Villanova Doesn’t Need a Star; It Has a Team

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 26th, 2014

Save for a few hiccups and misfires on the recruiting trail, Jay Wright has kept Villanova in tournament contention throughout his entire 14-year coaching tenure with the team, a track record matched by few. Many remember his success from the tenacious four-guard lineups in 2005 and 2006 or the Scottie Reynolds-led final four team in 2009, and while recent years have been filled with early tournament departures, the Wildcats have continually remained in the picture. His success can be attributed to a number of factors, but above all its his adaptation to changing personnel. While the team has made the NCAA tournament in nine of the previous 10 seasons, the playing style has been remarkably different. Wright has transitioned the team from a fast-paced drive and dish offense centered around guard play and outscoring opponents to one centered around team defense and a balanced, unselfish scoring attack. For the past several seasons, Villanova has not had what NBA scouts would categorize as a star player. There are no one-and-done’s, no lottery pick athletes. Instead, Wright has recruited a group of hard working four-year players who bring a variety of skillsets and offer multi-positional diversity. What this does is build a brand of basketball built around teamwork, help defense and selflessness, and its success can be seen through the Wildcats’ play over the last two games at the Legends Classic.

JayVaughn Pinkston Came Up With the Defensive Play of the Year in CBB (USA Today Images)

JayVaughn Pinkston Came Up With the Defensive Play of the Year in CBB (USA Today Images)

Despite struggling against the likes of Lehigh and Bucknell, everything seems to have clicked on Monday night when Villanova took on VCU and the HAVOC defense that has make Shaka Smart famous. But when reviewing the box score, there isn’t a single player that can be pointed to for the reason behind the team’s 24 point rout of VCU. Villanova as a team dished out 20 assists on 29 made baskets and committed just nine turnovers in the process, against a team that had forced a remarkable 60 turnovers in the three contests before it. Four players scored in double figures and the team’s leading scorer is averaging 12.5 points, accounting for a mere 16.2% of the team’s total scoring output. The balanced offense is complemented with a balanced defense. The Wildcats are not particularly quick, or tall, but the team has a number of interchangeable parts, allowing them to effectively switch on ball screens or play help defense in the lanes.

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For Villanova and VCU, Handling the Ghost of Seasons Past

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vtbnblog) on November 25th, 2014

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog. Joe filed this report after Villanova’s 77-53 victory over VCU Monday evening.

When Villanova and Virginia Commonwealth faced off in the first round of the Legends Classic at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn last night, a trail of questions about these two dynamic teams followed them onto the court. Both had great success last season, winning their respective conference regular season titles while compiling a combined record of 55-14 (Villanova was 29-5 while VCU was 26-9) but each saw their seasons expire with a sigh that betrayed what they had worked for. VCU had run up a 24-7 record even before the conference tournament, securing no worse than an at-large place in the NCAA field as the Atlantic 10 Conference garnered a record-breaking six bids. They burned through Richmond and NCAA-worthy George Washington by 20 points apiece before bowing to a senior-heavy Saint Joseph’s squad, 65-61. But it was the two-point loss to Stephen F. Austin (77-75) that stung. Had HAVOC run its course? If the defensive turnover machine of seasons past could not produce, the Rams’ open court offense was reduced to their half court set which yielded far fewer points (and possessions). Like Gonzaga, Butler and George Mason before them, the Rams were no longer the hunters, they had become the hunted.

Will Shaka Smart Be Interested In The Open Position In Westwood? (US Presswire)

Smart’s club started off well, but tailed off against an equally talented Villanova squad in Brooklyn. (US Presswire)

In “the old” Big East a 28-3 regular season record capped with a 16-2 conference record would have heralded the Wildcats as an elite team and Final Four contender even before the conference tournament. For Villanova and “the new” Big East however, double-figure losses to Syracuse and Creighton (twice) appeared to undermine the Wildcats’ — and the Big East’s — attempts to write a new chapter. Villanova dropped their first round conference tournament game to Seton Hall (64-63), secured a #2 seed in the NCAAs, then dropped their second round game to former conference mate Connecticut (77-63). The Big East garnered four bids and no conference team made it to the Sweet Sixteen. Read the rest of this entry »

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RTC Top 25: Week One

Posted by Walker Carey on November 24th, 2014

Week one is in the books and what a week it was. One of the great things about college basketball is that many of the elite teams play other elite teams early in the season, and that is what happened at the Champions Classic in Indianapolis last Tuesday. First, #2 Duke led the entire way in scoring a comfortable 11-point victory over #19 Michigan State, and in the nightcap, #1 Kentucky showed everyone why it will be the story of the year in college basketball, as the Wildcats thoroughly dismantled #11 Kansas. Duke’s win over Michigan State paired with its weekend victories over Temple and Stanford have the Blue Devils all the way up to the second slot in this week’s RTC25. #1 Kentucky remains in the top spot, but its style points in demolishing a talented Kansas squad earned the Wildcats every one of our pollsters’ number one votes. Outside of Kentucky, the team of the week had to be #7 Gonzaga, who rose from #11 after it impressively handled previously-#22 SMU and dominated its way to a 52-point thrashing of Saint Joseph’s.

This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump…

Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 9.21.01 AM

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Big East Weekend Wrap

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 17th, 2014

The Big East Weekend Wrap will cover news and notes from the weekend’s games.

After an 11-game slate of games for the Big East’s 10 teams,  the league remains perfect. While none of those 11 games were against top competition, wins are wins at this point in the season and losses here can really damage a team’s NCAA Tournament resume. Despite the relative talent imbalance between most of the Big East teams and their opponents, some of these games were shockingly close and may have provided wake-up calls for teams and players who were still stuck in preseason mode. For others, it could be a sign of things to come. Below is a list of five key takeaways from the weekend’s Big East action.

Villanova Made Enough Twos to Make Up for a Cold Shooting Night From Three

Villanova Made Enough Twos to Make Up for a Cold Shooting Night From Three

  • Villanova came out flat, shooting 3-of-23 from deep in the first half before finishing 8-of-33 (24.2%) on the night. Those off nights were a major concern for this team last season when the offense sputtered and failed to create easy baskets when the three-point shot wasn’t falling. Starting guards Dylan Ennis and Ryan Arcidiacono combined for 10-of-28 shooting from the floor while senior wing Darrun Hilliard shot just 4-of-18 and 1-of-9 from deep. The Wildcats forced enough turnovers (28) and got enough points in transition to put Lehigh away, but the win was not a comfortable one by any means. The Wildcats’ shooting numbers are worth watching moving forward.
  • Creighton swept its weekend slate, finishing 2-0 against Central Arkansas and Chicago State by a combined 45 points. The biggest question for the Bluejays coming into this season was how the team would respond without its offensive centerpiece, Doug McDermott. While neither of the above teams was strong enough defensively to provide an answer to this question, the offense continued to fire on all cylinders. Creighton hoisted up a whopping 56 three-point shots in the two games, making just 19 of them, which is disappointing for a team that led the country in this category at 41.5%. Yet the offense was the same free-flowing, unselfish and pass-heavy one we saw last season. Senior center Will Artino was highly efficient with his touches in the paint in limited minutes, with sophomore Isaiah Zierden providing strong scoring output off the bench. Look for Toby Hegner to make a name for himself this season: the 6’9 freshman contributed 17 points and seven rebounds, including 3-of-6 shooting from deep.

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Big East Conference Preview: Xavier, Georgetown & Villanova

Posted by Justin Kundrat on November 14th, 2014

The Big East microsite will preview each Big East team in tiers in preparation for the season’s tipoff. The bottom tier was released earlier this week; it can be found here. Yesterday: the middle tier of the conferenceToday: the top tier, including Xavier, Georgetown and Villanova.

#3: Xavier

Xavier's Matt Stainbrook is a Load on the Blocks

Xavier’s Matt Stainbrook is a Load on the Blocks

Xavier’s projected top three finish is less a testament to the team being talented and more a statement about the lack of quality, NCAA-caliber teams in the Big East this season. But that’s not to say the Musketeers will be a bad team. Senior Matt Stainbrook, arguably the conference’s most talented big man, will play a crucial role in serving as the team’s go-to scorer and anchor in the paint. While the 6’10” center has not been considered a primary option in his career, he has started in almost every game dating back to his first two years at Western Michigan. Coming off a season in which he averaged 10.6 points on 55.6 percent shooting (second in the Big East) and 7.4 rebounds (5th in the Big East) in just 24.4 minutes per game, head coach Chris Mack knows what he has in Stainbrook. With the departure of leading scorer Semaj Christon to the NBA, Stainbrook will be the team’s number one option. Also gone from last year’s NCAA Tournament team are two additional starters: junior forward Justin Martin (transfer) and senior forward Isaiah Philmore (graduation), who together combined for 29 percent of the team’s total points per game.

Yet the Musketeers still find themselves with a projected third place finish. Aside from Stainbrook, there are two reasons for this. First, point guard Dee Davis is back for his senior season. Davis has shown over his career that he can run an offense, averaging 4.7 assists per game last season (second in the Big East) with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.5-to-1. Second, Xavier brings in guard Remy Abell, an Indiana transfer, and six new freshman in an incoming class that ranks as one of the best in the program’s history. Headlining this list is 6’5 forward Trevon Bluiett, who could very well be the conference’s second best freshman behind Isaiah Whitehead. Bluiett is a big time scorer at the wing, and he will most likely see immediate playing time in the starting lineup as the Musketeers’ depth at the wings is limited. Additionally, the development of rising sophomores Jalen Reynolds and Myles Davis, who round out the starting lineup, will be instrumental in determining Xavier’s postseason success. Both players have shown flashes coming off the bench, but will need to find consistency if Xavier is to push for another NCAA Tournament bid. Given the team’s relatively weak non-conference schedule this season, the Musketeers will have to capitalize on their games versus projected conference front-runners Georgetown and Villanova.

#2: Georgetown

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Ranking the AAC Non-Conference Schedules: Part II

Posted by mlemaire on November 11th, 2014

Yesterday the microsite rolled out the first half of our AAC non-conference schedule rankings, listing teams from #11 to #6 based on the competitiveness of their schedules. Today’s rankings of the top five are a bit more interesting, primarily because a lot of these games are projected to have NCAA Tournament implications and are therefore deserving of a closer look. Here are the top five non-conference schedules in the conference, starting from the easiest to the hardest:

  • #5 Cincinnati: We have frequently used this space to blast Cincinnati for its soft non-conference schedule and it seems like Mick Cronin is finally listening. Last season’s slate featured four games against teams ranked #300 or lower, whereas this season only Eastern Illinois comes into the season lower than that mark, and the rest of the Bearcats’ schedule should give the team ample opportunities to pile up resume-enhancing wins. The Emerald Coast Classic could result in a match-up with Creighton or Mississippi, and the team also welcomes San Diego State and VCU to Fifth Third Arena before the end of 2014. And even though the game will be played in February this season, don’t forget about the Crosstown Classic against Xavier either. If the Bearcats can win a couple of those games and follow that up with double-digit victories in the conference, it will be tough to keep Cincinnati out of the NCAA Tournament.

    Josh Pastner is now 0-13 Against Ranked Opponents

    Josh Pastner’s team will have an early chance to answer how good they can be. (USA TODAY Sports)

  • #4 Memphis: No team in the conference plays a more difficult season opener than the Tigers, which are headed to South Dakota for a prime-time showdown with Wichita State. That’s a great opportunity, but aside from the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational in which Memphis will play Baylor and perhaps Illinois, the non-conference schedule looks comparable to last season’s 151st-best slate in the country. The only other game worth paying attention to is the December 13 return game home date with Oklahoma State. If Memphis is on the bubble in February, it will be worth remembering that the Tigers opted to play Prairie View A&M and Western Illinois as part of their non-conference schedule this season.

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The RTC Podblast: Big East Preview Edition

Posted by rtmsf on November 7th, 2014

Welcome to conference preview season. In this, our fourth of eight conference preview RTC Podblasts that we’ll be rolling out before the dawn of the season, RTC columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) joins us to discuss the key storylines, teams and players to watch among the 10 teams of the Big East. As always, Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114) hosts the podblast, and the full rundown of topics is below. Make sure to tweet at us (@rushthecourt) if you have any opinion on which team should be the gang’s new favorite heading into the 2014-15 season.

Also remember to add the RTC Podcast to your iTunes lineup so that you’ll automatically upload it on your listening device after we record. And don’t forget to check out our 2014-15 Preseason Storylines Podcast, and feel free to contact us at any time — we’re listening.

  • 0:00-6:18 – Villanova
  • 6:18-12:09 – Search for a Second Team
  • 12:09-17:05 – Surprise Teams
  • 17:05-23:45 – Randy’s New Favorite Team Nominees
  • 23:45-26:28 – Top Players in the Big East
  • 26:28-29:46 – Predictions for the Conference
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One on One: A Big East Preview with Jon Rothstein

Posted by Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) on November 3rd, 2014

RTC interviews one on one

Rush the Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you throughout the preseason with previews of each of the major conferences.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview with the Big East, RTC correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the pleasure of speaking with a Big East expert in CBS Sports Network College Basketball Insider Jon Rothstein (@jonrothstein)

Rush the Court: Villanova enters the season as the pretty clear favorite to win the league. The Wildcats return four starters from a team that went 29-5 last season. What are some reasonable expectations for Jay Wright’s squad this season?

Expectations are high for Jay Wright and Company. (Getty)

Expectations are High for Jay Wright’s Villanova Team (Getty)

Jon Rothstein: I think reasonable expectations are to win the Big East title, have a chance at winning the Big East Tournament title, and get another high seed in the NCAA Tournament. Villanova was terrific last year in close game situations. I think there is a real possibility that Villanova could be a better team this year than it was last year, but have a worse record because its non-conference schedule is that much more difficult. What makes Villanova so good this year is that it does not lose 50/50 balls. Every ball that is being contested seems to go Villanova’s way almost every time. A big reason for that is Josh Hart. Hart is a guy who can go on a tear for Villanova this year, as he will step into a more enhanced role with the departure of James Bell. I think right now if there is one person who epitomizes Villanova’s culture and brand, it is Josh Hart.

RTC: Georgetown had a below average season last year [just 18-15 overall and 8-10 in conference]. There are no two ways around that. Does John Thompson III’s team have enough firepower to ensure a more successful campaign this season?

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Who’s Got Next? Brunson, Ahmad & Davis Shun Home State Big Ten Schools in Class of 2015

Posted by Sean Moran on September 23rd, 2014

http://rushthecourt.net/mag/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/whosgotnext.jpg

Who’s Got Next? is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you an overview of what’s going on in the complex world of recruiting, from who is signing where among the seniors to discussing the recruitment of the top uncommitted players in the country. We also encourage you to check out his contributions at The Intentional Foul dedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Note: Scout.com used for all player rankings.

Over the past two weeks four highly rated high school seniors from the Midwest have committed to their colleges. Despite calling the states of Illinois, Ohio, Michigan and Minnesota home, however, only one of the four elite players decided to stay at home and play in the Big Ten. Could this exodus spell trouble down the road for one of the premier power conferences in the land?

Jay Wright Lands Top Point Guard in Class of 2015

The point guard position is fairly weak in the Class of 2015, but Villanova recently locked up five-star prospect Jalen Brunson, who is considered the No. 1 point guard in the class and No. 16 player overall. The lefty from the northern Chicago suburbs is the son of former Temple star and NBA journeyman Rick Brunson, and chose the Wildcats over the in-state Illini. The 6’2” point guard plays for one of the top high schools in Illinois as well as for the Mac Irvin Fire, which is known for suiting up Jabari Parker, Jahlil Okafor, and Cliff Alexander in recent years. During the Nike EYBL, Brunson averaged 17.2 points and 6.9 assists per game.

Brunson plays the game with an old school flair. While definitely not an elite run-and-jump athlete, he is a master at running the offense, using the pick-and-roll, and knocking down jump shots from all parts of the floor. He uses his strong upper body to get by defenders and has NBA range on his three-point shot — which he displayed during the Nike Global Challenge in August. Off the pick-and-roll, Brunson can calmly knock down a three or get into the lane for a soft teardrop floater. He is a smart passer and gets the ball to teammates in a position to score and knows how to feed the post. This past winter, Brunson led his team to the Illinois state semifinals just one year after leading them to the state finals as a sophomore. In 2013 Brunson’s team came up short against a senior Jabari Parker’s Simeon powerhouse. Last year Brunson scored a remarkable 56 points in a losing effort against Jahlil Okafor’s state champs at Whitney Young. With his strong junior season, Brunson racked up a host of awards and also outplayed Kentucky’s freshman point guard Tyler Ulis in a notable head-to-head battle.

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Morning Five: 09.12.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on September 12th, 2014

morning5

  1. Villanova picked up a big commitment yesterday from five-star point guard Jalen Brunson bringing their 2015 class to three as he joins shooting guard Donte DiVincenzo and power forward Tim Delaney. As Jeff Borzello notes, Brunson’s recruitment was complex and probably wasn’t decided until after Brunson’s father, who was expected to be part of a package deal as an assistant coach, was arrested for alleged sexual assault. Brunson is from Illinois so this is another tough loss for Illini fans, but it still early in the recruiting season so there are still plenty of big names available.
  2. Josh Pastner’s decision to hire Keelon Lawson is paying dividends more quickly than many anticipated. In addition to having a pipeline to Lawson’s kids, who are all highly recruited, Pastner will also get Dedric Lawson, who was the #7 overall recruit in the class of 2016, a year early as Dedric announced that he will reclassify to the class of 2015. By doing so, Dedric will join his brother K.J., ranked #38 in this class, at Memphis next year. The move should not come as too much of a surprise because Dedric’s birth date would make him eligible for the 2016 NBA Draft.
  3. The season hasn’t even started yet, but we already have a pair of significant ACL injuries to report. The most significant one will probably be at Illinois where they appear to have lost Tracy Abrams for the season due to an ACL tear. Abrams, a senior who started all 35 games last season, averaged 10.7 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game last season. Fortunately for Illinois, they appear to have an adequate and seasoned replacement in Oregon State transfer Ahmad Starks. Valparaiso might not be so lucky in terms of finding a replacement for starting point guard Lexus Williams who will also be undergoing surgery for a torn ACL. Williams averaged 6.5 points and 2.3 assists while starting 23 games as a freshman last season. Unlike Illinois, Valparaiso has not set a time table for Williams’ return after his surgery, which is expected to be performed today.
  4. Outside of the Brunson and Lawson news there were also several other significant announcements. The first comes from four-star forward Mickey Mitchell, who recommitted to Ohio State. Mitchell had initially committed to Ohio State, but reopened his recruitment over the summer before finally deciding (we think) that Columbus was the right place for him. Four-star shooting guard Rex Pflueger committed to Notre Dame giving the Irish more options to help with scoring after Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton leave following this season. On the other end of the spectrum is Kedar Edwards, who reopened his recruitment after having previously committed to Florida State. Edwards was previously expected to play for the Seminoles this season, but for reasons that aren’t clear to us did not enroll. With Florida State picking up several top-tier recruits last week, perhaps Edwards realized that Tallahassee might not be the ideal location for him even for the upcoming years.
  5. We are not sure how many of you have been watching the FIBA Basketball World Cup (judging by the online response we have seen not too many of you), but with the Finals coming up this weekend we were wondering how long the pro experiment will go on. We are young enough (well at least one of us) to not remember what it was like to have amateurs represent us at championship level events against professionals from other countries. It seems like every time there is another international competition the cries for going back to the old format grow louder. While at some level we enjoy seeing the US beat up on the rest of the world, which is something we would expect to do regularly if all of the best NBA players participated, we wonder if it wouldn’t be better just to have a group of players who were really committed to the program although with the brief stops in college for many top players that might not be realistic.
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Rushed Reactions: #7 Connecticut 77, #2 Villanova 65

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 22nd, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

Rush the Court will be providing wall-to-wall coverage of each of the NCAA Tournament from each of the 13 sites this year. Follow our NCAA Tourney specific Twitter accounts at @RTCeastregion@RTCMWregion,@RTCsouthregion and @RTCwestregion.

Three Key Takeaways.

Shabazz Napier had a big night, and the Huskies are heading to the Sweet Sixteen. (Credit: UConn Athletic Communications/Stephen Slade)

Shabazz Napier had a big night, and the Huskies are heading to the Sweet Sixteen. (Credit: UConn Athletic Communications/Stephen Slade)

  1. Shabazz Napier was awesome. Killer crossovers, in-your-face threes, acrobatic layups – Napier took the game over in the second half like only he could. The senior guard scored 21 points in the final 20 minutes – including three straight triples midway through the period – to give Connecticut the edge in what had looked to be a barnburner. Even a late, seemingly serious ankle injury couldn’t stop the AAC Player of the Year. After sitting out a minute or two of action, Napier returned with a bang, making a crucial reverse layin and nailing several big free throws to effectively finish off the Wildcats. He ended the night with 25 points, just one more than he scored against Saint Joseph’s on Thursday, but the difference was his efficiency: Napier shot 9-of-13 from the field and 4-of-8 from distance.
  2. The Huskies’ defense shined during key stretches. Connecticut entered the night ranked 15th in the country in defensive efficiency, and that stinginess was on full display during several crucial periods against Villanova. When the Huskies trailed 20-11 at the 10-minute mark of the first half, their defense promptly shut out the Wildcats for over nine straight minutes and enabled the offense to chip away at the lead. Then, following a back-and-forth start to the second half, Connecticut asserted itself on the interior and prevented Jay Wright’s club from finding any good looks in the paint. It put a lot of pressure on Villanova’s three-point shooters, who were unable to carry the full load.
  3. Villanova probably overachieved in 2013-14, and it will be back. Many people felt the Wildcats were the most vulnerable #2 seed entering the NCAA Tournament, and they were probably correct. The fact is that this team likely won more games than it should have this season, especially considering their lack of NBA-caliber talent (according to projections) and limited experience. But the good news for Jay Wright is that – aside from James Bell – every significant contributor returns to the Main Line next year. Expect very good things out of Villanova in 2014-15.

Star of the GameShabazz Napier (25 points, five rebounds, three assists, 9-of-13 FG). Who else? The star point guard was extremely efficient and took the game over in the second half, nailing big shot after big shot and propelling Connecticut on to the Sweet Sixteen.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.21.14 Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on March 21st, 2014

RTC_tourneycoverage

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

South Region

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