Checking In On… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback on December 19th, 2013

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

Dealing With Expectations

Forgive me if six weeks and 10 games (more or less) into this season I am a little dizzy from all the twists and turns. Most understood Massachusetts would be good, especially with Chaz Williams’ decision to take his last season of eligibility in Amherst, but undefeated? VCU would be nicked in the non-conference schedule — that much was a given — but three losses that include a 14-point loss to Florida State on a neutral court and a loss to Northern Iowa? That is a surprise.

What's new? UMass standout Chaz Williams is having another great season. (AP)

What’s new? UMass standout Chaz Williams is having another great season. (AP)

First Team

  • Chaz Williams (Massachusetts) — It may be hard to believe, but the unanimous pick has actually exceeded expectations. Williams has led the Minutemen to a 10-0 undefeated start and a #22 ranking in AP’s Top 25. UMass is the only conference representative.
  • Dwayne Evans (Saint Louis) — The Billikens’ slashing forward’s sluggish offensive numbers mirror the larger problems facing St. Louis this season. Evans can score inside as his 51 percent two-point completion rate attests, but absent a consistent long-range scorer, opposing teams find it very easy to stop the Bills — pack the lane and wait for Evans (or guard Jordair Jett) to drive. The stingy defense lives on, Saint Louis is ranked #3 defensively by Ken Pomeroy, but a team-wide three-point drought (Jake Barnett excepted) leaves Jim Crews’ squad with a one-dimensional offense.
  • Tyreek Duren (La Salle) — Hobbled by a troublesome plantar fasciitis condition that dates back to last May, the point guard has to adjust his energy to manage the Explorers’ offense rather than create it through his typical to-the-basket drives. There are many reasons the Explorers are struggling this season and with a better start Dureen’s inability to move laterally and plant for a jumper would be a footnote.
  • Treveon Graham (Virginia Commonwealth) — Graham continues the domination that established him as a first teamer last season. He leads the Rams in scoring (196 points, 16.3 PPG) and combines prolific scoring with efficient scoring, earning a 117.9 offensive rating from Ken Pomeroy. Questions on how to get VCU back on track should not start with Graham. He is on pace to accumulate last season’s numbers, and has improved his defensive rebounding to boot.
  • Juvonte Reddic (Virginia Commonwealth) — VCU’s second leading scorer (140 points, 11.7 points per game, 110.1) and leading rebounder (30-56-86) has stepped back slightly in offensive efficiency, but has improved in block and steal rates and in getting to the line. If his contributions hold steady through the season, Reddic should be in the thick of an All-Conference conversation come March.

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College Basketball By The Tweets: A Big Weekend and #FreePJ In Cameron

Posted by David Harten on December 17th, 2013

bythetweets

With Saturday marking the first weekend where college football didn’t dominate the sports schedule, college basketball took full advantage, with some pivotal non-conference games on the docket, a few featuring Top 25 teams and some others that made an argument to be ranked.

If you’re starting with Top 25 teams, you have to begin with No. 18 Kentucky at No. 11 North Carolina on Saturday, where the Tar Heels kept their head-scratching narrative going with an 82-77 victory in the Dean Dome. Marcus Paige dropped 23 points, including a 10-of-10 performance from the free throw line. After losing to Belmont at home and UAB in Birmingham, UNC has now notched victories over several of the top teams in the nation, beating the AP’s top three preseason teams in America. As you’ll see, you can attribute their elevated play to hot shooting against elite defensive teams, but it’s pretty impressive that Roy Williams’ bunch is doing all this without P.J. Hairston in the lineup (more on him at the bottom).

Another game that really caught the public eye on Saturday was No. 1 Arizona heading to the Crisler Center to take on Michigan. The Wildcats came back late and held on to win to preserve their spot at the top of the polls. While Brandon Ashley led the Cats with a team-high 18 points, Aaron Gordon put up his own nice performance of 14 points, five rebounds and two assists, but saved his best for what he did defensively in the second half against a red-hot Glenn Robinson III.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Misperceptions and Missed Perceptions: Reviewing Some Preseason Predictions

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 5th, 2013

With four weeks of basketball now in the books, it’s time to take a quick glance back at some of the things we thought we knew in the preseason. Some notions have proved accurate, but early results have tested a slew of preseason hypotheses that we once felt confident in. Here are a few examples, on both sides of the ledger:

We Thought We Knew…

Andy Enfield Was the New Coach Bringing Exciting Offensive Basketball to LA

There Has Been Nothing Slow About Steve Alford's And UCLA's First Four Weeks

There Has Been Nothing Slow About Steve Alford’s And UCLA’s First Four Weeks

We weren’t the only ones who thought it was USC, with Andy Enfield now at the helm – and not UCLA, with new head man Steve Alford — which was going to be lighting up Pac-12 scoreboards in the City of Angels this winter. Back in October, Enfield told his players, “if you want to play slow, go to UCLA.” Well, USC isn’t playing slow – they are 33rd nationally in possessions per game –but they are playing slower than the Bruins, which are six spots ahead of them in that category. And if this first month means anything, perhaps Enfield should have also advised any of his players who enjoy scoring, winning, or both, to plan that transfer across town. USC is 5-3, with just one win against a team in KenPom’s top 230 (!!!) and an offensive efficiency that ranks them 170th nationally. UCLA, on the other hand, is 8-0 and averaging more than 90 PPG behind the 7th-most efficient offense in the country. Now, there is a necessary asterisk here: Alford inherited significantly more talent at his disposal than Enfield did. Even so, it was Enfield – not Alford — who invited the cross-town comparisons. The Dunk City architect better have something besides his mouth working by the time USC visits Pauley Pavilion on January 5; otherwise, his Trojans are firmly at risk of getting run out of Westwood, and contrary to popular belief, there would be nothing slow about it.  

The Complection of the Top of the Big 12

At this point, expecting Kansas to win the Big 12 generally equates to peeping out a Southern California window and looking for the sun in the morning. The Jayhawks may not have played their way out of the preseason expectation to win the Big 12 again this year, but they should have company at the top this time around. Marcus Smart and Oklahoma State, post play deficiencies aside, have looked every bit the part of Big 12 title contenders themselves, and many would now peg the Cowboys as Big 12 favorites (including yours truly). Kansas State and Baylor were next in line after the Pokes and Jayhawks a month ago, but the Wildcats have suffered through a miserable opening month, while Baylor has looked as shaky as a 7-1 team with two top-40 victories can look, with two of those wins coming against non-D-I competition and three of the other five earned with a final margin of victory of five points or fewer. Iowa State now looks like the team ready to take a step up in class. The Cyclones, 7-0 with a pair of top-40 victories of their own, could easily enter the Big 12 season undefeated and prepared to further shake up a suddenly unpredictable conference race.

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Checking In On… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback on November 28th, 2013

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

 

Highlights and Lowlights From the Week (from highest to lowest)

Looking for high profile wins in the early season invitational tournaments and traditional home-away settings, the conference had some bright spots but overall the results were mixed:

Big man Cady Lalanne has been outstanding for UMass. (Maria Uminski/ Massachusetts Daily Collegian)

Big man Cady Lalanne has been outstanding for UMass. (Maria Uminski/ Massachusetts Daily Collegian)

  1. Massachusetts — The Minutemen were voted #24 in the AP’s Top 25 on the strength of their weekend at the Charleston Classic. Coach Derek Kellogg’s squad ran their winning streak to six with wins over power conference representatives Nebraska (81-65) and Clemson (62-56) and (then) #19 New Mexico over the course of the Charleston weekend. Center Cady Lalanne became the much anticipated low post beast, scoring 47 points on 17-of-36 (13-of-16 from the line) shooting while grabbing 35 rebounds over the three game run. He logged two double-doubles in the three game set. Chaz Williams is the guiding force for the squad (and he did not disappoint in Charleston either), but if Lalanne (along with Maxie Esho and Raphiael Putney) emerge as legitimate threats game-to-game, this Massachusetts squad will challenge for the conference title. Read the rest of this entry »
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RTC Big East Microsite Week in Review

Posted by Dan Lyons on November 26th, 2013

Happy holidays everyone! Feast Week is upon us, and the Big East has been performing pretty well across the board so far this season. There appears to be a lot of parity in the conference, and a few surprise teams like Xavier and Providence look like they may be real contenders this season. Let’s jump into the previous week of action.

Power Rankings

Xavier is Creeping up the Power Rankings Behind Semaj Christon

  • 10.) DePaul (3-2), LW (10): DePaul looks like it might be a solid step up from where it has been the last few seasons, but last night’s game against Wichita State shows there’s still a lot of opportunities for improvement.
  • 9.) Seton Hall (4-2), LW (8): The Pirates have a penchant for close games. Four of their six games have been decided by single figures, including both of their losses: a 77-74 double-overtime heartbreaker to Mercer, and an 86-85 loss to Oklahoma.
  • T-7.) Butler (4-0), LW (9): Butler is still undefeated by the narrowest of margins, winning an overtime thriller against Vanderbilt and a one-point game against Ball State last week. Khyle Marshall and Kellen Dunham are keeping the Butler offense afloat, each by averaging 15.8 points per game.
  • T-7.) St. John’s (3-1), LW (5): Phil Greene IV had a big week for the Johnnies, scoring 16 and 22 points in tight wins over Bucknell and Monmouth, respectively. Greene’s contributions in the backcourt have been very important for a St. John’s team that is struggling to score.
  • 6.) Providence (6-1), LW (6): The Friars had as good of a week as anyone, winning three games over solid competition before dropping last night’s Paradise Jam championship to Maryland. The frontcourt combination of Kadeem BattsLaDontae Henton and Tyler Harris has been as effective as any in the league in the early part of the season. Read the rest of this entry »
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It’s A Love/Hate Relationship: Volume II

Posted by jbaumgartner on November 25th, 2013

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC columnist. His Love/Hate column will publish each week throughout the season. In this piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball.

Five Things I Loved This Week

I LOVED…. teams playing havoc with the minds and emotions of AP Poll voters. Perfect example this week – North Carolina. After laying a giant stink bomb at home against Belmont and making everyone wonder exactly how much of a difference P.J. Hairston will make even when he’s back, those same short-handed Heels went out and took it straight to the defending champs during Sunday’s convincing win over Louisville. So which is the real Carolina? Hard to say at this point, but yet another reminder that this is a year where almost any team can put up a W.

UNC Took It to the Champs on Sunday (Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports)

UNC Took It to the Champs on Sunday (Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports)

I LOVED…. efficient scorers. Marcus Paige‘s 32 points on 9-of-13 shooting brought to my attention that we do have a number of examples this year of quantity scorers who are putting up their numbers without dominating the ball — not the most common find with today’s shoot-first mentality. The two names that immediately come to mind are Duke’s Jabari Parker (after two weeks, still for real) and UK’s Julius Randle. Parker is now shooting almost 56 percent for the year (65 percent from three) and has only been under 50 percent shooting once all year, while Randle has never been below that mark. Meanwhile, both are still putting up over 20 points per game. It’s hard to not love a teammate who can fill it up while still leaving shots for the other guys on the floor.

I LOVED…. Russ Smith‘s ability to slice the double team. I’ll harp on his decision-making when appropriate, but there is no one better in the college game about sizing up two defenders at the top of the key, hesitating momentarily to draw them closer and then knifing through to create an instantaneous 5-on-3 situation in the lane that usually results in a layup. He’s a fun talent to see up close.

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ACC M5: 11.22.13 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on November 22nd, 2013

morning5_ACC

  1. College Basketball Talk: Huge props to Florida State’s Leonard Hamilton. I think we’ll look back on yesterday’s game seeing that Virginia Commonwealth was somewhat overrated, but the Seminoles gave the Rams an old-fashioned woodshed beating in Puerto Rico. Hamilton’s team has gotten back to its defensive principles this season, and the Seminoles dominated the game from a shot selection standpoint. This team plays smart basketball and is undefeated with a road win against a decent Central Florida team and last night’s whipping of a very good VCU squad. Maybe it’ll turn out to be a flash in the pan, but right now Florida State has the best resume in the ACC by a mile.
  2. ESPN: While this article was only published yesterday, I imagine it was written before Boston College got off to a 1-4 start. Now that start includes a really close loss to Connecticut (Olivier Hanlan missed a layup to tie the game with 11 seconds left), but it also includes a puzzling home loss to Toledo. I still like this team’s makeup and think the Eagles will be a tough game for everyone in the conference. I really think the Eagles have struggled learning to play as a front-runner rather than a plucky underdog. But Steve Donahue has to turn things around quickly — it’s very difficult to make the Big Dance after such a slow start.
  3. Hampton Roads Daily Press: Duke athletic director Kevin White is “unabashedly bullish” on an ACC-centric cable channel in the near future (circa 2016). I tend to disagree. While the network may provide a short-term financial boon, I think the cable TV market is moving quickly towards an online a la carte service. This isn’t to say having a talented and devoted production team wouldn’t be beneficial, but everyone points to the Big Ten Network with its high revenues when I believe it may prove to be a hindrance as people begin to purchase television differently. This will be an interesting story to follow over the next few years.
  4. Washington Post: Jarrell Eddie apparently learned a lot as Erick Green‘s roommate last season. And while the advice he got isn’t mind-blowing, it’s interesting to see how businesslike Green was in his approach to the game: “You’ve got to be in the gym all the time.” The Hokies will only go as far this year as Eddie will take them. He has the potential to be a very good scorer, and as one of two seniors on the squad it’s up to him to set the standards for the team. He admits to being complacent last year (citing it as a reason for his inconsistency), but any complacency this year will prove far worse, as Green isn’t around anymore to save the day.
  5. Atlanta Journal-Constitution: With struggling attendance, Georgia Tech is trying some creative marketing tactics to get people to come to its games. I don’t understand this at all, but if you buy your ticket through LivingSocial, you get to shoot a free throw after the game (along with a more sensical hot dog and soda). The free throw isn’t for a contest or anything. Presumably you just wait in line with the other people who sat in the upper deck with LivingSocial tickets and then line one up from the charity stripe afterward. I don’t understand it, but might as well give it a shot, right?
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Checking in on… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback on November 21st, 2013

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

 

The Atlantic 10 Versus the World (the rest of Division I Actually):

Table01131120

A 79 percent winning percentage conference-wide looks good, but it masks a disappointing 36 percent (4-7) winning percentage versus the power conferences (defined here as the five BCS conferences — the ACC, B1G, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC) plus the AAC and Big East — two fragments of the former Big East that should trouble those A-10 fans who anticipate more than two NCAA bids next March. The league must cut into that win deficit and the early season invitational tournaments which will play out over November’s last two weekends are the best place to start. Opportunities for non-conference signature wins diminish during December. Temple and Xavier, two teams with the “anywhere, anytime” scheduling attitude and the programs to back it up on the court have moved on. Massachusetts, Virginia Commonwealth and La Salle have beefed up their schedules, but other “flagship-in-waiting” programs (Saint Louis and Dayton for example) scheduled beatable but not RPI-notable opponents. The conference is crushing comparable conferences (the West Coast, Missouri Valley and the Mountain West conferences) and the low-majors in head-to-head play; that, combined with a (close to) 50 percent winning percentage versus the power conferences will translate into extra bids on Selection Sunday. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Toughest Team Always Wins: A Navy SEAL Teaches Toughness

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) on November 21st, 2013

The toughest team always wins.

The visiting Virginia Commonwealth Rams have the ball under their own basket with 9.8 seconds to go, moments after a free throw from Virginia’s Malcolm Brogdon tied the game at 56.

“C’mon, you guys, you can do this,” former Navy SEAL John McGuire thought as he sat directly behind VCU’s bench. “Focus.”

Rams point guard Rob Brandenburg brings the ball past halfcourt, cuts to his right and passes to shooting guard Treveon Graham above the top of the key. Graham launches a three-pointer from nearly 30 feet away, snapping the net with just three seconds remaining. The Cavaliers miss a final-second heave.

Just like McGuire taught them.

McGuire, who rode on the Rams’ bus to Charlottesville and gave the pregame speech, has worked with coach Shaka Smart’s team since just after the Final Four run in 2011. The former sniper instructor now runs SEAL Team Physical Training, a Richmond, Virginia, business that focuses on fitness and team-building exercises, including for athletic teams. Smart found out about SEAL Team PT through word of mouth and called McGuire in November 2010, asking about his philosophies on teamwork and building leaders. “I think he liked what he heard,” McGuire said.

Since beginning work with VCU, SEAL Team PT has worked with nine Division I men’s basketball programs, along with college football, lacrosse, women’s basketball and baseball teams. Last offseason, McGuire personally worked with VCU, Toledo and Illinois, teams that are a combined 10-0 in 2013-14.

Get comfortable being uncomfortable.”

McGuire prides himself on taking people out of their comfort zones with his drills, many of them taken from his Navy SEAL training. Working on an unfamiliar task levels the playing field. It forces the people taking part to work together, lead, be confident and communicate. Players are usually divided into teams for their tasks, which can include anything from push-ups and running to carrying a sandbag or rowing a boat together. Given the limited time constraints afforded McGuire by NCAA rules – sometimes his training sessions are as short as three one-hour sessions within a week – cultivating chemistry and rapport is at the top of his task list.

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VCU’s Versatility On Full Display Early in the Season

Posted by Lathan Wells on November 17th, 2013

Lathan Wells is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after last night’s game between VCU and Winthrop in Richmond. 

The VCU Rams have risen to prominence on the national scene over the last several years due largely to their suffocating, full-court defense and long-range shooting. This has proven to be a style that’s been immensely difficult for teams to prepare for, and most opponents don’t possess the stamina or depth to hang with the Rams for an entire game. But in the infant stages of the 2013-14 season, and following a solid 92-71 win over Winthrop Saturday night, VCU has also proven that it has the ability to win games in different fashions. It’s that versatility that makes this team particularly dangerous.

Legitimate options off the bench like JeQuan Lewis make VCU even more potent (credit: collegebasketball.org)

Legitimate options off the bench like JeQuan Lewis make VCU even more potent (credit: collegebasketball.org)

After the Rams capped off a rugged, grinding win in Charlottesville over in-state rival Virginia on Tuesday, it became apparent that taking the tempo away from this team would no longer guarantee success. The Rams fought off a night where they were whistled for 27 personal fouls and had several key players in early foul trouble with its consistent half-court defense. While they weren’t able to press the Cavaliers full-court due to the slow-it-down style Virginia prefers, Shaka Smart’s team’s perseverance on the road against an ACC foe in prime time showed that it has the makeup of a team that can handle in-game adversity. Avoiding the letdown that sometimes plagues teams playing as many youngsters as VCU was an important barometer early in the year, and the Rams were able to get back to pressing full-court and shooting well from downtown in pulling away against Winthrop.

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Who Won The Week? The Champions Classic, Oregon, and a Guard From VCU…

Posted by Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) on November 15th, 2013

wonweekWho Won the Week? is a regular column that will outline and discuss three winners and losers from the previous week. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game. And man, will those be tested this winter. Today’s forecast high temperature? 39 degrees. It’s November 15. It’s only going to get worse from here.

WINNER: The Champions Classic

The outstanding play of Andrew Wiggins was just one of several highlights from the Champions Classic in Chicago. (AP)

The outstanding play of Andrew Wiggins was just one of several highlights from the Champions Classic in Chicago. (AP)

Though there was many a spectacular game in the first week of the season – and some of that is certainly just because it’s good to be back watching hoops – the Champions Classic proved a worthy spectacle to start the season. In its third year, the season-opening tournament with four of college basketball’s best programs may have hit its pinnacle thus far. The four programs are each ranked in the top five of the Associated Press poll, and each came in with significant star power. Despite facing Kentucky’s heralded group of freshmen – stop me if you’ve heard that before – Gary Harris, Keith Appling and Adriean Payne took Michigan State to a wire-to-wire 78-74 win in game one of the double-header. Appling’s performance was particularly spectacular, scoring 22 points, grabbing eight rebounds as a point guard, getting eight assists and nabbing four steals. The Wildcats’ most-touted recruit, Julius Randle, shone through despite the early-season backcourt inconsistency John Calipari’s teams are sometimes prone to. The freshman put up 27 points and 13 rebounds despite going against Payne for most of the night (though he did have eight turnovers). But game one’s one-freshman show was trumped by game two’s two-freshman battle. Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins and Duke’s Jabari Parker went back and forth throughout their teams’ match-up. Parker’s 27-point, nine-rebound stat line may have outshone Wiggins’ 22-and-six showing, but the pair’s captivating late-evening game ended up going to the Canadian’s Jayhawks, 94-83. The good news for this season is that Randle, Wiggins, and Parker all looked like the stars they were billed to be coming into college. The good news for the next three seasons? The four schools have agreed to do these neutral-site games for the next three years. See you next year.

(Related winners: Michigan State and Kansas, for getting a couple of top-level non-conference wins; Randle, Wiggins and Parker, for matching their hype. Related losers: Tarik Black, who only had a single rebound and three fouls for the Jayhawks; Kentucky and Duke.)

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The ACC’s Soft Middle Tier: Time to Panic Yet?

Posted by Chris Kehoe on November 14th, 2013

We are less than one week into the start of the 2013-14 college basketball season and the median of the ACC is nearing panic mode. Maybe not quite yet, but things certainly could have started better for the NCAA’s mightiest conference. To date, N.C. State has lost to Cincinnati by 11, Virginia lost to in-state rival VCU (displaying the power shift between traditional Virginia basketball schools), Miami barely squeaked by Georgia Southern in overtime and posted an inexcusable overtime loss to St. Francis (NY), and Boston College suffered an opening defeat to Providence and followed that up with a 13-point shellacking at the hands of a game Massachusetts squad. What does this all mean for the ‘almighty’ ACC as the nation’s premier basketball conference? Does this, for one, quiet the whispers of the ACC as the greatest basketball conference of all-time?

Boston College

BC has little to celebrate after an 0-2 start (Michael Ivins/US Presswire)

A lot of a conference’s overall reputation and greatness has to be attributed to its depth and the overall quality of teams across the board. Now VCU happens to be a top-25 team that has largely surpassed the Virginia basketball program of late under Shaka Smart, but a team that has ACC title aspirations and is laden with senior leaders needs to win games versus A-10 programs, especially if it doesn’t wish to find itself on the bubble again. N.C. State is in what most people consider a rebuilding year under Mark Gottfried, but Cincinnati is not a powerhouse and the middle of the league must prove formidable for the ACC to solidify its place in history. Last Friday night, Maryland lost to a top-25 Connecticut team boasting one of the best backcourts in the nation by only a single point, but the Terps walked away with a close loss rather than gloating about a big win on their non-conference résumé. Miami wasn’t expected to have a great year after losing Kenny Kadji, Shane Larkin, Reggie Johnson, Durand Scott and the rest of its roster from last season, but losing to a NEC foe is a humbling step backward, to say the least.

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