only shake his head in disgust when he saw his team’s opening matchup on Thursday.  An in-state mid-major whose greatest strength — a dominant glass-eater by the name of Kenneth Faried — bears stark contrast with his Cards’ greatest weakness, interior play.  Over the years, Pitino has mastered the art of using team defensive principles to stymie players like Faried by throwing two and three bodies at him everywhere on the floor.  The Cards will need to again, because Faried’s nonstop motor and Rodman-esque knack for finding the ball is the best in the nation (he corrals 20% of offensive rebounds and 31% of defensive rebounds while he’s on the floor), something his players know all too well after facing Morehead State (and Faried) in the same round two seasons ago (Faried went for 14/11 in a 20-point loss).  He’s gotten better, and so has his team.  The good news for Pitino is that MSU is often sloppy with the ball, committing nearly fifteen turnovers a game, and the Eagles don’t defend the three very well (36.9%), which will allow ample opportunities for the Louisville shooters to get good looks from deep.  Two seasons ago a stronger Louisville team went into halftime only up two points on a weaker Morehead State team; expect a similar situation this year, as the relative strengths and weaknesses offset each other.  Ultimately, the Cards will find enough points through hustle and desire to fend off the school located two hours east, but we’ll forgive Pitino if he lambastes the committee for giving him this dangerous opponent for the second time in three years.

The RTC Certified Pick: Louisville.

#7 Temple vs. #10 Penn State – West Region Second Round (at Tucson, AZ) – 2:10 pm ET on TNT.

While the Owls are 25-7 and the higher seed here, this is not a team that is at full strength. They have played their last eight games without center Michael Eric, who will not return this year, and the last seven without swingman Scootie Randall, who is holding out hope that he will be able to go Thursday. The Nittany Lions, meanwhile, are at full strength, but their full strength means that their five starters are ready to play a whole lot of minutes, with only sporadic contributions from the bench, which averages less than eight total points per game. And given the pace at which Penn State plays (their games average just 60 possessions, in the bottom two percent of the nation), a pace which Temple will have little objection to, we’ll have a low-scoring, limited possession, defensive battle that will likely come down to seeing which of the two teams makes the most plays in the final few minutes. Because of that, the Lions may have the edge. Not only do they have four seniors amongst their five main players, but Talor Battle is an explosive scorer given the limited number of possessions he works with. And, among their five man rotation, only Andrew Jones is a poor free throw shooter. For Temple to counteract the experience of the Lions, they’ll need to get plenty of inside production from physical freak Lavoy Allen, while perimeter players like Ramone Moore, Khalif Wyatt and point guard Juan Fernandez will have to take advantage of a PSU defense that likes to pack it in and force their opponents to beat them with their jump shot. Unfortunately for the Owls, even if Randall does make it back for this game, their most efficient offensive player does not figure to have his legs back, and Temple may come up a bit short.

The RTC Certified Pick: Penn State

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The Other 26: Bracket Analysis Part II

Posted by KDoyle on March 17th, 2011

Kevin Doyle is an RTC Contributor.

Call it what you want with this seemingly erroneous preamble of the NCAA Tournament known as the “First Four,” but the opening game of this year’s edition of the Dance could not have been much more entertaining. We have already had a clutch shot in the final seconds and an overtime game under our belts. Many people will not even remember that UNC-Asheville and Arkansas-Little Rock even partook in the Tournament, but for a few hours last evening the stage was all theirs. Even if it is merely a play-in game—errr, first round game—this is the NCAA Tournament and keen basketball observers were no doubt glued to their screens and smartphones last night tracking the game.

Just as a refresher in case you missed yesterday’s look into the Other 26 teams in the East and West Regions, I elected to break down the 16 teams by inserting each into one of the four categories: 1) Have a legitimate shot at actually advancing far into the Tournament; 2) Can win a game, but not much more; 3) If their shots are falling and their opponents are not, they have an outside shot; and, 4) We are just happy to be here.

Ability to advance to the second weekend

(8, Southwest) UNLV—After the conclusion of the 2010 Tournament, there is no doubt that a bitter taste was left in UNLV’s mouth. The Runnin’ Rebels lost to Northern Iowa in the final minute and then two nights later, in one of the gutsiest shots in Tournament history, Ali Farokhmanesh drilled a three from the wing to seal the victory over Kansas. UNLV had to painfully watch the remainder of the Tournament and endure the arduous offseason pondering the question: “Why couldn’t that have been us?” Now, UNLV is in a similar situation, as they are in the 8 vs. 9 game again. They are an experienced bunch with Tournament experience under their belts; if they are fortunate enough to get by Illinois, they will ironically play none other than Kansas.

(12, Southwest) Richmond—The Spiders were upset by St. Mary’s last year, and this year they are the ones who will have to be playing spoiler. Richmond has arguably the most dynamic player in the field with 6’10 senior forward Justin Harper. To make a comparison, Harper is the Atlantic 10’s version of Dirk Nowitzki. Although he spends most of his time inside the arc, his ability to step outside and hit a three poses endless match-up problems for opponents. Harper is complemented nicely by his running mate Kevin Anderson. Richmond matches up well against Vanderbilt, but containing John Jenkins—maybe the best shooter in the Tournament—will be a challenge. Expect a variety of match-up and 2-3 zones from Chris Mooney.

 

Harper is a Tough Matchup for Vandy

(3, Southeast) BYU—It is painfully obvious that the loss of Brandon Davies has detrimentally affected BYU’s play considerably; in the first game after his absence the Cougars were thrashed by New Mexico 82-64 on their home floor. While there is little doubt that Jimmer Fredette is the face of the program and their top player, the country is now officially seeing that there is much more going on in Provo, Utah, that can be attributed to BYU’s success  other than simply Fredette. While a deep run no doubt becomes more difficult without the services of Davies, the backcourt of Fredette and Jackson Emery has the ability to carry the Cougars to the second weekend.

(9, Southeast) Old Dominion—ODU presents all of the intangibles to be successful in the Tournament. They have an intelligent and proven coach in Blaine Taylor, a senior-laden team with NCAA experience, and the confidence that they belong here and can win—especially after knocking off Notre Dame as an 11 seed last year. It is more than merely intangibles for ODU though. The Monarchs are quite possibly the best rebounding team in the field, incredibly tough on the defensive end—according to Frank Hassell: “We go 50% man and 50% zone”—and run a deliberate offense that minimizes their opposition’s possessions. Blaine Taylor has created a formula for his team to have success in the NCAA Tournament.

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ATB: Big Ten Battles in December

Posted by rtmsf on December 29th, 2010

The Lede.  There were a good number of games across the college basketball landscape tonight, but few of them held much interest to the casual observer.  The most important aspect of tonight (and really, this week) is that some of the power conferences are gearing up.  We have a fundamental aversion to pre-New Years conference games, but the honchos tend to not listen to us, so we take the smattering of Big East, Big Ten and Pac-10 games dropping this week as yet another sign that the apocalypse is just around the bend and bearing down on us.

Al Nolen Meets the Wisconsin Defense (WSJ/C. Schreiner)

Your Watercooler MomentWisconsin & Purdue — Still Pretty Good.  Tonight’s marquee games were both Big Ten battles, and notwithstanding the fact that it’s still 2010 and these games shouldn’t be happening so early, that won’t erase the fact that they did in fact occur and two teams that are always pretty good are still pretty good.  The bigger game was Minnesota visiting Wisconsin, and even though many of the news outlets looked at the rankings (#13 visiting #24) and subsequently called a Wisconsin eight-point win an “upset,” anyone reading this site knows better.  In fact, the Badgers were a heavy favorite in Vegas (eight points, a-ha!), and few teams go into the Kohl Center and defeat Bo Ryan.  Despite getting dominated on the boards (-13), Ryan’s team played just enough sticky possession-defense  and took the care of the ball (only two TOs) to stymie a Gopher attack that is as diversified as it has been in Tubby Smith’s era in Minneapolis.  Meanwhile, across Lake Michigan in Ann Arbor, Purdue rode its two all-Americans JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore to a nice road win over a surprising UM team in convincing fashion.  The dynamic duo went for 43/17 combined, and contributed as they always do to one of the nation’s most effective defenses in tandem.  Many people wrote off Purdue as a national title contender and Final Four threat when Robbie Hummel went down with a knee injury in October, including us, but the Boilermakers are playing such impressive defense right now that we could be convinced that Matt Painter’s team could make a run to Houston after all.  Mind you, we’re not talking about cutting down the nets, but if the Boilermakers can continue to get offensive production beyond Johnson and Moore — and several players have stepped up at various times as a third option — then with the right matchups, Purdue could still be a darkhorse F4 contender.  Matt Painter’s defense and his two seniors are that good.

Tonight’s Quick Hits

  • Mike Montgomery, Really? The California coach earned his 600th career victory tonight against Hartford, which puts him in a group of seven active coaches to have done so.  Without a doubt, he would be the last one you’d think of — the top six are: 1) Mike Krzyzewski; 2) Jim Boeheim; 3) Jim Calhoun; 4) Bob Huggins; 5) Gary Williams; 6) Roy Williams.  Pretty selective company there, as all but Huggz has won a national title.
  • 30 at the Cintas.  With tonight’s easy win over Albany, Xavier continued its second-longest homecourt winning streak in the nation to 30 games.  This is particularly amazing considering that, well, XU isn’t all that good this year.  The Musketeers have hosted six games at the Cintas Center so far this year, and already four of them have gone down to the last possession — a three-point win over Western Michigan, an overtime over IUPU-Fort Wayne, a triple-overtime win over Wofford and a two-point nailbiter over Butler.  The Muskies go for #31 on New Year’s Eve against Florida, a team with a definite upgrade in talent than most of the teams they’ve played so far this season.
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The Week That Was: December 11-17

Posted by rtmsf on December 17th, 2010

David Ely is an RTC contributor.

It’s the holiday season, and this past week teams in the top 25 definitely got into the spirit of giving. Now these squads weren’t giving away toys to needy girls and boys. Instead #4 Tennessee, #20 Louisville and #21 UNLV gave the gift of an RPI-boosting upset, and in the college hoops world that’s a pretty nice present. TWTW hopes that Oakland, Drexel and UC Santa Barbara enjoyed their gifts this week, they certainly came at a hefty price — a chance to be the last undefeated squad standing. But hey, it’s the thought that counts, and we’re sure that deep down our ranked friends knew they did the right thing given the season.

Now if only #22 Memphis wasn’t such a Grinch …

Is the Presumptive Puerto Rican Olympic Coach's Louisville Team Legit?

What We Learned

  • Last week we openly wondered if Notre Dame’s hot start was an aberration or the start of a strong season for the Irish, and their loss to Kentucky made TWTW more inclined to label them a fraud rather than a legit power. This week we get to dissect another Big East squad that just suffered its first loss of the season — Louisville. The Cardinals’ eight-game winning streak to open the season came ended in disastrous fashion Tuesday night when Louisville fell 52-46 to Drexel. Yes, you read that correctly. The Cardinals could only muster 46 points against Drexel of all teams. Louisville connected on only 15 of 47 shots from the floor and struggled to adjust once it was apparently the Dragons weren’t going to let the Cardinals get out and run up and down the court. While shooting 33.3% is bad, what’s more troubling is Louisville’s 12-25 effort at the free throw line, and its -20 rebound loss on the boards. Those two things could haunt the Cardinals in Big East play and make TWTW hesitant to think they’re dramatically better than last year’s team that lost to Cal in the first round of the NCAAs.
  • What a week for Tennessee. On Saturday the Vols scored arguably the best win of the young season when they traveled to Pittsburgh and beat Jamie Dixon’s squad at the “neutral” Consol Energy Center. TWTW was ready to join the rest of the nation in singing Bruce Pearl’s praises and declaring the Vols the team to beat in a down SEC. While UT still may be the top dog down South, TWTW can’t fully endorse Tennessee right now. Not after the Vols lost at home to Oakland 89-82 on Tuesday night. That’s no knock against the Golden Grizzlies, who made the NCAA Tournament out of the Summit League last year and fell one point short of beating Michigan State this past weekend. Oakland is good, but we expect more from Tennessee. And we at least expect better defense. The Vols shouldn’t give up 89 points to any squad, especially not at home, and Oakland hit 54% of its shots (30-56) led by Keith Benson’s 26. Pearl better hope this loss refocuses his squad. Tennessee will definitely need all the mental strength it can muster when he begins his eight-game suspension at the start of conference play.
  • Gonzaga just might have overextended itself with its scheduling. Mark Few at least is entertaining that idea after his Bulldogs’ 4-5 start to the season, the worst record in Few’s 12-year tenure at Gonzaga. Four of Gonzaga’s five losses came in games against teams currently ranked in RTC’s top 25 (San Diego State, Kansas State, Illinois and Notre Dame), and the Bulldogs still have to play Baylor on Saturday and Memphis in February. TWTW wonders why that kind of scheduling is necessary for a team with Gonzaga’s cache. It’s tough to think of the Zags as a mid-major anymore based on their 12 straight trips to the NCAA Tournament, and their consistent presence in the top 25 (at least until this year). Gonzaga doesn’t need to prove itself with a murderers’ row schedule. Sure, schedule a couple of games against elite competition, but there’s no need to have a slate of games that could shatter a team’s confidence. Gonzaga isn’t a program that’s used to struggling in December, it will be interesting to see how the Zags respond to this adversity once play begins in the WCC.
  • Think you know all there is about Coach K? Think all of your hate is justified? Well you should do yourself a favor and sit down and read the first two parts of Dan Wiederer’s mega-feature in the Fayetteville Observer. Part one delves into K off the court and his family life. It includes this incredible anecdote of the Duke coach at the beach during a family vacation and declaring that he’s the “Black Mamba of Beach Bocce” after pulling off a game-winning bocce toss. The second part discusses all the hate Coach K and the Duke program endures from the rest of the nation. While that angle has been written before, Wiederer’s piece comes off fresh because of all of his great tidbits and inside access. And there’s more to come with Part 3 scheduled to run this Sunday. So check it out. TWTW guarantees you’ll learn something new about K, and maybe it will open your mind to the notion that he’s not that bad of a guy. After all, with Krzyzewski likely to become college basketball’s all-time wins leader either this season or early next year, it’s the perfect time to dissect one of the most polarizing characters in the sport.

Media Blackout

The three pieces of news to know if you’ve been living in complete isolation all week.

  • Like many of you out there, TWTW watched the basketball competition during 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing and thought, “Boy this is great. But you know what’s missing? Rick Pitino.” We kid, we kid. But it looks like there’s a real possibility Pitino will coach the Puerto Rican nation team during next summer’s pre-Olympic qualifying tournament in Argentina. Carlos J. Beltran, president of the Puerto Rican Basketball Federation, said the national team is in “very advanced talks” with Pitino, and J.J. Barea of the Dallas Mavericks told ESPNDallas.com that he and fellow nation team member Carlos Arroyo would meet with Pitino on Sunday if any deal with the Louisville coach is finalized. With Pitino on board, Puerto Rico would instantly become one of the most compelling squads in the Olympics should it qualify. That’s a big if, though. Puerto Rico failed to qualify for the 2008 Games and was eliminated in the first round during this summer’s World Championships in Turkey. Should a Pitino-led Puerto Rico squad make the Olympics, TWTW has but one request. Puerto Rico must face Team USA (and Coach K) at some point in round-robin play.
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ATB: UCSB Continues Surprising Upset Week

Posted by rtmsf on December 16th, 2010

The LedeUpset Week and We Never Saw It Coming? A quiet week has turned into a not-so-quiet one as now two nights in a row at least one ranked team has dropped a home game to a visiting mid-major.  Tonight’s victim was the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels, who ran into a team in UC Santa Barbara that acts as a sort-of nemesis to the desert school.  The two teams don’t play on a regular basis, but they have played a few times in the past dozen or so years since the Rebs left the Big West, and UCSB has won them all.  It’s fairly amazing what UCSB was able to do against one of the better offensive teams in the nation, but the Gauchos entered the Thomas & Mack Center tonight and shut down Lon Kruger’s team.  UNLV was only able to hit 29% of its shots and 6-29 from deep, startling figures for a team that came into the game as the fifth-best effective field goal shooting team in America.  UCSB, with James Nunnally (23/7) and Orlando Johnson (12/15), is projected to win the Big West in March, but the Gauchos hadn’t put it together yet this year, already losing games to North Dakota State, Portland and Oregon.  Perhaps this win is their coming-out, and they’ll have another chance soon to prove their mettle at SDSU over the weekend.  Over the last two evenings, we’ve now witnessed Oakland, Drexel and UC Santa Barbara all enter ranked teams’ buildings and come out with victories — each name is one you should keep an eye on heading into March because each will be very dangerous given the right matchups.

UNLV is Hanging Their Heads (LV Sun/S. Morris)

Your Watercooler MomentJon Diebler Finds the Zone, Enjoys His Time There.  Ohio State’s Jon Diebler is one of the best three-point shooters in the nation; the big Buckeye guard hit 212 treys at a 42% clip in the last two seasons, so you knew he had the stroke.  Tonight his performance from beyond the arc can only be described as sublime.  After missing his first two shots, Diebler proceeded to drain his next nine bombs from various places all over the court, matching a Buckeye record set by Jay Burson.  He then missed his final three, logging a 9-14 shooting night from deep and upping his percentage on the year to 49.2%.  OSU, of course, is on everyone’s short list of teams challenging Duke for the role of championship contender, and a big reason for that is the consistent play of Diebler.  He doesn’t take bad shots, and even though a ridiculous 83% of his attempts are behind the arc, when you have offensive weapons like Jared Sullinger inside and William Buford on the wing, his role as the Lee Humphrey bomber is exactly what Thad Matta needs.

Tonight’s Quick Hits...

  • Minny’s Trevor Mbakwe.  It took forever-and-a-day to get him into a Gopher uniform, but he’s been well worth the wait.  Tonight he put up his seventh dub-dub of the season (13/13/2 blks) in only eleven games, and he’s proven an absolute force inside with his strong hands and girth.  On the year, he’s pulling 14/11 on 62% shooting, and in just about any other conference than the Big Ten, that’d be good enough for first-team all-conference consideration.  Mbakwe is definitely a major reason that the Gophers are currently 10-1 and looking like a team ready to make some noise in the Big Ten race.
  • Central Florida’s 9-0 Start.  UCF crushed Louisiana-Lafayette tonight to keep their undefeated record intact.  The laudable part of the win tonight, though, was that the Knights were able to win by 21 points without a good game from their rising star Marcus Jordan.  The Son of GOAT shot 2-9 from the field in a 7-point, 4-turnover performance, but his slack was picked up by sophomore forward Keith Clanton’s 28/8/3 blks, a player who may not have the name recognition or pedigree but who actually is having a better season (17/9 on 59% shooting).  The two make a formidable duo that the rest of Conference USA does not look forward to facing this season.
  • Welcome Back, J’Mison Morgan.  The last time we saw the enigmatic Morgan, the 6’11 redshirt junior was on his way out of Westwood to places unknown after leaving UCLA.  He’s been coming off the bench for Scott Drew’s team this year, but tonight against Bethune-Cookman he showed some of the reasons why he was such a highly rated recruit a few years ago.  In only fifteen minutes of action, he had 11 points, five rebounds and four blocks against their undersized opponent — his best game of the season so far.  With the size and length that Baylor has at its disposal this year inside (6’11 Perry Jones, 6’10 Anthony Jones and Morgan), Morgan doesn’t figure to play starter’s minutes, but he can certainly provide talented depth off the bench beyond what most teams in the country can produce.

… and Misses.

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After the Buzzer: Butler’s Unfurling & Opening Weekend

Posted by rtmsf on November 15th, 2010

In case you’re just catching up with us after a football weekend, we covered Friday night’s games — the real Opening Nightin a special ATB that evening, while RTC contributor Zach Hayes put together an Opening Night edition of his 10 Scribbles series to share some of his initial thoughts on most teams’ first games of the year.

Your Watercooler Moment.  This is something we don’t see much and it may be a long time before we see something like it again, so Butler’s banner unfurling from Saturday night was this weekend’s best moment.  Jump ahead to the 2:20 mark if you’re the impatient type (a shorter alternate version is also available).

Quick Hits…

  • Emmanuel Negedu.  Hey, if you can literally come back from the dead and contribute 8 points, 6 rebounds, a steal and a block in your first game as a New Mexico Lobo merely a year after you were resuscitated, you deserve all kinds of props.  Can’t root for this guy enough.
  • Chris Singleton. Quite possibly the best defensive player in the country, Singleton pulled off a very difficult triple double by going for 22/11/10 stls on Sunday against UNC-Greensboro.  Oh, he also added four blocks just for show.
  • Illinois Backcourt. Bruce Weber’s backcourt of Demetri McCamey, DJ Richardson and Brandon Paul off the bench was outstanding on Saturday against Southern Illinois.  The three combined for 43 points and 16 assists in that game, and in three games this season all of them are shooting over 50% from the field and 40% from deep.  With the solid play inside of the two Mikes (Davis and Tisdale), the Illini look very strong right now.
  • Kyrie Irving.  As good as advertised, with 17/4/9 assts to prove it against Princeton on Sunday.  Everything seemed completely natural and smooth with very little wasted motion.
  • Matthew Bryan-Amaning.  MBA’s been getting a lot of hype all offseason, but we weren’t completely sold due to his inconsistency over the last three years.  After a 28/13 performance against McNeese State on Saturday, we might be coming around.  As a side note, the Huskies had an inconceivable 67 rebounds in that game.
  • Matt Howard’s Foul Trouble.  Sure, we know the game was against Marian College, but the fact that Howard failed to commit a single foul in 23 minutes of action is encouraging.  Without Gordon Hayward around, Brad Stevens must have his star big man on the floor most of the time this season, so committing nearly four fouls a game again isn’t going to work.
  • DJ Cooper.  Keep an eye on Ohio University again this year — the MAC champions who took out Georgetown in last year’s first round NCAA game return MAC POY candidate Cooper, who debuted the 2010-11 season with a strong 25/5/7 assts/3 stls evening.
  • James Rahon.  SDSU’s transfer guard from Santa Clara hit three straight threes in the mid-second half to give the Aztecs breathing room to win a true road game in front of a packed arena in Long Beach.  If the Aztecs can get solid guard play to match their dominant post play, Steve Fisher could have a MWC juggernaut on his hands.
  • Jeremy Hazell.  Seton Hall might be able to put together a surprisingly good season if it can continue to get the types of games it got from Hazell today.  28 points on 8-11 FG and 8-8 from the line is extremely efficient, something that Hazell hasn’t always done well.

… and Misses

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In Their Words: Life at the Mid-Major Level (part seven)

Posted by rtmsf on November 2nd, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West Conferences and an occasional contributor.

To read the entire In Their Words series, click here.

Part Seven: MARKETING

Over the summer, we’ve spent time hearing about some of the next big-name recruits on their way to college basketball: Jared Sullinger and Harrison Barnes, Anthony Davis and Michael Gilchrist. We’ve heard the big-time schools announce their high profile games on their upcoming schedules: Kentucky going to the Maui Invitational and visiting North Carolina, Michigan State hosting Texas and going to Duke. But for the vast majority of Division I programs, they’ve been flying under the radar. There are at present 73 teams that participate in basketball in the six BCS conferences, but there are 347 total programs in Division I. Of those other 274 programs, there are certainly quite a few big-name programs: last year’s national runner-up Butler comes to mind immediately, as does Gonzaga, Memphis and a handful of other schools in conferences like the Atlantic 10 and the Mountain West. But, we were also interested in how the other half (or really, how the other three-quarters) lives, so we spent some time talking to coaches, athletic directors and other people around the country affiliated with some of those other schools — those non-BCS schools, those “mid-majors” — and we asked them about how they recruit, how they create a schedule, how they market their programs, and quite a few other things. Over the next eight weeks, we’ll let them tell you their story, in their own words.

To begin, let me introduce and thank this week’s cast of characters:

  • Andrew Roberts, Assistant Athletic Director for Sports Information, Arkansas-Pine BluffRoberts runs a tight ship at UAPB as the sole full-time member of the Sports Information Department.
  • Murry Bartow, Head Coach, East Tennessee State – Bartow is entering his eighth season as the Buccaneers head coach, after having previously succeeded his father Gene Bartow as the head coach at UAB. Bartow has posted a 118-72 record in his years at ETSU and has racked up 241 total wins and four NCAA appearances in his 13 seasons as a head coach.
  • Eric Reveno, Head Coach, Portland – Reveno heads into his fifth season at Portland having turned around a program from a team that was 18-45 in his first two seasons to a team on the rise with a 40-24 record over the last two seasons. Reveno spent his previous nine seasons as an assistant at Stanford, his alma mater where he was a Pac-10 Conference All-Academic Team selection as a senior.
  • Jessica Dickson, Assistant Athletic Director for External Relations, UMKC – Dickson has been in her current position, where she oversees marketing and promotions for UMKC, for just over three years.
  • Todd Miles, Assistant Athletics Director for Media Relations, Long Beach State – Miles starts his third year in Long Beach following a seven-year stretch at Boise State where he was the primary media relations contact for the basketball team.
  • Gregg Bach, Assistant Athletics Director for Communications, Akron – Bach was named to his current position this past summer after having spent the previous eight years on the media relations staff in the Akron athletic department. His new job makes him the spokesperson of the athletic department.
  • Kevin Keys, Associate Athletic Director for External Operations, Liberty – Keys is a ’77 Liberty graduate who enters his sixth year back on campus in charge of Liberty’s licensing, promotions and marketing.

Last time out we introduced you to the marketing side of mid-major basketball programs and its range of athletic budgets from the one-man Sports Information Department on up. This week, we’ll take a look at another big difference between mid-major programs: the size of the markets in which they play. When these schools compete in small college towns, they can be the talk of the town when things are going well, but for those schools in bigger markets, they are in danger of being overshadowed and potentially lost in the crowd no matter how well they’re playing at the moment.

With So Many Entertainment Options in Big Cities Like LA, Finding Fans Can Be Tough

Andrew Roberts, Assistant Athletic Director for Sports Information, Arkansas-Pine Bluff: I definitely think it is an advantage (to be in a smaller market), here in the state of Arkansas. I’m originally from Texas, the Houston area, and two schools in that area are in our conference: Prairie View A&M and Texas Southern. They have at times been lost in the shuffle of everything else that is going on, because you’ve got professional sports franchises and other colleges in the city of Houston and high school football and they have sometimes voiced concerns with the amount of coverage they have gotten. There is just so much going on in the city from a sports perspective. At times, it’s just hard for those programs to get ample amount of coverage because there is just so much going on. You’ve got a lot of competition for coverage among those other entities, where in Little Rock its UAPB, its UALR and then that’s really it in the Little Rock area. You’ve got the Arkansas Razorbacks, but there aren’t any professional sports in the state, so there is probably more ability for the news outlets to cover local colleges.

Murry Bartow, Head Coach, East Tennessee State: It can go both ways playing in a small community. Our fans are very much diehard fans. We’ve got very hardcore fans, which is great if you’re winning, and if you’re losing, they let you know about it. It can work both ways, but I’d much rather be in this situation. Let’s say you’re a mid-major program in a big city, it’s tough, because you can easily get swallowed up from a media standpoint and a PR standpoint. In the newspaper, you might be on the sixth or seventh page, if at all, whereas when we do something good or bad, it’s going to be the lead story in our paper. No question, if we play tonight the lead story in the paper tomorrow is going to be about ETSU basketball. If you’re a mid-major in a big city, you probably have to flip to the back pages to see anything about your program. That would be something you fight. So I like the situation we’re in, but if you’re not winning, then it can obviously work the other way.

Eric Reveno, Head Coach, Portland: When you look at Gonzaga, as far as the city of Spokane, they are the biggest show in Spokane, by far. Portland is not the case, we’ve got the Blazers, we’ve got Portland State, we’ve got minor league baseball, we’ve got more nightlife, we’ve got more going on, which is good. But from a standpoint of getting corporate sponsorship and getting fans, if you’re a company in Spokane and you want to wine and dine your clients, you take them to a Bulldogs game, because there’s nowhere else to take them.

Jessica Dickson, Assistant Athletic Director for External Relations, UMKC: We’re not a small market, so I actually think it is a little more challenging for a smaller school in a large market, as compared to some of our league opponents who are in smaller markets where there’s not as much competition for entertainment. I don’t necessarily think that we directly compete with the Kansas City Chiefs for fans. I think that we as a mid-major school compete with that dinner-and-a-movie crowd, that’s a little more comparable to what our price point is. But we do have to compete. There are so many entertainment options in Kansas City, from the art to the theater to the ballet to the movies to concerts at the Sprint center to football games to Royals games to Wizards games. There are so many options of things for people in KC to do, so we have to come up with creative ways to keep UMKC basketball at the top of their minds.

Todd Miles, Assistant Athletics Director for Media Relations, Long Beach State: We’re obviously competing against UCLA, USC, everybody else in our league, the Lakers, the Dodgers… there’s so much to do here. Getting attention in a place like this is a lot harder here than it was at Boise State in terms of local media and stuff like that, but I would say it is probably an advantage in some areas too. You’re more apt to see North Carolina come and play us, or play UCSB like they did a couple of years ago than to see them visit, say some mid-major in a smaller market.

Gregg Bach, Assistant Athletics Director for Communications, Akron: I would say we compete for the professional sports fan in Cleveland, no question about that. That might change a little bit with what has happened with the Cavs and LeBron and all that this summer but certainly the last five or six years, that has been something that we definitely fight. It is not something where football overshadows basketball or basketball overshadows football within our department, I don’t know that we have that issue, but maybe fighting some of those outside things for what people are spending their entertainment dollars on. Even with Ohio State, we’re just two hours north of Columbus, but most of the state is into Ohio State and Ohio State football, so that’s something that we fight as well. I’m not saying someone is not going to come to an Akron game because they are necessarily going to an Ohio State game, but maybe they’re going to stay at home and watch the Ohio State game on TV or go to a sports bar, or something along those lines. So that’s something that we fight and that something we take into consideration a lot of times in terms of how you are going to schedule a game or how we are going to market a game.

Kevin Keys, Associate Athletic Director for External Operations, Liberty: There is no question that we compete with Virginia and Virginia Tech, as our town sits right in the middle between the two. Our philosophy has been for a long time, we’re not going to steal Tech fans or steal UVA fans, that would be a fruitless effort. But those fans don’t always have games at Tech or UVa on the nights that we are playing, whether that be football or basketball. We here are their hometown team and we reach out to them, that’s part of what I would say are our non-traditional fans, that we’ve really begun to grow our fan base with the success we’ve had. Those people are big sports fans and they come watch us. Does that mean they’re giving up wearing maroon and orange for Tech or blue and orange for UVA? No, it doesn’t mean that. But they become fans of ours. Ultimately, we’d love to think that some of them would become primarily Liberty fans, but that’s not our goal. Our goal is to put on a good show and maybe they’ll come to our games on a night when their team isn’t playing.

Putting on a good show is often a goal for these mid-majors, not only getting their fans to come to the games, but making sure they have a good time so that they are more likely to come back. And one of the big things is to create a game atmosphere that is not only fun for the fans and the student base, but also an environment that could aid the basketball team. The first step is getting the fans there.

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RTC 2010-11 Impact Players – Southwest Region

Posted by rtmsf on November 1st, 2010

Welcome to our RTC Impact Players series.  The braintrust has gone back and forth on this and we’ve finally settled on a group of sixty players throughout ten geographic regions of the country (five starters plus a sixth man) to represent the who and where of players you should be watching this season.  Seriously, if you haven’t seen every one of these players ball at least once by the end of February, then you need to figure out a way to get a better television package.  As always in a subjective analysis such as this, some of our decisions were difficult; many others were quite easy.  What we can say without reservation is that there is great talent in every corner of this nation of ours, and we’ll do our best to excavate it over the next five weeks in this series that will publish on Mondays and Thursdays.  Each time, we’ll also provide a list of some of the near-misses as well as the players we considered in each region, but as always, we welcome you guys, our faithful and very knowledgeable readers, to critique us in the comments.

You can find all previous RTC 2010-11 Impact Players posts here.

Southwest Region (NM, AZ, NV, HI, SoCal)

  • Jio Fontan – Soph, G – USC. Last year, USC was the talk of the college basketball world for a stretch, when senior point guard Mike Gerrity, a transfer from Charlotte, took over the team in December and promptly led the Trojans to an upset blowout victory over then #8 Tennessee in his first game of the season. The Trojans went on to win their next five games, including the inaugural Diamond Head Classic, with Gerrity serving as a big spark. In 2010-11, head coach Kevin O’Neill and his team will welcome another Division I transfer to the active roster over the winter break, and they hope to sustain the bump in talent they’ll get when Fontan joins the team as a midseason transfer from Fordham. In fact, Fontan was in the midst of an on-campus visit last December 19 when Gerrity was leading the Trojans to their win over the Volunteers and he committed to the school just days later, perhaps seeing the blueprint for his own success in Gerrity’s. Luckily enough for O’Neill and the Trojans, Fontan will have more than just the one semester of eligibility that Gerrity had.  But while their paths to the USC roster may seem similar, their games are different. Fontan is more of a combo-guard, capable of running an offense, but more adept at creating for himself than being a pure distributor. Not that he isn’t capable of handing out assists – he averaged more than four assists per night during his one season plus five games at Fordham – but Fontan is at his best with the ball in his hands, able to both blow by defenders and hit from long range, scoring the ball to the tune of 15.3 points per game in his freshman season on his way to Atlantic 10 rookie of the year honors. Paired with established frontcourt returners Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson and a talented group of newcomers, including 5’7 point guard Maurice Jones who will handle the lead guard duties until Fontan is eligible, Fontan will be surrounded by far more talent than he ever was in his time at Fordham. And if things go as well as could be hoped for, Fontan will have a chance to reprise Gerrity’s Trojan debut, as Southern Cal will travel to Kansas (and then, three days later, they’ll play the return game in the Tennessee series) for Fontan’s first game, giving USC a chance to make another big mid-season splash on the national stage.
  • Tre’Von Willis* – Sr, G – UNLV. For a good part of last summer, Tre’Von Willis, the star shooting guard for the Runnin’ Rebels, may have thought that his collegiate career was over thanks to his June 29 arrest for felony battery involving an ugly incident with a woman in nearby Henderson, Nevada.  Willis ultimately copped to a plea agreement of a lesser charge of misdemeanor domestic battery, and in interviews since the incident he has shown considerable sincerity and self-awareness in suggesting that he placed himself in a bad situation.  After he serves a mandated three-game suspension meted by coach Lon Kruger, Willis will likely be back in action for UNLV’s second regular season game against Southeastern Louisiana.  And it’s a good thing that he will be, as the Rebel program has eyes on putting together its best season since the understated head coach rolled into town several years ago.  Considering that the Rebs have been to a Sweet Sixteen and won 30 games in a season under his tutelage (both in 2006-07), those are lofty goals.  But they are also realistic ones so long as some of the injury problems that Willis and several others have recently endured are controlled.  Willis in particular continues to experience knee pain as a result of arthroscopic surgery in August to repair cartilage, a recurring problem which caused the capable scorer to lose some of his lift at the end of last season and definitely impacted his effectiveness.  As an example, after scoring twenty or more points ten times through mid-February, Willis only hit the figure one more time during the last eight games of the year, a sure indication that he was not at 100%.  The hope is that his summer surgery,  a new outlook on opportunity as a result of his legal troubles, a sprinkling of maturity (he also had a daughter) and much-needed rest will encourage Willis to come back with an all-America caliber season.  He was chosen as a first-team all-MWC guard in 2009-10 when he contributed an all-around game of 17.2 PPG, 3.9 RPG and 3.5 APG while increasing his previously-sketchy shot selection to the point where he added nearly 10% (from 38% to 48%) on his field goal percentage.  If he can truly put everything from last summer behind him and remain healthy for an entire season, the new Aria Hotel may not be the only must-see on The Strip this winter.

Tre'Von Willis Has to Sit Three Games (LV Sun/S. Morris)

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