College Basketball Predictions

Predicting the 1st Loss in 2014-15 for Top College Basketball Teams

Kerry MillerCollege Basketball National AnalystAugust 6, 2014

Predicting the 1st Loss in 2014-15 for Top College Basketball Teams

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    USA TODAY Sports

    A single loss in college basketball doesn't carry anywhere near the amount of weight that it does in football, but it does mark the end of any delusions for a perfect season.

    We were spoiled with Wichita State's magical run last year. Prior to the Shockers' 34-0 mark, the last team to enter the NCAA tournament with an undefeated record was UNLV in 1990-91. So let's not go assuming lightning is going to strike in back-to-back years.

    Thanks to early tournaments and the selection committee's emphasis on nonconference scheduling, we'll be lucky to even see two teams enter the month of January with a zero in the loss column.

    But who will those two teams be?

    After looking through the schedules for the projected top 20 teams in the country, we've forecasted where each one will suffer its first loss of the season.

    These 20 teams are based on the composite rankings posted in late April by ESPN's Eamonn Brennan, CBS Sports' Gary Parrish, USA Today's Scott Gleeson and Nicole Auerbach and B/R's C.J. Moore and Jason King. If you feel like your favorite team was unduly left off the list, blame them.

    The following slides are listed in chronological order of first projected loss. Sorry, Louisville.

     

    Statistics on the following slides are courtesy of ESPN.com and KenPom.com (subscription required).

Louisville Cardinals

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Opponent: Minnesota

    Date: November 14

    Location: Puerto Rico (Armed Forces Classic)

     

    The first time Richard Pitino went up against his father, he was destroyed. While coaching at Florida International, the younger Pitino went on the road to Louisville and lost by a score of 79-55.

    Things will be a little different this year.

    First off, anything can happen in these "off the mainland" games. Connecticut shocked us by beating Michigan State in Germany in the first Armed Forces Classic in November 2012.

    In this past November's AFC, Georgetown's Joshua Smith scored 25 points while D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera had just five points in a game with 59 fouls called. Oregon beat the Hoyas 82-75.

    There's always some noteworthy upset in the first 24 hours of the season, so why not this one?

    Minnesota returns four of its five starters from last season and adds a great JUCO transfer in Carlos Morris. Louisville loses three starters, including do-it-all Russ Smith.

    At season's end, Louisville will have a better profile than Minnesota, but at the outset in Puerto Rico, the reigning NIT champions should have a slight edge.

Southern Methodist Mustangs

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    Sharon Ellman/Associated Press

    Opponent: Gonzaga

    Date: November 17

    Location: Spokane, Washington

     

    Despite missing out on one season of Emmanuel Mudiay, SMU will still be one of the 25 best teams in the country.

    Even if the Mustangs had Mudiay, though, they likely would have been the underdog in this true road game against a Gonzaga team that may open the season ranked in the top 10.

    It simply isn't a good matchup for them.

    SMU plays great defenseparticularly in the paintand forces a lot of turnovers.

    Gonzaga, on the other hand, is very good at avoiding turnovers with Kevin Pangos playing point guard, and the Bulldogs will be perfectly content with doing the bulk of their scoring from three-point range in this one.

    Throw in the fact that Gonzaga is 49-2 at home over the past three seasons, and the Bulldogs should be able to win this one without too much difficulty.

Michigan State Spartans

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    Al Goldis/Associated Press

    Opponent: Duke

    Date: November 18

    Location: Indianapolis, Indiana (Champions Classic)

     

    Michigan State's 2014-15 season took a pretty huge hit over the weekend when Kenny Kaminski announced on Twitter that he has decided to transfer away from the Spartans.

    Kaminski was expected to start at power forward and serve as one of the team's top three-point options, but that's clearly no longer the case.

    In this particular game against Duke, the stretch 4 likely would have been Michigan State's leading scorer.

    The Blue Devils have some stellar defenders in this year's starting lineup, but forcing Amile Jefferson to defend on the perimeter would seem to be the best way to open up the court for everything else to transpire.

    But now, instead of Kaminski, it's looking like Tom Izzo will either need to go with Alex Gauna or Gavin Schilling at power forward or run out a small lineup with Branden Dawson playing the 4. Regardless, that player won't even remotely be a three-point threat.

    Really, though, Michigan State probably wasn't winning this game to begin with. Losing Kaminski just makes it more of a foregone conclusion.

Kansas Jayhawks

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    Orlin Wagner/Associated Press

    Opponent: Kentucky

    Date: November 18

    Location: Indianapolis, Indiana (Champions Classic)

     

    It should be another prototypical season for Kansas, spending most of the season ranked in the top 10 en route to a 15th consecutive tournament earning at least a No. 4 seed.

    But as was the case with SMU, the Jayhawks are simply running into one of the best teams in the nation less than a week into the season.

    In a rare twist for the John Calipari era at Kentucky, the Wildcats are the more experienced team in this early-season game. 

    Kentucky will likely only have one freshman in the starting lineup and could realistically ease the new players into the fold by going with a starting rotation devoid of "rookies" early in the year.

    Kentucky is also going on its Bahamas tour later this month, getting quite a few extra games against quality teams under its belt.

    Meanwhile, Kansas will be starting either two or three freshmen, depending on whether Devonte Graham beats Frank Mason for the starting point guard job.

    If these teams square off in March, it might be the best game of the entire 2015 NCAA tournament. Five days into the season, however, Kentucky should have enough of an advantage to put an early end to any delusions Kansas has about an undefeated season.

Virginia Cavaliers

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    Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    Opponent: VCU

    Date: TBD

    Location: Richmond, Virginia

     

    No official word yet on when this game will be played, but we know Virginia will be playing at VCU as the second leg of the home-and-home series started last season.

    And considering VCU won on the road against the eventual No. 1 seed last November, it's hard not to like the Rams' chances of holding serve at home this November.

    VCU was one of the few teams that could actually fluster the Cavaliers last seasonforcing 19 turnovers in the affairand the Rams bring back one of the nation's best defenders in Briante Weber.

    There were 69 possessions in the 59-56 gamethe most possessions in any game Virginia played all year.

    Granted, that was just the second game in the collegiate careers of Malcolm Brogdon and London Perrantes. They each committed four turnovers in the game, which still stands as a career worst for them both. They should do a better job this year as sophomores.

    Still, Virginia could have some early troubles adjusting to life without Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell, as the team's top three-point shooter and top defender graduated this summer.

    Any minor weakness is prone to turn into a fatal flaw against Shaka Smart and VCU.

Virginia Commonwealth Rams

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    Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press

    Opponent: Michigan, Oregon or Villanova

    Date: November 25

    Location: Brooklyn, New York (Legends Classic)

     

    The first of a quintet of teams who will see its quest for a perfect season end in an early-season tournament, the VCU Rams are in one heck of a tough four-team field in the Legends Classic.

    We still don't know the pairings for this tournament, but VCU's chances of winning games on back-to-back days against teams of this caliber seem pretty slimespecially once you consider Shaka Smart's recent history in quick turnaround situations.

    Three years ago in the Charleston Classic, VCU lost its first two games against Seton Hall and Georgia Tech before barely beating Western Kentucky to avoid an 0-3 showing.

    In November 2012, the Rams won their first game in the Battle 4 Atlantis before dropping the next two to Duke and Missouri.

    Last year, they lost to both Florida State and Georgetown in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.

    All in all, they have a 3-6 record in these early-season tournaments over the past three years. And really, it shouldn't come as a surprise, as the Rams expend such a ridiculous amount of energy on the defensive end of the court in every single game.

    The Rams have also won just one conference tournament in the past five years, frequently running out of gas by the time the third and final game in consecutive days comes around.

    They might be able to win an opener against either Michigan or Oregon, but expecting them to win two games in 24 hours against teams that will very likely make the NCAA tournament is probably asking too much.

San Diego State Aztecs

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Opponent: Arizona or Kansas State

    Date: November 24-26

    Location: Lahaina, Hawaii (Maui Invitational)

     

    San Diego State kind of shocked the world by winning the 2013 Wooden Legacy with a field including Arizona State, Creighton, George Washington and Marquette, but I certainly don't foresee them duplicating that magic this season in the Maui Invitational.

    We don't know who the Aztecs will play in the opening game of the tournament, but it's highly unlikely they can hoist the trophy without running through Kansas State and/or Arizona in the latter rounds.

    Do they have enough firepower to beat either of those teams?

    San Diego State's biggest strength for this season would seem to be interior defense, but I wish the best of luck to anyone going to war against Arizona in the paint. Shutting down Kansas State's Thomas Gipson will be no easy task, either.

    We're probably being generous by even assuming San Diego State is going to start this tournament with an undefeated record. A November 18 home game against Utah could well put a quick "1" in the loss column.

Oklahoma Sooners

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    Opponent: Take your pick

    Date: November 26-28

    Location: Paradise Island, Bahamas (Battle 4 Atlantis)

     

    Oklahoma might be one of the 20 best teams in the country, but the Sooners would be lucky to be considered the fourth-best squad in the Battle 4 Atlantis eight-team field.

    They're definitely behind Florida, North Carolina and Wisconsin, and they're battling with UCLA for the honor of "Team most likely to win its first game before getting destroyed in the semifinals and third-place games."

    All things considered, Oklahoma may end up facing the toughest schedule in the country.

    After a cream puff opener against Southeastern Louisiana, the Sooners travel to Creighton and play a home game against a very good Northwestern State before the Battle 4 Atlantis.

    After that, it's six sneakily tough games against Missouri, Tulsa, Oral Roberts, Washington, Weber State and George Mason. For going two months without any real break, they get to play 18 games against Big 12 competition.

    Don't be surprised if Oklahoma loses at least 10 games and still earns a No. 5 seed in the tournament.

Florida Gators

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    Opponent: North Carolina or Wisconsin

    Date: November 27-28

    Location: Paradise Island, Bahamas (Battle 4 Atlantis)

     

    Keep in mind it's only mathematically possible for one team to emerge from the Battle 4 Atlantis without suffering at least one loss.

    Even if you think the Gators are the favorites in this field, you have to concede that they have, at best, a 25 percent chance of winning this thing.

    Unless this tournament plays out chaotically, Florida's path to a Battle 4 Atlantis title will likely go through Georgetown, Wisconsin and North Carolina.

    Even Kentucky would have about a 33 percent chance of running that gauntlet in a span of 48-60 hours.

    Florida will likely open the season ranked in the top 10, but it would be a surprise if it enters the month of December with an undefeated record. And if the Gators actually get that far, they'll have a road game against Kansas on December 5 that should result in a loss.

Wisconsin Badgers

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    Opponent: North Carolina

    Date: November 28

    Location: Paradise Island, Bahamas (Battle 4 Atlantis)

     

    Again, only one team can win this blockbuster tournament, and I'm giving a marginal edge to North Carolina based solely on the fact that the Tar Heels have the necessary depth to survive this three-day grind.

    When the Badgers run into the Tar Heels in the championship game, it'll be one of the best games we see in the first month of the season.

    If nothing else, it'll be a very intriguing contrast in pace. North Carolina's average possession length on offense was 10th-shortest in the country (15.3 seconds), while Wisconsin's was 10th-longest (20.5 seconds).

    But like Green Bay and Iowatwo teams who gave Wisconsin a lot of trouble last yearthe Tar Heels were perfectly content with letting the other team take its time on offense. North Carolina ranked 315th in average possession length on defense (18.9 seconds).

    Thus, in a game where Wisconsin's pace won't necessarily be an asset, the advantage goes to the team with more talent and athleticism.

    The Badgers might only lose three or four games all season, but one of them will come here in the first two weeks.

Connecticut Huskies

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Opponent: Texas

    Date: November 30

    Location: Storrs, Connecticut

     

    Of the 20 teams on this list, 10 are expected to suffer their first loss in a true road game, and nine will lose on a neutral court. That leaves Connecticut as the oddball that suffers its first loss at home.

    It's not that we don't like Connecticut. It's just a matter of the Huskies dealing with a horrible mismatch in the form of Texas.

    Kevin Ollie and company will eventually figure something out, but the biggest question facing Connecticut at the outset of the season will be its interior play.

    Ryan Boatright, Rodney Purvis, Daniel Hamilton, Terrence Samuel, Sam Cassell Jr. and Omar Calhoun will provide the Huskies with great guard play, but is a frontcourt trio of Phillip Nolan, Amida Brimah and Kentan Facey scaring anyone?

    The Huskies will have a formidable lineup against 75 percent of the AAC, but against a team like Texas—which has Cameron Ridley, Myles Turner, Connor Lammert and Prince Ibeh in the paint—their only real hope is to sink enough three-pointers to make up for the fact that they'll get destroyed down low on both ends of the court.

Wichita State Shockers

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    Opponent: Utah

    Date: December 3

    Location: Salt Lake City, Utah

     

    It's a shame to see last year's 34-0 team this early on the list, but the Shockers are also playing a substantially better nonconference schedule than last year.

    In addition to this projected loss at Utah, they have games against Memphis, Tulsa and Saint Louis before the late December Diamond Head Classic with a field including Colorado, George Washington and Nebraska.

    Even if I'm wrong about the outcome of this particular game, there's an extremely slim chance the Shockers will actually enter MVC play with an undefeated record for a second straight year.

    So why Utah?

    One of the Utes' biggest weaknesses last season was rebounding. In the overtime loss to Colorado, they were out-rebounded 42-24. In a close loss at Arizona, they allowed the Wildcats to grab 20 offensive rebounds.

    But with Cleanthony Early, Chadrack Lufile and Kadeem Coleby graduating, Wichita State doesn't have a single returning player taller than 6'7".

    The Shockers will need to rely heavily upon JUCO transfers Bush Wamukota and Tevin Glass, but they are unlikely to create a rebounding advantage against Utah's Dallin Bachynski, Jeremy Olsen and Brekkott Chapman.

    When the Shockers are able to avoid getting destroyed on the glass, it's going to be nearly impossible for anyone to beat Delon Wright, Jordan Loveridge, Brandon Taylor and Dakarai Tucker.

Duke Blue Devils

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    Opponent: Wisconsin

    Date: December 3

    Location: Madison, Wisconsin

     

    For my money, this is one of the best nonconference games we could possibly request. Both Duke and Wisconsin are on the fast track to the 2015 Elite Eight and should deliver one heck of a fun game as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

    Best of all, it puts one of the most talked-about returning players (Frank Kaminsky) directly against one of the most talked-about incoming players (Jahlil Okafor).

    Unlike last year's battle between Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker in which they rarely even guarded one another, Kaminsky and Okafor will be going to war in the paint all game long.

    But in the end, Wisconsin should have the edge in this one.

    As we mentioned back on the Michigan State slide, perhaps the best way to beat Duke this season is with a stretch 4 who forces Amile Jefferson to play on the perimeter.

    Well, Wisconsin has Sam Dekker and Kaminsky, who are both willing and able to step out beyond the three-point line to get their buckets.

    Provided they're able to hit a good number of those shots at home, it should open up the rest of the floor for one of the most efficient offenses in the country to go to work.

Texas Longhorns

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    Opponent: Kentucky

    Date: December 5

    Location: Lexington, Kentucky

     

    The second of three teams on the list who could make a run at the Final Four after suffering its first loss of the season to Kentucky, Texas at least has the size to battle with the Wildcats.

    Cameron Ridley was among the best rebounders and shot-blockers in the country last season, and Myles Turner should join him on that list without much trouble.

    But even if the frontcourts play to a draw, will Isaiah Taylor and Javan Felix have any hope against the Harrison twins in the backcourt?

    Taylor (6'1", 170 lbs) had an effective field-goal percentage of 39.8. It might not be the absolute worst among players who logged at least 60 percent of their team's minutes, but it's definitely in the bottom 5 percent. Felix (5'11", 195 lbs) wasn't much better at 43.7 percent.

    Don't expect those shots to suddenly start falling when going up against a pair of guys who stand 6'6" and 215 pounds.

Gonzaga Bulldogs

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    Opponent: Arizona

    Date: December 6

    Location: Tucson, Arizona

     

    Gonzaga and Arizona squared off in the round of 32 this past March, and it was an absolute bloodbath.

    Sure, there has been a lot of change on both rosters since then, but does any of it suggest Gonzaga will be able to win this time around?

    The Wildcats lost Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson, but they added some incredible players in Stanley Johnson, Kadeem Allen and Craig Victor.

    They still have Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (18 points, five assists, five rebounds and four blocks) and T.J. McConnell (12 points, six assists, three steals, zero turnovers), who combined to destroy Gonzaga in the tournament.

    The Bulldogs add a pair of key transfers in Byron Wesley and Kyle Wiltjer, but they lose David Stockton, Sam Dower and Drew Barham.

    For Gonzaga to win this game, it would need to be played almost exclusively along the perimeter with great three-point shooting and nothing even resembling foul trouble for any of its starters.

    Good luck with that.

Villanova Wildcats

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Opponent: Illinois

    Date: December 9

    Location: New York, New York

     

    Villanova suffered just five losses last season. In those five games, the opposition shot a combined 52.9 percent from three-point range with all five teams shooting at least 42 percent from beyond the arc.

    It's one thing to occasionally run into a hot team and get unlucky, but it's another to consistently have no answer for three-point barrages.

    After the additions of Aaron Cosby (40.0 percent in 2012-13) and Ahmad Starks (39.5 percent in 2012-13), Illinois could become the latest team to destroy Villanova from downtown.

    The Illini also have Kendrick Nunn in the mix after shooting 44.1 percent from three-point range over the final 20 games of his freshman season.

    Really, there's a good chance that this will be a battle between undefeated teams in the Jimmy V Classic.

    Prior to this game, Illinois' biggest challenge is either against Miami in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge or against either Baylor or Memphis in the championship of the Las Vegas Invitational.

    Regardless, this is the Illini's first game against a team that's more or less guaranteed to make the NCAA tournament.

    Among the teams not ranked in the top 20 that might enter January with a perfect record, Illinois has to be near the top of the list.

North Carolina Tar Heels

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    Opponent: Kentucky

    Date: December 13

    Location: Lexington, Kentucky

     

    By putting the Tar Heels this high on the list, we're basically ensuring they don't lose a few completely nonsensical games like the ones against Belmont and UAB last season.

    This isn't intended to be a jinx, though. We truly believe North Carolina is one of the five best teams in the country and won't meet its match until traveling to Kentucky in December.

    But boy howdy, will the Tar Heels meet their match in that game.

    Marcus Paige vs. Andrew Harrison will be a point guard battle for the ages.

    As will Kennedy Meeks vs. Dakari Johnson in a battle between two centers who seemed a few pounds overweight and a step too slow last season but are expected to be better conditioned and better players as sophomores.

    Brice Johnson vs. Kentucky's other Goliaths in the paint, though? Not so much, unless Johnson magically gained the weight that Meeks lost.

    Johnson struggled in last year's meeting between these two teams, scoring eight points and committing four fouls in 24 minutes while trying to contend with Julius Randle and Alex Poythress.

    This feels like the type of game where Roy Williams gives Joel James and Desmond Hubert a combined 25-30 minutes of playing time to try to combat Kentucky's heighteven though it results in a significant net deficit on the offensive end of the court.

Kentucky Wildcats

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    Opponent: Louisville

    Date: December 27

    Location: Louisville, Kentucky

     

    Do I think Louisville will have a better season than Kentucky? The fact that I have Louisville as the first team to lose a game on this list should answer that question.

    But I do believe that anything can happen in this grudge match.

    Also, Kentucky might be a bit rundown and/or overconfident after winning games against Kansas, Texas, North Carolina and UCLA.

    If the Wildcats get this far into the season with an undefeated record, the media storm surrounding this team will be 2013-14 Wichita State times 20especially considering the only thing going on in college basketball in the week leading up to this game is the Diamond Head Classic.

    Somewhere at the intersection of all those factors, they lose just enough focus to lose this game.

    And within five minutes of the game ending, there will be approximately 57,000 silly articles written about how it's actually a good thing they lost a game so they can just focus on winning the national championship.

Iowa State Cyclones

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    Opponent: Big 12 TBD

    Date: Mid-January

    Location: On the road

     

    Iowa State is going to have a solid season, but Fred Hoiberg hardly has a roster that screams "Second-to-last undefeated team in the country."

    Fortunately for the Cyclones, compared to a lot of the teams on this list, their nonconference schedule is laughable at best.

    A road game against in-state rival Iowa is the only one that might result in a loss, but the Hawkeyes could be a bit of a mess without Roy Devyn Marble, Zach McCabe and Melsahn Basabe.

    Aaron White is a great player, but one power forward can't single-handedly defeat the Cyclones.

    Other than that, Iowa State has a home game against an Arkansas team that has gone 8-33 away from home under Mike Anderson, a not-so-sneakily difficult home game against Georgia State on November 17 and a whole bunch of cream puffs until playing Big 12 opponents.

    We don't know the Cyclones' conference schedule yet, but feel free to schedule their first loss as their first road game against Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma or Texas.

Arizona Wildcats

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    Opponent: Colorado

    Date: Late February

    Location: Boulder, Colorado

     

    Were it not for Brandon Ashley's injury, would anyone have beaten Arizona last season?

    The Wildcats opened the year 21-0 before eventually losing five games, but all of those losses were close enough that you could easily argue they would have won them at full strength.

    Now for the scarier question: Is Arizona actually going to be better than last year?

    As previously mentioned, Sean Miller lost two great players in Aaron Gordon and Nick Johnson, but in gaining the JUCO Player of the Year and three of 247Sports' top 50 incoming freshmen, you'd have a very difficult time convincing me that the Wildcats are getting any worse.

    There will be a few nonconference challenges in the Maui Invitational, Gonzaga (home), Michigan (home), UTEP (road) and UNLV (road), but those are games that one of the best teams in the country should be able to win.

    Though we don't yet know the exact dates of their conference games, we do know the Wildcats won't play on the road against UCLA at all, and they don't play their road games against Colorado and Utah until the final road trip of the season.

    But if they are still undefeated when they finally get to Colorado, you better believe the Buffaloes will be out for revenge for the Sabatino Chen game that should have ended Arizona's perfect season in January 2013.

    Not to mention, Arizona beat the tar out of Colorado on the road near the end of last February in a game that we viewed as the Wildcats' "We're still ready to win a national championship" statement game.

    This one game could be two years' worth of payback for the Buffs.

     

    Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.

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