Ten Questions to Consider: Action Continues and Here’s What to Watch

Posted by Matthew Eisenberg on December 11th, 2020

Even as games are lost to COVID positive tests and subsequent shutdowns of programs, the college basketball slate remains full of plenty of action. While off the court the likes of Jeff Capel and Mike Krzyzewski are beginning to really question why teams are playing, on the court players are continuing to battle hard and make statements. Here are ten questions I have for ten games that I hope to see played at some point from Friday through Sunday.

  1. Will a pair of elite defenses steal the show in this Big 12 showdown? (Texas @ Baylor, Sunday, 3 PM EST, ESPN) Both Baylor and Texas will head into this matchup with top ten defensive efficiencies. Last season in two matchups, the teams combined to shoot 32.4% from the field on 73-of-225 shooting. A major key last season in their matchup was the free-throw line, where Baylor went 26-of-32 compared to Texas who was just 11-of-26.
  2. Was Jordan Bohannon’s mid-week performance a sign of more things to come? (Iowa State. @ Iowa, Friday, 9 PM EST, Big Ten Network) In Iowa’s win over North Carolina, Bohannon snapped out of the 3-of-14 three-point shooting stretch of the first three games of the season by draining 7-of-16 against the Tar Heels. For Iowa to reach its ultimate goal of playing into the Final Four both improvements on the defensive end and longterm consistency from Bohannon will be key.
  3. Will Florida and Florida State be able to turn one another over? (Florida @ Florida State, Saturday 11 AM EST, ESPNU) Defensively both Floria and Florida State each rank within the top 20 in turnover rate. Florida’s Tyree Appleby is a defensive pest who had four steals in just 20 minutes on Sunday against Stetson. The Gators will be challenged defensively to force turnovers at their usual high clip against a Florida State team that has been fantastic at limiting giveaways early in the season.
  4. After looking dominant at Duke, can Illinois avoid a letdown against an undefeated Missouri team? (Illinois @ Missouri, Saturday, 8 PM EST) Brad Underwood’s squad wasted no time turning things around after the loss against Baylor by walking into Cameron Indoor and showing what the Illii are capable of when firing on all cylinders. Illinois is a different team when they get minutes and production from Kofi Cockburn. He’ll be needed against a Missouri team that has averaged 39 points in the paint per game through its first four games.
  5. Can Marquette successfully attack the offensive glass against a good defensive rebounding Bruin team? (Marquette @ UCLA, Friday, 9:30 PM EST, Pac-12 Network) Marquette’s 34.3% offensive rebound rate sits in the top 50 nationally and it has also helped them post a free-throw rate of 50%, a top 20 rate in the nation. With a pair of players in Justin Lewis and Jamal Cain whom each individually post a top 100 offensive rebound rate, Marquette will challenge a UCLA team that has tremendous length and has done a good job of limiting both second-chance looks and free-throw attempts for its opponents.
  6. Will Stanford and USC come down to a pair of freshman or might a senior be the difference-maker? (Stanford @ USC, Sunday, 9:30 PM EST, Fox Sports 1) Stanford’s Ziaire Williams and USC’s Evan Mobley each came into the season as freshman who were among ESPN’s top 10 recruits. While Williams got off to a great start with 19 points in the opener against Alabama, he has since struggled both with his shot and staying out of foul trouble. For the Trojans, Evan Mobley’s 17.6 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 blocks per game has been a big reason USC has looked dominant at times. With the freshman stealing the spotlight, Stanford senior Oscar da Silva and his 17.3 points per game could fly under the radar and be the difference in this Pac-12 battle.
  7. Quite simply, will Kentucky show any signs of a pulse? (Notre Dame @ Kentucky, Saturday, Noon EST, CBS) A loss on Saturday would result in just the second four-game losing streak for Kentucky under John Calipari, the last coming in the 2017-18 season. While freshman Terrence Clarke and Isaiah Jackson showed glimmers of hope in the most recent loss, it’s been the play of fellow freshman Devin Askew as well as transfers Oliver Sarr and Davion Mintz which have left much to be desired. Any Kentucky turnaround begins with protecting the ball as the Wildcats are a -31 in turnover margin during the current three-game losing streak.
  8. Will Michigan’s size be too much for Penn State to handle? (Penn State @ Michigan, Sunday, 2 PM EST, Big Ten Network) Penn State has made ten or more three-pointers in three of its first four games of the season, including a 12-of-23 performance from deep against Virginia Tech in the Nittany Lions most recent game. With a lineup that primarily features four players at 6’6″ or under, Penn State will have to find ways to contain the Michigan trio of Isaiah Livers, Franz Wagner, and Hunter Dickinson who range from 6’7″ to 7’1″.
  9. Can Richmond’s Grant Golden stay out of foul trouble and contend with the Mountaineers dynamic duo? (Richmond @ West Virginia, Sunday, 1 PM EST, ESPN) Richmond’s Grant Golden is a skilled big who can score (14.7 PPG), rebound (5 RPG), and get others involved (3.7 APG) and can do all that while only playing 22 minutes per game. Golden will likely need to see more time on the floor against the duo of Derek Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe for Richmond to walk out of Morgantown with a victory. In just five games, the West Virginia tandem have already combined for 37 offensive rebounds.
  10. Will Dayton’s advantage at point guard be too much for Mississippi State to overcome? (Dayton vs. Mississippi State, Saturday, Noon EST, ESPN News) Jalen Crutcher is a senior guard who came into the season regarded as one the best lead guards in the nation. On Saturday, Mississippi State freshman Deivon Smith will be in charge of dealing with Crutcher, a player with a resume far greater than anyone Smith has faced thus far.
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What’s Trending: Mid-Season Madness Continues

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on January 20th, 2020

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Matthew Eisenberg (@matteise) is your weekly host.

After Auburn’s loss on Wednesday night, San Diego State became the only remaining undefeated team in college basketball. Brian Dutcher’s Aztecs added two wins to their resume this week, pushing their overall record to 19-0. It is San Diego State’s best start since the 2010-11 season in which they began the year 20-0 en route to a Sweet Sixteen appearance. Led by Washington State transfer Malachi Flynn, the Aztecs currently only have one remaining game against a team ranked inside of the KenPom top 100 (Utah State).

https://twitter.com/marchmadness/status/1218310685962186753?s=20

The top four teams in the NET Rankings remain stable at the end of the week. While Baylor and Kansas were tested over the weekend, both made it through unblemished. The same cannot be said for the rest of the top 10.

As top teams continue to fall, one question repeatedly finds itself leading the narrative of the season: Is all this parity good for the game?

The answer should be an unequivocal yes.

While offensive efficiency and shooting percentages have dropped, the corresponding result has been the unpredictable. Talent alone is not serving as determinative. Transfers, early departures, NCAA eligibility issues and key recruits opting to play overseas all have impacted the landscape and consistency of play, but the result has been that teams need to come prepared to win every night out. This season, on any given night, anything is possible, and that is a good thing.

While the unexpected has ruled the land this college basketball season, there has been one player who has remained anything but surprising: Oregon senior point-guard Payton Pritchard. After beginning his career 3-0 in games at Washington, Pritchard’s Ducks were down three points late in the game when the All-American took things into his own hands…

https://twitter.com/marchmadness/status/1218672908379328512?s=20

In overtime, with the game tied, it was again Pritchard coming through in the clutch…

As far as the unexpected goes, there were a pair of games on Saturday that challenged the wildest of imaginations.

First, USC found itself down by five points with a mere 15 seconds to go when Stanford had the ball and a chance to ice the game away. Then, this happened…

While USC trailed by as many 21 points in that game, the Trojans at least had most of the second-half to claw their way back. Unlike USC, Boise State found itself down big but without much time left on the clock. Trailing 66-48 with 3:52 to go, the Broncos chipped the lead down to just five points with 8.9 seconds to go. Well, that’s when things really got weird…

Strange and funny things followed Kentucky this week as well. First, on Wednesday night, after leading by double-figures in the second half at South Carolina, Kentucky collapsed and trailed by six points with just over a minute to go. Thanks to some missed free-throws by South Carolina, Kentucky managed to tie things up in the closing seconds. While it looked like overtime was imminent, South Carolina’s Jermaine Couisnard had another idea…

https://twitter.com/marchmadness/status/1217626379837231106?s=20

After that difficult loss at South Carolina, Kentucky found itself at Bud Walton Arena on Saturday to face a hot Arkansas squad. After leading by nine points at the break, Arkansas fought itself to a tie game with just over eight minutes to go. With the tide seemingly turning, John Calipari had enough with the referees and got himself tossed from the game. While it cost the Wildcats the lead momentarily, Kentucky ultimately rallied and took control the rest of the way. All part of Cal’s master plan?

Entering this season, DePaul basketball had last beaten a team ranked inside of the KenPom top 20 on December 2, 2006 (a 64-57 win over Kansas). After early season wins against a pair of KenPom top 20 teams, DePaul picked up its third such win over the weekend in a trouncing of Butler. The win snapped a four-game losing streak and gives DePaul a chance to turn things back around as they spend the week at home with games against Creighton and St. John’s.

https://twitter.com/DePaulHoops/status/1218620020961562625?s=20

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Ten Questions to Consider: Early Conference Action? Edition

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on November 30th, 2018

As November comes to a close, we are starting to have an idea of what teams will look like this season. Here are 10 questions I have for a group heading into this weekend’s action.

Michigan and Purdue Meet in an Early Monster Big Ten Match-Up (USA Today Images)

  1. Can the Badgers end their skid against the Hawkeyes? (Wisconsin @ Iowa, Friday 8 PM EST, Big Ten Network) Wisconsin begins Big Ten play on the last day of November with a trip to Iowa. The Badgers come to Iowa City having lost two straight to the Hawkeyes. In last season’s defeat, the trio of Ethan Happ, Khalil Iverson and the seldom used Charles Thomas made 20-of-35 shots while the rest of the Badgers went 6-of-30 from the field.
  2. Can San Francisco continue its hot start in Northern Ireland? (San Francisco vs. Stephen F. Austin, Friday 8 AM EST) The Hall of Fame Belfast Classic will give four mid-majors an opportunity to pick up a pair of quality wins this weekend. While the WCC is often Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s and everyone else, USF is making its presence felt so far this seaon. The Dons are a perfect 5-0 to date and have a chance to pick up quality wins against Stephen F. Austin and potentially Buffalo. A pair of victories here could further the WCC’s notion of becoming a three-bid league next March.
  3. How will Gonzaga fare in its first true road game of the season? (Gonzaga @ Creighton, Saturday 2 PM EST, Fox) Gonzaga hits the road for its first true road game of the year in Omaha against Creighton. The Bulldogs must deal with an elite shooting team in the Bluejays, which have made at least nine three-pointers in every game while Gonzaga has allowed that many only once.
  4. Can Purdue’s offense be effective against Michigan’s elite defense? (Purdue @ Michigan, Saturday 3:30 PM, ESPN) In Purdue’s recent two losses, star guard Carsen Edwards committed 14 turnovers while handing out 11 assists. This early blockbuster Big Ten match-up will be interesting as Michigan’s defensive focus is staying in front of its opponent and making every shot difficult — more so than creating turnovers.
  5. Can USC get a resume-building win over Nevada? (Nevada @ USC, Saturday 4:30 PM EST, Fox) USC sits at 5-2 with all five of its wins against teams with a KenPom ranking outside of the top 200. With Nevada coming into the Galen Center on Saturday afternoon, the Trojans have an opportunity to add a marquee win to their resume. In order to have a chance, USC will need Bennie Boatwright to shine and for Kevin Porter Jr. to play after missing the last two games with a quad bruise. Read the rest of this entry »
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Pac-12 Five: Pre-Feast Week Observations

Posted by Adam Butler on November 16th, 2018

As we head into Feast Week, and the with the Pac-12 continuing to take its lumps, a few items to ensure you’re keeping an eye on.

Brandon Randolph Has Been a Pleasant Surprise For Arizona (USA Today Images)

  1. Arizona has impressed – I recognize that the Wildcats have only played teams in the KenPom >250 but their defense is currently the ninth-best (by raw efficiency) in the nation, a far cry from last season’s 102.8. The Wildcats have the steepest test ahead with a loaded Maui field awaiting next week.
  2. Oregon being Oregon – The Ducks seemingly have an annual tendency to struggle early and improve late, and last night they stuck to that script. See Exhibit 2017 when they swiftly dropped games to Baylor and Georgetown before going on a casual 31-4 run and wound up in the Final Four. Is this team THAT good? Probably not. But come time for Pac-12 play, expect Oregon to be the dominant squad.
  3. USC’s Kevin Porter will be a difference-maker – Yes, Nick Rackocevic has been a handful at 17 PPG, 15 RPG and 3 BPG. But considering the significance and impact of guards, not to mention the confusion a lefty creates, Porter has already demonstrated he’s going to be an absolute threat. The Trojans head to the NABC Hall of Fame Classic this weekend, so it would be a treat to see this group at full strength (reminder: Bennie Boatright is back).
  4. Could Washington find its defense in Canada? The Huskies head to Vancouver for an inaugural tournament just north across the border. But the Dawgs to date have done little to impress, getting blown out in a true road game at Auburn (I suppose excusable) but then just squeaking by a game San Diego squad visiting Seattle.
  5. Tempo – It’s notably up in the NBA and has been steadily increasing in college basketball over the past few seasons as well. Right now, however, the median tempo in college basketball is 71.5 possessions per game. Last year, that number would’ve ranked among the top 50. Keep in mind that pace usually slows down as we get into the meat of the season, but it’s an intriguing storyline to keep an eye on as a burgeoning trend.
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Ten Questions to Consider: Weekend Hoops Are Back

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on November 9th, 2018

Move over college football, make room for the first weekend of college basketball! Here are 10 questions to consider heading into this weekend’s slate of games from Friday through Sunday.

Arkansas vs. Texas in the Armed Forces Classic is the Best Game of the Weekend (USA Today Images)

  1. Can Arkansas start another season with a win? (Armed Forces Classic, Arkansas vs. Texas, Friday 7 PM EST, ESPN) The Razorbacks have won 23 consecutive season openers, with their last loss coming against a top-five UMass team coached by none other than John Calipari to start the 1994-95 season. Mike Anderson’s squad will have to find a way to replace the 34.7 points per game left behind by Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon.
  2. After a disappointing 2017-18 season, will the Pac-12 pick up an early impressive road win for the conference resume? (Washington @ Auburn, Friday 9:30 PM EST, SEC Network) In their season-opening win against Western Kentucky, the Huskies shot 29.7 percent in the first half and trailed by nine points before getting it together in the second stanza. Washington will need to avoid a slow start against an Auburn team that shot 18-of-38 beyond the arc in its season opener.
  3. How will West Virginia look without Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles? (Buffalo at West Virginia, Friday 9 PM EST, ESPNU) While West Virginia returns a defensive stalwart in the form of shot-blocking machine Sagaba Konate, the Mountaineers will of course no longer have Jevon Carter around to pester opposing ball-handlers. Bob Huggins’ team opens against a Buffalo squad that returns four of five starters from a 26-win squad that took out Arizona in the NCAA Tournament last season.
  4. What will Kentucky look like against a team with less talent than Duke? (Southern Illinois @ Kentucky, Friday 7 PM EST, SEC Network) While a 34-point loss is never a good thing, Kentucky can at least take away the offensive successes of Reid Travis (22 points) and Keldon Johnson (23 points) against the Blue Devils. It’s also worth remembering that the Wildcats struggled to put away both Utah Valley and Vermont at Rupp Arena to start last season.
  5. Just how good will Carsen Edwards be for Purdue? (Ball State @ Purdue, Saturday 8 PM EST, Big Ten Network) Carsen Edwards began this season by scoring 30 points and making 7-of-11 shots from distance against Fairfield. Edwards, the Big Ten preseason Player of the Year, will be up against a Ball State team that won at Notre Dame a season ago and returns its top four scorers. Read the rest of this entry »
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Where 2018-19 Happens: Reason #20 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on October 18th, 2018

As RTC heads into its 12th season covering college hoops, it’s time to begin releasing our annual compendium of YouTube clips that we like to call Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball. These 30 snippets from last season’s action are completely guaranteed to make you wish the games were starting tonight rather than 30 days from now. Over the next month you’ll get one reason per day until we reach the new season on Tuesday, November 6. You can find all of this year’s released posts here.

#20 – Where One Dribble and Fire Happens.

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-112011-122012-132013-142014-15, 2015-16, 2016-17  and 2017-18 preseasons.

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Pac-12 Conversation: Did the Pac-12 Get Hosed?

Posted by Adam Butler & RJ Abeytia on March 14th, 2018

With the Pac-12 already off to an inauspicious start given UCLA‘s First Four loss to St. Bonaventure, Pac-12 microsite writers Adam Butler (@pachoopsAB) and RJ Abeytia (@rj_abeytia) break down the burning questions facing ArizonaArizona State and the rest of the conference.

It’s Been That Kind of Year in the Pac-12 (USA Today Images)

Adam Butler: OK – let me start with the obvious – as Pac-12 bloggers, did the Pac get hosed by the NCAA?

R.J.:  I say we start with USC. Screwed or not screwed?

Adam Butler: Screwed! Whenever you’re “the somethingest to not something,” you’ve been screwed.

R.J.: USC was but most people are framing the argument incorrectly. It’s the whole body of work and the committee once again proved that there is no line of demarcation in their view between conference and non-conference play and, if anything, non-conference > conference. Andy Enfield has historically scheduled gutlessly in the non-conference realm but a #34 RPI is still a #34 RPI.

Adam Butler: Well… and this is where it gets weird with the 36 at-larges. Are they the 36 best teams remaining or the 36 most deserving?

R.J.: It has to be the 36 most deserving. I hate when an undeserving team gets in and then people retroactively declare them worthy of inclusion.

Adam Butler: Further – are you buying the FBI conspiracies? That the toothless NCAA is taking passive-aggressive jabs at schools explicitly under investigation?

R.J.:  This is not the first time USC has been made an example, only to have other schools get lesser penalties for greater infractions.

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Pac-12 NCAA Tournament Prospects Looking Slim

Posted by RJ Abeytia on March 13th, 2018

And then there were three. The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee took its Excalibur Sharpies and scrawled in the names of Arizona, UCLA and Arizona State onto its 68-team bracket and left an entire conference reeling in its wake. I’ll touch upon USC at another time, but the upshot should not really be that much of a revelation: Conference affiliation is ultimately arbitrary in the case of making the Big Dance. But enough digression. Let’s take a quick look at the three teams who did make it and assess their prospects for this weekend and beyond.

DeAndre Ayton is a Problem for Any Team in His Path (USA Today Images)

Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton gave everybody in Las Vegas a tantalizing glimpse of the dominance he’s capable of inflicting. He became the first player in Pac-10/12 history to ever win Freshman of the Year, Player of the Year, and Most Outstanding Player of the conference tournament. Sean Miller said months ago that “we go as DeAndre goes,” and truer words have never been spoken. Unfortunately, there are two things conspiring to thwart Miller’s Quixotic journey to the Final Four. The first is the Wildcats’ lack of consistent defensive play, a very conspicuous attribute in the Miller Era. This year the Wildcats finished 70th in Defensive Rating, per KenPom, and in the previous three seasons that number was 29th, 29th and third. The strange thing is that with Ayton, Rawle Alkins, Keanu Pinder and Dusan Ristic, you’d think the Wildcats would be a good defensive team.

However, college basketball is a guard’s game, and Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Allonzo Trier have slid significantly on defense from last year. Jackson-Cartwright has gone from an exceptional defender (99.0 DRtg in 2016-17) to essentially average at 105.0. Trier has gone from acceptable (101.0) to a turnstile (107.5) With a 131.0 Offensive Rating in tow, Trier is too good to keep off the court, but by far the biggest basketball question mark for Arizona is the ability of its backcourt to get stops. The other issue is the draw. Arizona by chalk would be looking at #5 Kentucky (gulp) in the Second Round and #1 Virginia in the Sweet Sixteen. By chalk, Arizona would then play #2 Cincinnati in the Elite Eight. That’s a tall order and likely even too tall for the seven-foot Ayton. Best case: Ayton continues to be a Basketball Godzilla and simply carries the Wildcats to San Antonio. Worst case: Kentucky gets revenge for its 1997 championship game loss and maybe Miller’s most talented team fails to reach the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

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Ten Questions to Consider: Final Regular Season Weekend

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on March 2nd, 2018

Regular season finales and conference tournaments make this a must-watch weekend of college hoops. Here are 10 questions I have for the action this weekend.

The Lowest Seed in the Big Ten Tournament is Still Alive (USA Today Images)

  1. Will the Big Ten Tournament playing a week early ultimately be advantageous? While Big Ten teams were forced to played a compacted conference season, teams will have an extra week of rest leading up to the NCAA Tournament by finishing this week. Additionally, all the committee’s eyes can be focused on the games this weekend at Madison Square Garden, something that could be favorable to any remaining Big Ten bubble teams.
  2. Can either the Atlantic Sun or Big South Tournament champion win a game in the NCAA Tournament? Florida Gulf Coast possesses the best profile from the Atlantic Sun if it could cut down on turnovers (bottom 100 nationally). This weekend would also be a good time to get to know UNC Asheville and its sharp-shooting pair of MaCio Teague and Raekwon Miller. Before #DunkCity and UNC Asheville begin dreaming of victories over power conference teams in the NCAA Tournament, they must both cut down their conference nets this weekend.
  3. Who finishes ACC play on a two-game losing streak: Duke or North Carolina? Both the Blue Devils and Tar Heels suffered last-second losses earlier in the week and are now fighting for ACC Tournament seeding. The biggest change since these two rivals played in early February has been the reemergence of Grayson Allen. Allen is averaging 20.5 PPG over his last six games.
  4. Will San Diego State make a statement against Nevada? The Aztecs have now won five straight, including a key win against Mountain West second-place Boise State. After a mid-season stretch in which San Diego State allowed an opponent’s offensive efficiency of 100 or more in eight of nine games, the Aztecs have held each of their last four opponents under 93 points. Brian Dutcher‘s team is turning the corner at just the right time. Read the rest of this entry »
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Ten Questions to Consider: A Weekend of Important Match-ups

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on February 9th, 2018

As the second weekend of February approaches, it also means the days until March are getting fewer. Here are 10 things I am looking at around college basketball this weekend.

Purdue Looks to Regroup After a Heartbreaking Loss to Ohio State (USA Today Images)

  1. Can Michigan State make it two losses in a row for Purdue? Michigan State and Purdue are the only two teams in America with offensive and defensive efficiency rankings among the top 20. While Sparty owns the best two-point defense in college basketball, they will be tested by Purdue’s elite three-point shooting (42.7%, first nationally). Michigan State has already allowed six Big Ten opponents to shoot 40 percent or better from distance this season.
  2. Can Creighton stay perfect at home against Xavier? Creighton is 13-0 at the CenturyLink Center this season with double-figure home wins against both Butler and Seton Hall. In the Bluejays’ loss to Xavier earlier this year, Creighton logged its season-high turnover percentage and suffered a season-low of just two points from Khyri Thomas.
  3. Will the three-point line be the difference again in North Carolina vs. N.C. State? In the recent overtime thriller between North Carolina and North Carolina State, the Tar Heels shot 4-of-19 on their three-point attempts while the Wolfpack nailed 15-of-30. The 33-point resulting difference was enough for the Wolfpack to overcome their inability to slow North Carolina from scorching shooting inside the arc (64% 2FG). Read the rest of this entry »
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