Eight ACC Takeaways From the ACC/Big Ten Challenge

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 30th, 2018

This year’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge was full of tight games that came down to the wire, so it was fitting that the event ended in a deadlocked 7-7 tie. In fact, 10 of the 14 games were decided by two possessions or fewer, with the Big Ten coming out ahead in six of those nail-biters. Below we offer takeaways from the event for eight ACC squads — four of which came out winners and four of which came out losers.

Louisville Shows Some Toughness

Louisville celebrates a gutsy home win over Michigan State. (Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal)

It appears that Chris Mack’s plan to restore toughness to the Louisville program may already be ahead of schedule, as the Cardinals proved very resilient in Tuesday’s 82-78 overtime victory over Michigan State. After watching a nice lead evaporate late in regulation, Louisville responded well in the extra session behind Ryan McMahon’s career game (24 points, 12-of-13 FT). Tough teams get to the free throw line often and nobody’s better at that aspect of the game right now than the Cardinals.

Key Stat: Louisville made 30-of-41 free throws against the Spartans. Season FTA% = 65.5% (#1 nationally).

Frank Howard is Important to Syracuse

With Frank Howard on the sidelines with an injury, Syracuse struggled mightily from the perimeter in its first four contests. That was particularly true for Orange starters Tyus Battle, Oshae Brissett and Elijah Hughes, who together connected to make only 11-of-56 shots from behind the arc. With Howard now back in the lineup, Jim Boeheim’s guys suddenly have found the range — Battle, Brissett and Hughes combined to make 7-of-15 shots from deep in Syracuse’s 72-62 win at Ohio State on Wednesday.

Key Stat: Syracuse shot 11-of-24 (45.8%) on three-pointers against the Buckeyes. In its first four games without Howard, the Orange converted only 20.5 percent.

Virginia Gets Offensive

For the second time in Virginia’s last three outings, Tony Bennett’s celebrated defense was subpar – Maryland managed to score 1.18 points per possession (PPP) in the Cavaliers’ 76-71 road win on Wednesday evening. That’s a number that was topped by just one Virginia opponent last season — UMBC posted 1.19 PPP in last March’s historic upset of the Cavaliers. Virginia beat its old ACC rival by outscoring them, using hot shooting from deep (45.5% 3FG) and tremendous ball security.

Key Stat: Virginia with only two turnovers. Season TO% = 11.7% (#2 nationally).

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ACC Feast Week In Review

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 26th, 2018

It was a mixed performance by the 11 ACC squads that saw action in early season tournaments over Feast Week, as three league schools took home titles but five preseason top-25 ACC teams fell to lower-rated clubs. Below we will review some comparison statistics with the other five major basketball conferences as well as some of the ACC’s best and worst team performances from the last 10 days.

Unlike last November when the Big 12 dominated Feast Week play, things were more balanced this year, with some interesting conference-related takeaways: After a rough opening week of the regular season, the Big East (best record against other Power Six conferences) bounced back nicely in tournament action; the SEC (no titles) may not be nearly as strong as many had us believe; and the Pac-12 (overall losing record) is clearly a notch below the other Power Six leagues this year. Up next are some of the highs and lows involving ACC squads last week.

THE BEST

Three Tournament Titles for ACC Teams.

  • Virginia Tech – Charleston Classic. The Hokies captured the ACC’s first tourney championship with an 89-83 comeback win over Purdue. Emerging star Nickeil Alexander-Walker led the way, as the sophomore guard averaged 22.0 PPG on 55.1 percent shooting over the three games. Senior point guard Justin Robinson more than held his own against Purdue All-American Carsen Edwards in the title clash. Robinson finished with 23 points and six assists, leading Buzz Williams‘ club back from a 12-point second half deficit.
  • Boston College – Ft. Myers Tip-Off. Although the competition in Ft. Myers, Florida, was not stellar, Jim Christian’s squad deserves credit for two fairly comfortable wins. The Eagles took out Wyoming, 88-76, behind Ky Bowman’s 38-point explosion, and followed that up by holding Loyola (Chicago) to 0.87 points per possession in a 78-66 victory over last year’s surprise Final Four school.

De’Andre Hunter and Ty Jerome celebrate Virginia’s Battle 4 Atlantis title. (@UVAMensHoops)

  • VirginiaBattle 4 Atlantis. The Cavaliers’ vaunted defense struggled in their semifinal win over Dayton last week, allowing the Flyers to score 1.08 points per possession (PPP), but things were quickly back to normal for Tony Bennett’s pack-line D in Friday night’s championship tilt against Wisconsin. The Badgers only managed to post 0.79 PPP in Virginia’s 53-46 triumph. Sophomore De’Andre Hunter led the way with 20 points and nine boards in the title game, and the Cavaliers may have found some unexpected perimeter depth in the form of 5’9″ freshman Kihei Clark. Bennett inserted Clark into the starting lineup in the title game to spark his defense, and Clark responded with five defensive rebounds and three steals in 37 minutes of action.

THE WORST

Five Ranked ACC Teams Lost as Tournament Favorites.

  • Syracuse – 2K Classic. Granted, the Orange were without injured guard Frank Howard last week but no one expected them to get worked like they did in Madison Square Garden two weekends ago. Syracuse struggled mightily with perimeter shooting (11-of-50 3FG) in their two games, and even Jim Boeheim’s famous zone defense was ineffective, allowing both Connecticut and Oregon to top 80 points — something that only one of Syracuse’s opponents managed to do in regulation last year.
  • Clemson – Cayman Islands Classic. The Tigers were solid favorites in this event but couldn’t contain Creighton’s T-Shon Alexander in the championship game. Alexander exploded for 36 points in the Bluejays’ 87-82 win, torching Brad Brownell’s squad from deep (seven threes) and from the foul line (11-of-11 FT). Surprisingly, seniors Marquise Reed and Elijah Thomas were extremely careless with ball, combining for 12 of Clemson’s 19 turnovers in the championship bout.
  • Duke – Maui Invitational. So much for that crazy idea that the Blue Devils would go unbeaten. After dispatching #8 Auburn in the semifinals, Duke ran into an offensive machine in the title game. Gonzaga made 10 of its first 15 three-point attempts while racing to an impressive 16-point second half lead. Mike Krzyzewski’s young squad made a furious comeback to earn a chance to win but couldn’t convert with the game on the line and fell to the #3 Zags, 89-87. Duke missed all seven of its field goal attempts in the game’s final minute, which included an 0-for-5 effort from R.J. Barrett.
  • North Carolina – Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational. Texas once again played the spoiler role as the Longhorns hung on to defeat North Carolina, 92-89, in the opening round in Las Vegas. The Tar Heels were unable to contain Texas guard Kerwin Roach, who erupted for 32 points on 12-of-15 shooting. Surprisingly, Roy Williams is now 1-7 versus the Longhorns as the Tar Heels’ head coach. His team avoided a disastrous trip by rallying to beat UCLA, 94-78, in Friday’s consolation game.
  • Florida State – AdvoCare Invitational. The Seminoles entered Sunday’s title game with Villanova averaging 82.7 points per game, but they allowed the Wildcats to control tempo and lost a low scoring affair, 66-60. Leonard Hamilton’s crew was fortunate to be playing in the championship game, rallying from nine points down in Friday’s semifinal game with LSU to force overtime. The Seminoles eventually won, 79-76, when Mfiondu Kabangele rattled in a corner three with less than a second to go in the extra period.
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Ten Questions to Consider: Feast Week

Posted by Matt Eisenberg on November 23rd, 2018

It’s time to take out the Thanksgiving leftovers, make a plate of food and sit back and watch some college basketball. Here are 10 questions to consider heading into this weekend’s slate of games.

Will Virginia be the Next Highly-Ranked ACC Team to Take an Upset (USA Today Images)

  1. Will Virginia come out on top as Battle 4 Atlantis Champions? (Championship Game, Friday 2 PM EST, ESPN) Tony Bennett’s squad squares off against Wisconsin in a defensive spectacular. This mid-afternoon match-up will likely be slow, physical, and must-see tv. Ethan Happ will test the big men of Virginia.
  2. Who will win the Grant Williams/Dedric Lawson matchup? (NIT Tip-Off Final, Tennessee vs. Kansas, Friday 9 PM EST, ESPN2)  Both Grant Williams of Tennessee and Dedric Lawson of Kansas have shined through the first few weeks of the season. Each draws more than seven fouls per 40 minutes of action, so they will be tested to defend each another without fouling.
  3. Will Villanova get back to being Villanova? (Advocare Invitational, Friday and Saturday) After losing consecutive games for the first time since the 2012-13 season, Villanova heads to Florida for the Advocare Invitational. Phil Booth and Eric Paschall shot a combined 7-of-31 on three-point attempts in the two recent Wildcat losses. If they get their shots back, Villanova should sail through this bracket; otherwise Jay Wright’s team could be in trouble in a second-round match-up with either Oklahoma State or Memphis.
  4. Will Miami leave the Wooden Legacy undefeated? (Wooden Legacy, Friday and Saturday) When Miami last played in the Wooden Legacy in 2013, they began the tournament with a loss to George Washington. The Hurricanes begin this tournament against an Atlantic 10 team again this time — La Salle. Miami heads to Fullerton as one of 14 teams with a top 25 ranking in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency. Read the rest of this entry »
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ACC M5: Early Season Tournaments, Part II Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 19th, 2018

morning5_ACC

Note: To gauge relative team strength, we use current KenPom ratings. All times are Eastern.

  1. Cayman Islands Classic: Clemson (#18) travels to the Cayman Islands this week as the tournament favorite, as Creighton (#41) is the only other squad currently among KenPom’s top 100. This event will not be shown on traditional television, but all the games will be available on Facebook via Stadium College Basketball. The Tigers will face Akron (#149) in today’s opening round (11:00 AM) and will follow that up by playing against either Georgia (#102) or Illinois State (#113) in Tuesday’s semifinals. If they win those two games, Brad Brownell’s team will play in Wednesday’s championship game (7:30 PM). Hopefully Clemson will face the Bluejays in the finals — otherwise this trip won’t do much for Clemson’s non-conference schedule strength.
  2. Maui Invitational: Duke(#1) will be making its fifth trip to the Maui Invitational this week, the traditional marquee event of Feast Week. Mike Krzyzewski’s teams have never lost in this event, but Duke will have to get through a loaded field in Hawaii to keep that streak alive. The Blue Devils will face San Diego State (#56) in today’s opening round (ESPN2 – 5:00 PM) and will follow up that game with either Auburn (#10) or Xavier (#69) in Tuesday’s semifinals. If they can get through that draw, Duke would likely get a shot at Gonzaga (#6) in Wednesday’s championship game (ESPN2 – 5:00 PM). So far, Zion Williamson and the explosive young Blue Devils have been must-watch TV, so we expect this to be the most discussed event of the week. If you’re looking for a sleeper in Maui, watch out for Iowa State (#27) — the Cyclones have looked strong in winning their first three outings of the year.
  3. Fort Myers Tipoff: This is probably the least appetizing tournament of Feast Week. The four teams involved do have something in common, though — each has already suffered a home court upset loss. Boston College (#87) will look to bounce back from its disappointing 76-69 loss to IUPUI by squaring off against Wyoming (#187) (FS1 – 9:00 PM) following Loyola-Chicago (#68) versus Richmond (#140). Tonight’s winners will meet in Wednesday’s title game (FS1 – 7:30 PM). To win this event, Jim Christian will need better bench production than he’s been getting — Boston College’s reserves have tallied only 19 points in three games. This will be especially true if the Eagles meet Loyola-Chicago in the finals, as the Ramblers return some key pieces from last year’s surprising Final Four club.
  4. NIT Season Tip-Off: The Barclays Center in Brooklyn will once again host an event that involves an ACC school. Chris Mack will have his work cut out for him this week as his Cardinals are guaranteed to play two top-notch opponents. Louisville (#55) takes on Tennessee (#9) in Wednesday’s opening contest (ESPN2 – 5:00 PM) with Kansas (#2) and Marquette (#34) doing battle in the nightcap. The winners will play in Friday night’s championship game (ESPN2 – 9:00 PM). This will be a huge step up in competition for Louisville, whose 3-0 start has been achieved against a schedule that is ranked 331st in the nation, according to KenPom. It will be interesting to see if the Cardinals can continue their early hot shooting. So far, they’re converting 64.7 percent of their two-point attempts and a blistering 78.0 percent from the free throw line.
  5. Battle 4 Atlantis:  Virginia (#4) will be favored to come out of the Bahamas with three wins but it will not be easy — crazy things have happened here before. Last year’s tournament got turned upside early and remained that way as two preseason top-10 squads, Arizona and Purdue, ended up playing for seventh place. Tony Bennett’s team will first see action on Wednesday night (ESPN2 – 9:30 PM) when the Cavaliers take on Middle Tennessee State (#165). On Thanksgiving Day, they will face either Butler (#31) or Dayton (#100). There are some big name programs on the other side of the bracket – Wisconsin (#14), Florida (#28) and Oklahoma (#42). If Virginia meets the Badgers in Friday afternoon’s championship game (ESPN – 2:00 PM), we hope the offenses are better than they were in the two latest match-ups between the two — neither club reached the 50-point mark in December slugfests played in 2013 and 2017.
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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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ACC Opening Week: Three Up, Three Down

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 9th, 2018

After a busy opening week that has so far resulted in a perfect 12-0 record for ACC teams, Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) takes a look at three positives and three negatives from around the conference. (Brad Jenkins covered Duke in his Opening Night takeaways)

THREE UP

Ty Jerome Continues to Show His Importance to Virginia (USA Today Images)

  • Let the Ty Jerome hype begin. Kyle Guy is the All-American and De’Andre Hunter gets the NBA love, but Ty Jerome is still the engine for this Virginia team. On Tuesday night, Jerome notched 20 points in the Cavaliers’ win over Towson, making six of his nine shots from three-point range. His 70.9 Defensive Rating will obviously trend toward normal as the competition improves, but his size allows him to bother smaller guards and is the key to Tony Bennett’s defense.
  • Florida State’s shooting. While Leonard Hamilton’s team defense was impressive in the Seminole’s blowout win over Florida, it was their shooting against the Gators that was even more intriguing. A team that shot just 35 percent from long distance a year ago and lost its top two shooters (CJ Walker and Braian Angola-Rodas) probably shouldn’t be expected to make 11-of-23 three-pointers against another high-major team, but Florida State did just that. It appeared as if Hamilton’s team might be lacking a knock-down outside shooter this season, but if PJ Savoy (5-of-7 3FG) can fill that role, the Seminoles could become something special.
  • Jeff Capel’s freshmen. Yes, it was only one game against Youngstown State, but it’s clear that this is a new era at Pittsburgh. Three freshmen guards started for Jeff Capel’s team on Tuesday night, and it is already obvious that they are the future of the Panthers’ program. Point guard Xavier Johnson scored 16 points and added six assists and five rebounds; Trey McGowens poured in 17 points and shot 6-of-11 from the field; Au’Diese Toney added 12 points and nine rebounds. The Panthers will still struggle in the ACC this year, but their rookie trio will at least give Pittsburgh fans a reason to tune in each night.

THREE DOWN

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Where 2018-19 Happens: Reason #1 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on November 6th, 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.

#1 – Where FINALLY 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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ACC Conversation: Preseason Projections – Part 2

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 6th, 2018

Rush the Court’s ACC microsite writers Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk), Matt Auerbach (@mauerbach24) and Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) recently got together to chat about the upcoming 2018-19 season and share their thoughts on all 15 ACC schools. Here’s Part 2 of that conversation. Part 1 can be found here.

Justin Robinson returns to lead Virginia Tech after being a Second Team All-ACC selection in 2017-18. (AP Photo)

  • Brad Jenkins: Let’s discuss Florida State. I was a little surprised at ACC Media Day to hear Leonard Hamilton and his players talk about coming up short last year — as if the Elite Eight wasn’t good enough. That impressed me (if they really believe it). How good can the Seminoles be this season?
  • Mick McDonald: I think they are being overrated somewhat thanks to the NCAA Tournament run. They’ll be solid — Leonard Hamilton teams usually are. They’ve got good depth and guys like Terrance Mann and Phil Cofer (when he returns) who are proven ACC players, and a guy in MJ Walker who could be in for a breakout year. But I see them much more as a solid sixth-eighth place team versus one that can compete for the league title.
  • Matt Auerbach: Which is essentially what they were a year ago. But we tend to remember how teams finished and apply our expectations based upon that. I think Florida State will be good, in fact better than a year ago, but that puts the Seminoles at around 11-7 in the league.
  • Brad Jenkins: Florida State does have a pretty decent ACC schedule, as the Seminoles will play the bottom four teams on the road, which could help them place higher than expected. Buzz Williams did a good job last year of hiding Virginia Tech’s size disadvantage by going to a pack-line defensive philosophy. Can the Hokies get away with that again? It feels like this is the year that Buzz has been building for.
  • Mick McDonald: Count me all-in on Buzz. I think you can make an argument the Hokies have the best backcourt in the league with Justin Robinson and Nickeil-Alexander Walker. Chris Clarke is a poor man’s Jae Crowder from Williams’ awesome Marquette teams, and they have a few other guys who shoot the lights out. I have them fourth in the ACC and a borderline top-10 team nationally. If Kerry Blackshear can stay out of foul trouble, this team can beat anyone. (Editor’s note: This conversation took place before Wednesday’s announcement that Clarke had been suspended indefinitely from the Hokies’ squad.)
  • Matt Auerbach: Agreed. I love Robinson and that’s a great comp for Clarke. Ty Outlaw can also really shoot it. Blackshear is the X-factor here. When he plays well, this team will be nearly impossible to deal with in Blacksburg and will be able to compete with anyone on the road.

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ACC Burning Questions, Part 5: Duke, North Carolina & Virginia

Posted by Mick McDonald on November 2nd, 2018

To wrap up our ACC team previews, Mick McDonald (@themickmcdonald) brings us home by reviewing league favorites Duke, North Carolina and Virginia.

Duke Burning Question: How will Duke’s talented freshmen gel on the court?

The Duke Freshmen Are Ready to Roll (USA Today Images)

Duke has the most talented roster in the country, but as we know, talent alone doesn’t always mean championships. After losing almost his entire roster from last year’s Elite Eight squad, Mike Krzyzewski reloaded with four of the very best prospects in the country. The question is how those pieces will fit together. While Zion Williamson (who is basically a cross between Justin Bieber and LeBron James on YouTube) is the Blue Devils’ biggest star, R.J. Barrett is the best player on the team. He dominated for Team Canada in the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup last year and is likely be the top pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. The smooth lefty likes to have the ball in his hands, so it will be interesting to see how he interacts with expected starting point guard Tre Jones.

Will fellow freshman Cam Reddish accept not being the lead banana on a team with plentiful options? Will anyone outside of sophomore Alex O’Connell (48.9% 3FG) make any three-pointers? Will juniors Marques Bolden and Javin DeLaurier be able to stay out of Krzyzewski’s doghouse to support the talented freshmen? Whether you believe that Duke will figure it all out and win the national title or if you have concerns about egos overtaking the team en route to an early exit in March, Duke is without question the most fascinating team in college basketball this season.

North Carolina Burning Question: What lineup does Roy Williams want to use?

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Projecting Five ACC Breakout Players

Posted by Mick McDonald on October 25th, 2018

You know the returning stars and you know all about the five-star freshmen who are set to make their debuts. Today we present five ACC players who we believe will be household names around the conference by March.

Can Aamir Simms continue the promising finish to last season following Donte Grantham’s injury? (Al Bello/Getty Images)

  • Aamir Simms, Clemson. A back-end top-100 prospect coming out of high school, Simms was a project last year. In his first 17 games, he mostly saw action in garbage time. But when star forward Donte Grantham tore his ACL on January 20 at Notre Dame, Simms was a different player. Over his last 17 games, the bulky forward shot 48 percent from the field and made 39 percent from three-point range in becoming a key cog of the Tigers’ attack. With an experienced backcourt that excels in ball screen action returning, look for Simms to continue to emerge as one of the best pick-and-pop stretch forwards in the ACC this season.
  • Jordan Nwora, Louisville. Last season at Louisville was a mess from the very beginning (you may have heard about this whole Brian Bowen situation). A group of talented veterans never really meshed under interim coach David Padgett, but because they logged such heavy minutes, the Cardinals’ underlying freshman class never really got a chance to show what it could do. The wing Nwora played just 12.0 MPG last season, but he shot almost 44 percent from long distance and logged a stellar 61.2 percent eFG in ACC play. With new head coach Chris Mack taking over, expect Nwora to become his go-to bucket-getter.

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