Big 12 Week In Review and Look Ahead: Don’t Mistake League’s Competitiveness For Superiority

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 21st, 2014

The Big 12 may be one of the most competitive conferences in the country, but this week hasn’t been the most glowing endorsement for the league’s case as the best conference in the country. Monday’s game between Baylor and Oklahoma State was supposed to be a battle of teams in the top half of the conference (if we go by preseason expectations), but instead was a fight for ninth place that only went to overtime because of a sequence that was, well, very fitting of a ninth-place battle:

The next day, Texas squared off against Iowa State in a game with major implications for the Longhorns’ Big 12 title chances, but they were able to lead only within the first five minutes. While Texas kept the game interesting with a run early in the second half, the Cyclones pulled away to hold serve at home.

Meanwhile, 925 miles south, Kansas needed another miracle from Andrew Wiggins at the end of regulation to get past a salty but mediocre Texas Tech team in Lubbock:

The only other game this week saw Kansas State quietly beat TCU by 12. The Wildcats’ two best players, Marcus Foster and Thomas Gipson, paired up for 29 points, 14 rebounds and six assists, but they also combined to shoot 34.6 percent from the floor and turned the ball over nine times. As a team, Kansas State had a staggering 18 turnovers at home against the worst power conference team in the country, needing a second half run to get away for good.

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Four Takeaways from Kansas State’s Win over Kansas

Posted by KoryCarpenter on February 11th, 2014

It seems rare when a team that comes back to force overtime in the manner that Kansas did ends up losing the game, but that’s exactly what happened in Manhattan against Kansas State last night. The Wildcats held a nine-point lead with under two minutes remaining (sound familiar, Kansas fans?) but some Jayhawks’ layups, putbacks, and a pair of costly Kansas State turnovers sent the game to overtime. No matter. The Wildcats continued to dominate the paint and won for only the fourth time in the series’ last 52 games, 85-82. Here are four takeaways from last night’s action in Bramlage Coliseum.

Marcus Foster has been a big reason for Kansas State's improved play as of late.

Marcus Foster has been a big reason for Kansas State’s improved play as of late.

  1. Kansas State is putting together a solid NCAA Tournament resume. After losing three out of five in the middle of January, the Wildcats now have back-to-back wins over top 15 teams. Their resume includes impressive victories over Gonzaga, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas. Last night’s win puts them at 17-7 and just two games back of Kansas in the Big 12 standings.
  2. Marcus Foster is legit. The Wildcat freshman guard had 20 points on 5-of-10 shooting and added a pair of late free throws in overtime to ice the game with 22 seconds left. He came into the game averaging 14.7 PPG but has been especially hot lately, scoring over 20 points in four of his last five games. He’s averaged 27 PPG over the last two games in wins over #7 Kansas and #15 Texas. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 M5: 01.30.14 Edition

Posted by Taylor Erickson on January 30th, 2014

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  1. Heading into this season, it was presumed that Kansas freshman guard Wayne Selden would be a one-and-done player along with teammates Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid. Selden has certainly been solid for the Jayhawks, but he has flown under the radar a bit with the attention the others have drawn, leaving some to speculate that Selden will be back for a sophomore season. In an article on Wednesday, Jason King talked with some NBA scouts who said the book was still out on Selden and that he would be smart to return for his sophomore season.
  2. On Wednesday, the McDonald’s All-American teams were announced, and featured two current Kansas commitments in Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre. Others participating who could end up in the Big 12 next season are big man Miles Turner and guard Rashard Vaughn. Vaughn is considering Iowa State and Kansas, but is considered to be a lean to the Cyclones at this point. Turner is a consensus top-five recruit and is considering Kansas and Oklahoma State from the Big 12, among others. It’s likely that Turner’s decision will be impacted by Embiid’s status next season, but regardless, there will once again be an influx of impressive talent headed into the league next season.
  3. Yesterday, we discussed how foul trouble was beginning to weigh heavily on Oklahoma State in many games this season, thanks in large part to the absence of forward Michael Cobbins. As John Helsley points out, the Cowboys were worn down by the time tournament play rolled around last season, and it showed in early exits from both the Big 12 and NCAA Tournaments. Against Oklahoma Monday night, Markel Brown played 39 minutes, and with the depth in the Big 12 this season, the road from here on out won’t be any easier for the Cowboys.
  4. Although West Virginia has struggled more than most Mountaineers’ fans would have hoped heading into this season, guard Juwan Staten has been fantastic, especially as of late. In the final seconds against Baylor on Tuesday night, Staten was able to get into the lane for a layup that gave his team the go-ahead score. Staten credits the encouragement he constantly receives from his father for his success, saying that in most situations he would have kicked that ball out, but heard his father’s urging and went for the reverse layup to give West Virginia the win.
  5. Lon Kruger has once again proven his worth as an outstanding coach this season, leading his Oklahoma team to a 17-4 record so far. In addition, Kruger’s team is doing something no other team in college basketball is doing – that is, all five of his starters are averaging double figure points per game. For a team that has flown a bit under the radar among the national media, the Sooners could be a popular pick to win a few games in the NCAA Tournament given their ability to put points on the board in a hurry.
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Big 12 M5: 01.23.14 Edition

Posted by Kory Carpenter on January 23rd, 2014

morning5_big12

  1. It seems like every year now Baylor has the look of a team that can challenge for the Big 12 regular season title. And every year the Bears fall off somewhere around this time. They were ranked No. 7 in the country not too long ago but are now losers of three straight. “It’s the No. 1-ranked conference in the country, so it’s a grind,” head coach Scott Drew told John Werner of the Waco Tribune. “We’re five games into it and we’re on the upward swing, so hopefully we can keep that going.” The Bears’ next chance to get out of its current rut comes Saturday at home against Texas.
  2. John Helsley of The Oklahoman asks a good question about Oklahoma State here: Is a six-day layoff after Saturday’s loss at Kansas a good or bad thing? He makes compelling cases for both answers, but we won’t know what the correct one is until the Cowboys play West Virginia at home on Saturday. The Pokes are in a Saturday-Monday rotation for their next five games, so perhaps a routine will do Oklahoma State some good.
  3. As Kyle Ringo of Yahoo! Sports points out, not many people expected Texas to be playing as well as the Longhorns are this season. Rick Barnes lost just about all the talent he had from last year’s team, and that group of Longhorns wasn’t a great team anyway. But here they are a year later, sitting at 15-4, 4-2 in Big 12 play, and in a good position to make the NCAA Tournament this season. But will they keep it up?
  4. Kansas State was in sole possession of second place in the Big 12 not very long ago. But then Tuesday’s game at Texas happened, and the Wildcats are suddenly tied with three other schools in that spot. Texas forward Jonathan Holmes nailed a last-second three-pointer to give the Longhorns a 67-64 win and a tie for second place. Like Sean Keeler of FoxSportsKansasCity.com said, “Gotta let it go.” There’s no shame in losing a close game on the road, but come Selection Sunday, Tuesday’s loss could be one that the Wildcats point to as one that cost them on the seed line.
  5. Bill Self likes toughness. He has noted that his favorite picture is from the 2008 Final Four against North Carolina, a snapshot where two Jayhawks (Darrell Arthur and Darnell Jackson) dive on the floor for a loose ball with both hands while the Tar Heels’ players brace themselves for the fall. So it’s no surprise that he loved Wayne Selden‘s dive into the stands to save a loose ball  — and eventually getting an assist — on Monday night against Baylor. “He gives us an air of toughness,” Self told Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star. “Certainly when he’s going after the ball like that, we become a much better team because it’s contagious.”
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Big 12 Game of the Year: Previewing Oklahoma State at Kansas

Posted by Taylor Erickson on January 18th, 2014

Saturday afternoon’s tilt between Big 12 powerhouses Kansas and Oklahoma State in Allen Fieldhouse has long been circled on the calendar as one of the most anticipated games in college basketball this season, thanks in large part to the two games that took place last season. In case you need a refresher, Oklahoma State strolled into Lawrence last February and snapped Kansas’ 33-game home winning streak. As if the victory alone wasn’t enough to disappoint Jayhawks Nation, Smart followed his 25-point performance with a beautifully executed backflip on the center of James Naismith Court, much to the chargin of the 16,300 fans in attendance. Kansas returned the favor two-and-a-half weeks later, when the Jayhawks won in double overtime in Stillwater thanks to a Naadir Tharpe bucket in the final seconds to push the Jayhawks ahead, although no backflip was performed.

Marcus Smart pulled off a backflip in Allen Fieldhouse a season ago while Jayhawk fans and Elijah Johnson look on in disbelief. (Emily Wittler/KANSAN)

Marcus Smart pulled off a backflip in Allen Fieldhouse a season ago while stunned Jayhawk fans and Elijah Johnson look on in disbelief. (Emily Wittler/KANSAN)

Now, fast forward eight months to October. During that time, Marcus Smart decided to return to Oklahoma State for a sophomore season, and the highly touted high school recruit Andrew Wiggins had decided to go to school at Kansas. While Wiggins was the focus of nearly every preseason magazine, Smart had a few choice comments on Big 12 media day for the heralded Jayhawk freshman, saying,  “A lot of people are saying he’s the best player now in college basketball.  All I’m saying is how can you be the best player in something you haven’t even played yet?” To be perfectly honest, Smart’s comments were probably fairly justified. Had Wiggins chosen to play his college basketball in a different location, Smart would have instead been the toast of the conference, but he was now forced to answer questions about a kid in Wiggins who had plenty to prove at the collegiate level. Smart would go on to say about Wiggins, “If he’s the best player like people say, if that’s the case, in order for me to be the best, I have to beat the best, right?  If he’s the best player, fans will get their money’s worth when we play Kansas.”

This showdown certainly has all the makings of must-see television on Saturday afternoon, and to get you ready for this action, I discussed some of the more intriguing aspects of this one with Kyle Porter, creator of the Pistols Firing Blog (@pistolsguy) and a must-follow for all Oklahoma State fans. Let’s take a look at the most anticipated game in the Big 12 so far this season.

Taylor:  Kyle, first off, thanks a bunch for getting together to preview this Big 12 showdown that will take place tomorrow in Allen Fieldhouse. To get us started, one of the more intriguing aspects of this game are the defensive match-ups that will be featured. Marcus Smart and Markel Brown put as much pressure on the opposing guards on the offensive end of the floor than maybe any team in the nation, and it’s no secret that Naadir Tharpe lacks on defense. Conversely, the injury the Michael Cobbins has left Oklahoma State fairly thin up front, and with the emergence of Kansas big man Joel Embiid, I’m curious on your thoughts of how Travis Ford will choose to defend Kansas in the frontcourt?

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Big 12 Power Rankings: Kansas is Finally Finding Itself

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 13th, 2014

Going into last Wednesday’s game against Oklahoma, Bill Self told his players that conference play was a “new season” and that everything would be “fresh and new from this point forward.” The young Jayhawks have heeded that message so far, getting past the Sooners and soundly beating Kansas State on Saturday. With a 2-0 start in the Big 12, we all figured they would rise in this week’s power rankings, but by how much? Is your top 10 shaped differently than ours? That’s what the comments are for.

It appears safe to close the panic button for Bill Self and the Jayhawks. (AP Photo)

It appears safe to close the panic button for Bill Self and the Jayhawks. (AP Photo)

1. Kansas — 6 points (previous: 3rd; Brian-1st, Kory-1st, Nate-3rd, Taylor-1st)

Comment: “It’s looking like Kansas’ non-conference struggles were nothing more than one of the youngest teams in the country playing one of the toughest schedules in the country. The Jayhawks have looked good the last two games and now have four legitimate threats to have a big game any on night: Andrew Wiggins,  Perry Ellis, Joel Embiid, and Wayne Selden.” – Kory Carpenter (@Kory_Carpenter)

2. Iowa State — 7 points (previous: 1st; Brian-2nd, Kory-2nd, Nate-1st, Taylor-2nd)

Comment: “I didn’t feel like I should drop the Cyclones in my top 10 — they lost to a pretty good Oklahoma team by five on the road. The winner of Kansas-Iowa State tonight will likely take my top spot next week.” – Nate Kotisso (@natekotisso)

3. Oklahoma State — 13 points (previous: 4th; Brian-3rd, Kory-3rd, Nate-4th, Taylor-3rd)

Comment: “Travis Ford’s squad avoided a disastrous start to conference play by knocking down a big three late to give them the win in Morgantown. If the Cowboys would have dropped two of their first three in league play to teams in the middle tier of the conference, they could have kissed their Big 12 title hopes goodbye.” – Taylor Erickson (@tc_erickson)

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Big 12 M5: 01.13.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 13th, 2014

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  1. Across the nation, all eyes are on DeAndre Kane‘s status for tonight’s marquee match-up between Iowa State and Kansas. As of now, Kane is a gametime decision even though X-rays on his ankle turned out negative. That very few among the media thought Kane would be this big a factor when the season started is pretty telling of just how important he’s been for the Cyclones. Should ISU go down, we’re confident that Fred Hoiberg won’t let Kane’s health be an excuse, as the Cyclones will still have plenty of options if Kane can’t go. Look for a more detailed preview here later today.
  2. After a rocky start to the campaign, Kansas freshman Wayne Selden seems to be turning a corner, and a mindset of treating conference play as a new season of sorts appears to be at the heart of his increase in productivity. His performance in Saturday’s win over Kansas State was an eye opener, as he poured in 20 points to go with four rebounds and three assists. Selden’s emergence as a backcourt weapon has been a welcome storyline to a Kansas backcourt that has at times struggled to get everyone going at once.
  3. When a team loses a close game, as West Virginia did to Oklahoma State on Saturday, it can be easy to point to a possession here or there as the determining factor. Mountaineer guard Eron Harris got down on himself for trying to force a few plays down the stretch. While it’s admirable that the sophomore took responsibility, the best he can do is to put it behind him and move on to the next chance, especially as a tournament bid slips more out of reach with each passing loss.
  4. Late stops proved crucial for Oklahoma as they put an end to Iowa State’ unbeaten start on Saturday. The Sooners’ defense has left a lot to be desired, so to see it step up when it really needed to had to have been relief for head coach Lon Kruger. Saturday’s win was a big step in Oklahoma’s quest for a tournament bid, and the Sooners will look to keep it up tomorrow against a Kansas State team that has struggled offensively for most of the year.
  5. Following Kansas State‘s loss at Allen Fieldhouse over the weekend, Bruce Weber is already anxious to see how his team responds. Weber admitted that while his younger players are promising, they were rattled by the raucous crowd in Lawrence when the Jayhawks sprung a 13-3 run midway through the first half and cruised from there. For all the Weber naysayers, of which there are plenty, it’s worth pointing out that aside from Thomas Gipson, the Wildcats’ best players as of late have been those recruited by the second-year coach.
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Kansas Off to Good Big 12 Start After Dismantling of K-State

Posted by Taylor Erickson on January 12th, 2014

If you spent the last few days listening to media types in northeast Kansas, Saturday’s rendition of the Sunflower Showdown was supposed to be different. Kansas State entered the game on a 10-game winning streak after stumbling out of the gate. The Wildcats were surging behind a much improved defensive effort, and freshman guard Marcus Foster was making a strong case as one of the best players in the league. Kansas, on the other hand, was a confidence-stricken team that already had four losses on the season. A little less than a week ago, San Diego State had waltzed into Allen Fieldhouse and snapped Kansas’ 68-game non-conference home winning streak. The overwhelming youth and inexperience residing in Lawrence had Bruce Weber believing his team could steal a win against their intrastate rival. Kansas was supposed to be vulnerable.

Andrew Wiggins threw down on monster dunk on his way to a 22 point performance. (Nick Krug/KUSports.com)

Andrew Wiggins threw down this monster dunk on his way to a 22-point performance. (Nick Krug/KUSports.com)

Instead, what followed in Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday afternoon mimicked what we’ve seen so often in this Sunflower State rivalry. Kansas jumped out to a 17-point lead off of a 14-assist, zero turnover effort in the first half. The second half featured more of the same, as the Jayhawks outscored Kansas State by nine on their way to and 86-60 victory behind Andrew Wiggins’ 22 points on 7-of-13 shooting from the floor. The previous five games between these two teams in Lawrence have followed a similar pattern, with Kansas winning by an average of 19 points per game during that span.

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Four Takeaways From Kansas’ Win Over Oklahoma

Posted by Kory Carpenter on January 9th, 2014

It’s true that a team’s conference opener is never a “must-win game,” but the road to Kansas’ 10th straight Big 12 championship would have gotten a lot tougher had the Jayhawks lost at Oklahoma Wednesday evening. The Sooners aren’t bad at all, but with the next four Kansas games coming against Kansas State, Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Baylor, the Jayhawks’ hole in the conference race would have felt much bigger than 0-1. Alas, Kansas escaped with a 90-83 victory in Norman, improving to 10-4 on the year and showing some glimpses of their potential in March. Here are four key takeaways from last night’s win.

Wayne Selden had everything working against the Sooners. (AP)

Wayne Selden had everything working against the Sooners. (AP)

  1. Wayne Selden scored in double-figures for just the fifth time this season, finishing with a career-high 24 points and showing us why he is a projected first round draft pick in June. He was 5-of-10 from three-point range, and while it appeared to be a flukish shooting night (his three-point shooting on the season is at 37.5 percent), it should give him plenty of confidence going forward. The Jayhawks desperately need consistent long-range shooting to open up the lane for its drivers and big men, and Selden is as good a candidate as any. Read the rest of this entry »
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Four Takeaways From Kansas’ Win Over New Mexico

Posted by kory Carpenter is a RTC Big 12 contributor. You can find him on Twitter @Kory_Carpenter on December 16th, 2013

Kansas rebounded from last week’s loss to Florida nicely Saturday night with an 80-63 win over New Mexico in Kansas City. The Jayhawks had lost three out of four games coming into that one, but showed signs of improvement against a good Lobos squad. It was a strong enough performance to jump Kansas from #13 to #6 on kenpom.com. Here are a few takeaways from Saturday night’s win.

Don't expect Joel Embiid to be in Lawrence much longer. (Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports)

Don’t expect Joel Embiid to be in Lawrence much longer. (Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Naadir Tharpe looks to be Bill Self’s point guard going forward. He had lost the starting job over the previous two games to freshman Frank Mason, but the switch wasn’t successful. Mason has a higher ceiling but he isn’t a true point guard, at least not at this point in his career. In the two games he started against Colorado and Florida, Mason averaged only two assists per game and committed seven turnovers. Tharpe returned to the starting unit against New Mexico, played 37 minutes, and had a better than 2:1 assist/turnover ratio in the contest (nine assists, four turnovers). The question remains whether he can bring that kind of performance to bear for six consecutive games in March, but there is no use looking anywhere else at this point.
  2. Bill Self joked after the game that the more freshman center Joel Embiid plays, the less time he will spend in Lawrence. The Cameroon native had 18 points in 25 minutes, shot 80 percent from the free throw line, grabbed six rebounds, rejected four shots, and gave us an Hakeem Olajuwon/Dream Shake impression that not many other college players can do (and really, how many pros?). With so few talented centers in the NBA and a history of GMs drafting on the notion of potential, don’t be shocked if Embiid jumps over the superstar freshman trio of Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle and gets selected No. 1 overall in next summer’s NBA Draft. He has that much upside. Read the rest of this entry »
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After Toppling Kansas, Villanova Beginning To Look The Part Of Big East Title Contender Again

Posted by Bennet Hayes on November 30th, 2013

It’s not too difficult to conjure up memories of recent Villanova glory days. Just three and a half years ago, Jay Wright had his Wildcats heading to the NCAA Tournament as a #2 seed, his program fresh off a Final Four appearance the year before. The Cats had won 12 NCAA Tournament games in the five years prior, and the 2010 team was both deep and young: Of the 11 Wildcats to average eight minutes a game that year, only two were seniors. The future was bright. And then Robert Morris happened. Villanova survived the #15 seed Colonials on that fateful March day (by the thinnest of margins: 73-70 in OT), but Jay Wright is still seeking his next Tournament victory. Saint Mary’s dispatched the Wildcats from the Dance two days later, and the three years since have witnessed a program mired in mediocrity. After a detour to the NIT in 2012, last year’s plucky group managed navigate its way back to the Tournament, but nobody was mistaking those Wildcats for the talent-laden teams of the early Wright era. A team built upon a similar foundation was expected this season – a gritty, defensive minded group that would be capable of stealing wins on their homecourt. All those things may yet be true, but after a convincing win over Kansas on Friday, it may be time to add one more descriptor to the 2013-14 Villanova Wildcats – Big East title contenders.

James Bell, JayVaughn Pinkston, And The Rest Of The Wildcats Gave Kansas Fits On Friday Night -- Will Iowa Be Subject To The Same Torture Tonight?    (Photo Credit: USA Today Sports)

James Bell, JayVaughn Pinkston, And The Rest Of The Wildcats Gave Kansas Fits On Friday Night — Will Iowa Be Subject To The Same Torture This Evening? (Photo Credit: USA Today Sports)

Last year’s Villanova’s team scored more than its fair share of big wins. They knocked off four of the Big East’s five best teams (all of whom were ranked in the top 20 at the time of defeat), but each of those victories came on the Wildcats’ home floor. Furthermore, when you remove that quartet of signature victories, Villanova went just 2-12 against teams that finished in in the top 75 of the Pomeroy Ratings. Throw in a charity stripe festival or two at the Wachovia Center – a +34 free throw differential assisted in the Nova upset of then #5 Georgetown – and you can see why last year’s team never quite established themselves as an upper-echelon Big East club.

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Kansas Lands Alexander, Misses On Jones & Okafor

Posted by Taylor Erickson on November 15th, 2013

It’s official. Cliff Alexander, a 6’9″ power forward from Curie (Chicago) High School, is headed to Kansas next season.

Alexander Is Headed to Kansas Next Season

Alexander Is Headed to Kansas Next Season

In a ceremony at his high school on Friday afternoon, Alexander announced his commitment to Bill Self and the Jayhawks for the 2014-15 season, joining fellow top prospect and Kansas commit Kelly Oubre, a 6’7″ swingman from Sugar Land, Texas, via Findlay Prep in Las Vegas. Alexander is a physical athlete that plays above the rim and will be expected to make an instant impact in Lawrence next season. The Chicago big man was believed to be solid on Kansas just a few short weeks ago, but gained momentum to Illinois as of late when many believe Kansas backed off on Alexander in an attempt to focus their efforts on Jahlil Okafor, Rivals’ number one ranked recruit in this year’s class. It was believed that Alexander’s long-standing relationship with former Illini assistant and current Kansas assistant coach Jerrance Howard, coupled with the fact that his girlfriend plays basketball for the Jayhawks, would be enough to lure the talented big man to Kansas. If current Kansas center Joel Embiid bolts for the NBA after this season, as many anticipate, Alexander will easily help fill the void and solidify the Kansas frontcourt along side sophomores Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor next year. Landing Alexander continues Self’s recent success on the recruiting trail after hauling in the second ranked class in 2013 with Andrew Wiggins, Wayne Selden and Embiid, among others. The combination of Alexander and Oubre, along with the Jayhawks’ returning talent next season should have Bill Self’s squad poised once again as a legitimate title contender in March 2015. Read the rest of this entry »

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