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March 19, 2012

Ketch's 10 Thoughts From The Weekend

Welcome to college basketball purgatory.

After more than 48 hours to consider the end of the Longhorn basketball season and the 2011-12 season as a whole, this is the place where those that really care about Rick Barnes' program currently reside.

It's a world where there are a million prisms through which to view the state of the program, with none of them truly more definite than the other. It's a world where the team disappointed and its coaching staff still did a pretty damn good job of getting as much out of the team as possible. It's a world where the kids forever play hard and with passion, but treat offensive basketball like it's an opponent in a fistfight. It's a world where the school is producing more NBA talent than ever, but the fan base seems somewhat disconnected from the players on campus. It's a world where the head coach is both the most successful coach in school history and the leader of a program that last played on the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament when George Bush was still in office.

To be fair, we're talking about the second President Bush, not the first.

It's also a world where the answers for solving whatever problems exist aren't easily available. Every year it seems like a different set of issues present themselves and right about the time those issues are resolved, a new set of issues arrive.

Sound familiar? Yes, Barnes' program has evolved into what the Georgia Bulldogs are in college football, forever possible of big things and more times than not unable to come close to achieving what looks possible on paper. The streak of post-season disappointment is reaching the point where alarm bells are starting to go off. There's no way to get around the fact that the Longhorns have missed the Sweet 16 five of the last six seasons and have finished better than fourth in the Big 12 just once in the last four years.

The Longhorns don't need a new coach, but they need a new spark. Momentum is going the wrong way and a game-changing event needs to take place to swing the pendulum in the right direction.

When you look at next season, there's almost as much concern as there is optimism. Barnes needs a break. He needs at least one of his starting guards to return for another season. He needs Cameron Ridley to say, "I do." He needs a season where he catches a break or two or four.

Frankly, I don't know what to say and I'm not going to pretend that I know the answers. More times than not in life, diagnosing the problem is the easy part. All of us can count to four. It's that whole answer thing that has so many baffled.

Basketball purgatory is hell of a place to be, better than hell, but not quite close to heaven.

A few more thoughts on the loss to Cincinnati.

1. Three things needed to happen in that game for the Longhorns to win and none of them occurred. Texas needed J'Covan Brown to be the best player on the court and he wasn't. Texas needed to live at the free throw line and it didn't. Texas also needed Clint Chapman to perform at a level that could somewhat limit the dominance of the Bearcats in the paint and while he played his guts out, asking him to carry the frontcourt load against a team like Cincinnati was asking for too much.

2. My expectations are that J'Covan Brown is g-o-n-e. In the aftermath of another disappointing tournament appearance, the junior from Port Arthur used the word "cherish" to describe his thoughts of the moment. This might sound like me digging a little and I apologize if this turns out to be the case, but a player that had any thought at all about returning to atone for the failures of three straight post-seasons wouldn't describe a six-point loss as something to "cherish." I don't really know what to tell Brown because I agree that his NBA prospects will not improve with another season in Austin, but I'm not sure what his true NBA prospects really look like, although he will likely collect professional paychecks for a long time, even if it means he has to go overseas to make it happen. I suppose it comes down to whether a college legacy means anything to him, and if so, just how important is it versus starting his professional career. As it stands, he's a part of the only recruiting class under Barnes that has never made the Sweet 16.

3. Myck Kabongo went 0-fer from the field in the final two games of the regular season and the one NCAA Tournament game of his freshman season. For his own sake, he needs another year to develop. Hey kid, even T.J. Ford stayed two years. Just something to think about.

4. Brown and Kabongo combined to attempt six free throws. The number needed to be 16.

5. When the dust settled, Chapman finished with 10 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks in 31 minutes before fouling out. Yancy Gates finished with 15 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks in 31 minutes. Chapman didn't outperform Gates, but he had a respectable performance. The issue the Longhorns had was that their next leading rebounder was Brown with five.

No. 2 - Sixteen sweet shots on March Madness…

… Nothing happened this weekend that was bigger than the Kendall Marshall injury. It cannot be stressed enough how big of a projected loss Marshall would be from the North Carolina line-up if he misses the rest of the post-season, which seems pretty likely. He's the straw that stirs the entire drink for that team and replacing what he brings to that team will not be easy. Frankly, they don't have anyone that seems capable of replacing that void. They might need him to reach the Elite 8, but making the final Four and anything beyond that is going to be a tricky task.

… I feel so much better about my Kentucky national championship pick after watching them this weekend. The series of haymakers they threw down on Iowa State was as impressive as anything I've seen in college basketball this season. The Cyclones were playing really well and then the Wildcats just went nuclear on them. It was stunning and emphatic, given the surge Iowa State was making in the second half. If Marquis Teague plays anywhere near the level he reached on Saturday night, John Calipari is finally going to know the joy of cutting down the nets at the end. The Wildcats simply have way too many other things going for them to be able to add that kind of firepower from a true freshman that didn't even score in the SEC Tournament Championship game a week ago. The Kentucky-Indiana rematch was made-for-TV. I watched the first game from stem to stern and I think the Wildcats are going to slap the Hooisers upside the head pretty good.
… Elijah Johnson and Tyshawn Taylor saved Kansas' season on Sunday night and helped saved tis tournament post-season for the Big 12. Johnson and Taylor absolutely ripped victory from the jaws of defeat in those final few minutes. No matter how it looked, a win is a win, and this is a team that has as good of a shot at the Final Four as anyone

… Stat of the day courtesy of Jay "So Trill" Bilas: 36 of 68 teams in NCAA field are non-BCS teams. Only 2 of those 36 made Sweet 16 (6%). Of 32 BCS teams, 14 made Sweet 16 (44%). The breakdown of Sweet 16 teams looks like this: Big 10 (4), Big East (4), ACC (2), SEC (2), Big 12 (2), MAC (1) and A-10 (1)

... Top three favorite players to watch from the weekend:

Gold: Michigan State's Draymond Green might be an NBA tweener, but I think he rates as one of the toughest, best pound-for-pound players that Tom Izzo has ever produced. I love that dude.

Silver: I heart me some Marquette forward Jae Crowder. With Missouri out of the way, the only thing keeping Michigan State out of the Final Four might be Crowder's will. He's P.J. Tucker with a little more skill and a little more natural athletic bounce.

Bronze: Iowa State's Royce White made some money this week. His NBA profile suddenly looks pretty interesting.

… I need Bud Light to find a different spokesperson than Pit Bull because it makes me want to punch someone in the face every time I'm subjected to him. Who is he supposed to appeal to?

… The only team that I really rooted for over the course of the last two days was Lehigh. That's a gutsy little team, but the shots just wouldn't wall on Sunday.

… By the time I realized that the Florida/Norfolk State game had started, there was literally zero reason to watch it. Missouri players must have been watching that game and thinking, "WTF?" I'm guessing the Missouri players relive the loss to Norfolk State in their heads more times over the course of the rest of their lives than they do the images from winning the final Big 12 Tournament that the school appeared in. What a loss.

… Why in the world would anyone trust Georgetown? That's three seasons in a row that have ended with losses in the tournament to double-digit seeds.

… The following conference tournament champions lost this weekend: ACC (Florida State), Big 12 (Missouri), Pac-12 (Colorado) and the SEC (Vanderbilt). Only Michigan State and Louisville survived from the Big 6 BCS leagues.

… The path for Baylor couldn't be any more wide-open to the Elite 8. Give them credit for handling their business down the stretch this season. That's a team that's peaking late, with or without Perry Ellis III as a major factor. Pierre Jackson is as difficult to match up with as any point guard in the country. Defenders just can't stay in front of him. Also, the nation might see Brady Heslip as Kelly Leak's older brother, but I see Brandy Perryman 2.0.

Stories like the one involving Jamar Samuel this weekend make me want to scream. The things that the NCAA allows to happen and the things they arbitrarily decide to hammer are so confusing. A fifth-year senior missed out on his last college game because he was hungry and needed some money to eat. He didn't fly to Miami for a party with booze, strippers and agents. He's not wearing a Rolex. He's not pimping a fully-loaded SUV that clearly didn't arrive through "proper" means. No, he's just a kid that needed some petty cash at his disposal and he accepted a $200 handout from a former AAU coach. The entire system needs a nuclear bomb dropped on it. How ironic that every coach in the tournament has tournament bonuses in their contracts that could fund some small countries, but if a kid tries to get a dollar outside of the billion-dollar NCAA racket, by all means his head should be cut off.

… I think I undervalued the quality of Ohio State going into the tournament.

… It's fascinating to hear guys like Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith discuss Syracuse's world-famous zone defense. It's so clear that NBA guys view zone defense as a waste of athleticism and talent, but to blast away at the foundation of one of college basketball's powerhouse programs isn't something you would expect to hear in March. I don't know that I have an opinion on the subject, as much as I'm just fascinated to hear those guys air out their thoughts.

… I really like Buzz Williams. I want to play for that guy.

… Finally, we're not smarter for having the Chuckster covering the NCAA Tournament, but we sure do have more fun .

No. 3 - Augie Garrido keeps the soul of the OU baseball program in his back pocket …

A week ago, the looming trip to Oklahoma seemed like a pretty tall order for the Texas baseball team.

After all, the Longhorns had fallen to the land of the unranked with a sub-.500 record in the last two weeks, while the Sooners had climbed all the way to the No. 22 spot in the Baseball America Top 25. On top of that, the series would be held in Norman.

If ever the Sooners were going to get over on an Augie Garrido-coached Longhorn team, surely this was the year it would happen.

Or so it seemed.

As it turns out, there wasn't anything that this Longhorn team needed that a little series against their own personal piñata couldn't solve. Like the previous 13 seasons, this Longhorn team found the fortitude to deliver a butt-whipping to the Sooners, sweeping a three game series and beginning conference play with a 3-0 record. In the process, Texas won in several different ways, coming from behind to win a wild extra-inning affair on Friday before dropping 18 runs and 28 base hits over two days to complete the sweep.

Suddenly, the Longhorns appear to be on their way after a 4-0 week that watched them pick up the sweep of the Sooners and an impressive thumping of Top 10 RPI ranked Texas State.

If the Longhorns were Angelo Bassett, they would have just finished a weekend in the Bahamas with Taye Diggs getting their groove back.

What's crazy is that it was the offense more than anything else this weekend. Mark Payton collected nine hits, while Erich Weiss pounded out seven (three for extra-bases) and both Jacob Felts/Jonathan Walsh collected six.

With Stephen F. Austin and a three-game set in Manhattan against Kansas State slated for this week, Texas is in a position to gain some momentum when it starts to count the most.

No. 4 - Scattershooting on Longhorn football…

… Things are definitely on the uptick at the quarterback position after bottoming out the last two seasons, but the Longhorns are still in somewhat of a tricky spot at the position with both of their No. 3 and No. 4 quarterbacks being true freshmen. Although Connor Brewer seems headed for a redshirt in 2012 if all things go well, the Longhorns also need to prepare for the event of an Ash injury. If that happens and Case McCoy moves into the starting role, the need to get Brewer ready for action will become critical. Although his reps have been limited in the first half of workouts this spring and he's nowhere near being ready to do more than wear a headset in a game, look for him to steal a few second-team reps over the next few months when he finds himself a little more ready.

… The Longhorn coaching staff should throw a party when they finally reach a point where the quarterback depth is finally situated in a way where the No. 2 and No. 3 back-up positions aren't manned by a true freshman. If Case McCoy stays in a Texas uniform through his senior season, that party should be in 2013.

… The Longhorns rushed the ball 442 times last season with the running backs, which translates to 34 carries per game. The smart money will have the Longhorns carrying the ball closer to an average of 40 times per game in 2012, which translates to a total of 520 carries over a 13-game season. If you buy that math, then my guess today is that Bergeron and Malcolm Brown would combine for approximately 360 carries, while Johnathan Gray would net between 90-100 and the D.J. Monroe/Jeremy Hills tandem would finish with approximately 70-90. Add those numbers together and you get a number between 520-550.

… The per game average based on those numbers might look something like this: Bergeron (15), Brown (12.3), Gray (7.6) and Monroe/Hills (5.4)

… The next couple of weeks are going to be pretty big for the receivers on campus. If all things are equal and there aren't any injuries and the Olympics aren't taking away a piece of the puzzle, the Longhorns currently have three guys on whom they know they can go into battle … Mike Davis, Jaxon Shipley and Marquise Goodwin. There's a group of receivers behind them, which includes DeSean Hales, Miles Onyegbule, Bryant Jackson and John Harris, that they are hoping can crack a top five that can rotate in and out of every game. Of that group behind the top tier, Hales has had a quality spring and seems to be making a move that could put him on the field. I'm not so sure where the others stand right now and they are leaving the door open for the true freshmen that arrive in the fall. It's not exactly now or never, but every player at every position in the program risks getting passed by a younger player if he develops a tad slow. So yeah, for some of these guys it could very well be now or never, at least as it relates to carving out a true role this season.

… The same separation needs to take place at tight end as well. The best thing that could happen to this team is the light switch coming on for M.J. McFarland, Darius Terrell or D.J. Grant. The work done in the weight room in four months following spring workouts might determine the answer.

… The Longhorns are better up-front along the offensive line, but my gut tells me that they only have five or six guys with whom they can go to war and win right now. The current starting group, plus Sedrick Flowers, looks fairly strong. Beyond that group, I'm not sure how confident I would be with any of the other reserves if an injury robs the team of one of the front-line guys. More worrisome is that the rest of the current second-team line (not including Flowers) is comprised of three juniors (Paden Kelley, Thomas Ashcraft and Garett Porter) and a senior (Luke Poehlmann) … a group of four that has limitations based on what we've seen thus far in their careers. The program would really be served well if one of the young players like Garrett Greenlea, Marcus Hutchins or Camrhon Hughes was ready to truly compete for a spot on the two-deep, but they aren't, which leaves that second-team line as a major question mark moving forward. If a tackle and a guard both went down this season, I'm not sure who the seventh guy up front would be that you'd trust in the line-up.

… The offensive line class of 2009 has been just a little wee-bit short of a disaster. Mason Walters hasn't lived up to his five-star billing yet, but at least he's a starter and projects as a possible NFL prospect. The rest of the offensive line class, which featured two more four-star prospects and a high three-star prospect, haven't emerged yet as truly solid members of the two-deep and they are all in year four of the program.

… It's been said before, but the 2009 class was supposed to save the disaster that was most of the 2007-08 classes and the reality is that this group has produced four starting-level players out of 20. Alex Okafor, Kenny Vaccaro, Mason Walters and Chris Whaley all rank as hits, but the next best player on the 2012 team from this class might be Dominique Jones or Barrett Matthews. Let that sink in for a moment.

… No team in the Big 12 has a better foursome at defensive tackle than the Longhorns, but the team doesn't yet have an alpha male at the position on which to lean, just four guys that have the ability to emerge as alpha males. It feels like the pecking order at this position won't truly be known until we get to September and perhaps into October. If you had to pick just one of the four to emerge as a possible all-conference type player, who would you choose? I'd probably choose Desmond Jackson.

… The coaches should have red-shirted Reggie Wilson in 2010. He'd look a lot different right now as a college prospect if he were a third-year sophomore with two years of separation from Alex Okafor and a year from Jackson Jeffcoat. Whoever made that call (Will Muschamp?) failed.

… DeMarco Cobbs is expected back in full uniform before the end of the spring, but I'm putting my money on Tevin Jackson to win the starting weak-side linebacker job because of his physicality at the point of attack. Both guys will likely play in a rotation if healthy, but I think Jackson could separate before the dust clears.

… I think the next starting cornerback at Texas not named Byndom or Diggs will be Duke Thomas.

… Members of the 2012 recruiting class that I expect to play as true freshmen: defensive tackle Malcom Brown, defensive end Shiro Davis, middle linebacker Alex De la Torre, running back Johnathan Gray, wide receiver Marcus Johnson, wide receiver Cayleb Jones, kicker Nick Jordan, cornerback Duke Thomas and wide receiver Kendall Sanders

No. 5 - Five things on the NFL

1. Let's talk about what the Cowboys have done so far in free agency. In signing Brandon Carr and throwing Terence Newman to the curb, they've addressed a major need in the secondary and suddenly have three fairly young corners to go into next season with as a starting point. Dan Connor is an upgrade inside at linebacker and should allow them to take their time in bringing along Bruce Carter. Kyle Orton is an upgrade from the retired Jon Kitna and much more capable of leading the team for a sustained time if needed. Brodney Pool is an upgrade of Abe Elam, albeit perhaps just a slight one. The offensive line cleared out a little more age, but still came away with some added depth superior to what was previously available. At worst, the Cowboys might have lost a little in moving Tony Fiammetta out at fullback for Lawrence Vickers, but all in all the Cowboys find themselves better today than they were a week ago. The needs that remain? A starting level interior offensive lineman. A pass-rusher. Another safety. A No. 3 wide receiver. A back-up tight end. The team is also in a position to take the best available player available when the draft rolls around, regardless of position.

2. My top five favorite picks at No. 14: 1) Stanford offensive guard David DeCastro 2) Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick 3) LSU defensive end Michael Brockers 4) Memphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe … Dream pick: North Carolina defensive end Quinton Coples

3. And then there were three for Peyton Manning… 49ers, Broncos and Titans. We'll likely know something in the next 24-48 hours, but the 49ers have to look incredibly luring at this point with that defense, running game and suddenly a wide receiver unit that features Randy Moss and Mario Manningham to go along with Vernon Davis and Co. From a football side of things, this seems like a slam dunk decision unless the money is miles apart from what the others are offering. I know it's not the AFC, but it's a team that was a play or two away from the Super Bowl without him less than two month ago.

4. It didn't get a ton of play over the weekend, but the Patriots signed Brandon Lloyd, and I'm of the opinion than Tom Brady just added a weapon that can put some pressure on opposing defenses. He's a serious upgrade over a guy like Deion Branch.

5. Matt Flynn signed a reasonable three-year deal to be the starter in Seattle this weekend and I'm not so sure that he's better than the guys the Seahawks currently have. This move pretty much dooms the Pete Carroll era in the city that once launched the original Rivals.com. I'll root for the guy because he's a Texas boy trying to do well, but I don't buy that he's a starting NFL quarterback at all, let alone a quality one.

No. 6 - Thoughts from The Association …

a. I said it when it happened and I'll say it again a couple of month later… Manu Ginobli getting hurt for the Spurs earlier this season was the best thing that ever happened to the team. First of all, it helped ensure that Ginobli would have fresh legs for the home stretch, at least much fresher legs than he would otherwise have. Most import? It allowed the team to build up Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard as key pieces of the post-season puzzle in his absence. Both players were forced to play more minutes than they would have otherwise and in the process they have evolved as players the Spurs will be able to count on in the playoffs without even having to think twice.

b. I love the addition of Stephen Jackson and the flushing of Richard Jefferson to Golden State. No offense to Jefferson, but he just never felt like a guy that fit in with the Spurs and even though he had improved a lot from last season to this one. In getting rid of Jefferson, more minutes open up for Leonard, Green and Jackson. That's a win-win-win in my book. It also helps ensure that the Spurs go a full 10-deep with a bench that ranks among the best in the entire league. If they can stay healthy and not wilt away in the grueling task that is two months of playoff basketball grind, they might just have a championship run in them. The Spurs are probably the one team in the West that the Thunder would probably like to go ahead and avoid.

c. Speaking of benches, the Heat's lack of one is going to be a major factor if and when they find themselves in a seven-game series with the Bulls and Thunder/Spurs.

d. I think everyone might be sleeping on the quality of this Chicago Bulls team based on what happened in the playoffs last season. Even without their superstar, they find ways to beat teams down and win games. Plus, they are really good on the road, having posted as many wins on foreign courts as the Thunder, Heat and Spurs have at home.

e. Apparently, Joel Przybilla wants a piece of Carlos Boozer in a bad way.

f. My Sixers just aren't ready for prime time. Too much youth and not enough size/muscle inside. That being said, they could still take home a division title and land home-court advantage in the first round.

g. It was a tough week for Team USA's basketball coaching staff. First, Nate McMillon and Mike D'Antoni found themselves on the NBA curb and then the Coach K became a victim to of one of the greatest post-season upsets of all-time. I hope these guys are getting it all out of their system.

h. You probably missed it because you were watching NCAA action, but Kobe went 3 of 20 from the floor on Sunday night in what was a bad Lakers home loss to the Jazz
i. MVP watch

1. LeBron James (his numbers this month are sick)
2. Kevin Durant (his numbers this month are down a little)
3. Derrick Rose
4. Tony Parker
5. Kobe Bryant

j. Ketch's weekly NBA Power Poll

1. Chicago
2. Oklahoma City
3. Miami
4. San Antonio
5. L.A. Lakers
6. Orlando
7. Memphis
8. Indiana
9. Dallas
10. LA Clippers

No. 7 - That's what he said…

A look at my 10 favorite Tweets from the last week.

@bomani_jones
just curious: if the skins are gonna take rg3, why would they want rex grossman near him? wack juice is contagious.

@GeorgeSchroeder
Great to see NFL fans and reporters learning the joys of flight-tracking in the Manning Derby. College fb fans/reporters welcome you.

@RivalsHigh
"They said I couldnt hold off Peyton Manning's free agency." - Tim Tebow's next commerical.

@DwyaneWade
Loyalty hahahahaha

@EyeOnBasketball
Standing ovation to Carmelo Anthony for upstaging everyone on consecutive trade deadlines. Just phenomenal work.

@uuords
I apologize to twitter for being a nets fan. I was given some bad advice.

@sportsguy33
I just pulled a Dwight Howard at Starbucks - I kept changing my order until they finally just gave me 4 different coffees.

@JSalisburyCSN
Watching Vicente Padilla pitch vs. Yanks on TV. Can't help but think of great old Scott Rolen quote: "He looks like he eats people."

@MikeTyson
Sinatra said to me, when I was a cocky kid. 'It's not how good u do. It's how long u do good'.

@Andy_Staples
Will Texas break double digits in this half? Put in Ash! Oh, wait. My bad.

No. 8 - Pop goes the culture because the culture goes pop.…

… Top five SXSW shows I wish I had seen this week:

1. Jay-Z at the Austin City Limits Live show on Monday.
2. Lionel Richie (with Kenny Rogers singing a duet of "Lady") at Moody Theatre on Wednesday night
3. 50 cent and Eminem at the Austin Music Hall on Friday night.
4. Jack White at The Stage on Friday night.
5. Norah Jones performing her entire new album at La Zona Rosa on Saturday night.

… Hell yeah: Game. Of. Thrones. The latest trailer (The more you love) … 13 days away.

... The rough draft of Dark Knight Rises has been seen.

… Best Protest of the Week: George Clooney posted $100 bail after being arrested in Washington D.C. in a protest at the Sudanese embassy.

… WTF Moment of the Weekend: Bobby Kristina and Whitney's adopted son are doing what?

… DECLARATION: "I love me some Jennifer Lawrence.".

… DECLARATION II: "Ell Macpherson will stay hot forever.".

… 100-WORD MOVIE REVIEW: 21 Jump Street (B)

I didn't like it as much as my wife, but there were still enough laughs throughout that I can safely say I had an enjoyable time. Jonah Hill is always going to make me laugh, but Channing tatum was really good in this role. Frankly, these two carry the entire show, but the movie never takes itself seriously and any movie that has a scene were the cops steal weed from the evidence room in an effort to throw a great high school party is going to win me over. More highlights than failures in this one.


No. 9 -The List: Kool and the Gang

I have to admit that one of my first introductions to R&B when I was young was Kool and the Gang and my love for some of their love songs from the 1980s helped create a deep love for the genre of music. So, here's my personal list of favorites.

10. Tonight
9. Misled
8. Get Down On It
7. Summer Madness
6. Ladies Night
5. Fresh
4. Cherish
3. Too Hot
2. Celebration
1. Joanna

No.10 - And finally…

I'm not going to win this sucker when the dust settles, but my bracket held up pretty dad-gum well after the last four days. Overall, I rank tied for eighth place in the Official Orangebloods.com Bracket contest, connecting on 11 of the 16 teams in the Sweet 16.

The Hits

South (2): Kentucky and Baylor, West(3): Michigan State Louisville and Marquette, Midwest (4): North Carolina, Ohio, NC State and Kansas, East (2) Syracuse and Ohio State

The Misses

South (2): Indiana (picked Wichita State) and Xavier (picked Duke), West (1) Florida (picked Missouri), East (2): Wisconsin (picked Vanderbilt) and Cincinnati (picked FSU)

My biggest losses were a Final Four pick (Missouri) and two Elite 8 selections (Duke and FSU).


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