Ranking the Best College Basketball Teams Not in the AP Top 25

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystDecember 17, 2014

Ranking the Best College Basketball Teams Not in the AP Top 25

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    There isn't enough space in the AP Top 25 for every tournament-worthy team to be ranked, but we're picking up the slack by ranking the 20 best teams outside the Top 25.

    Did you know that this year marks the 25th anniversary of the first AP Top 25?

    Prior to the start of the 1989-90 season, the AP only ranked the Top 20 teams, but the number of D-I basketball programs had increased so significantly over the years that it decided to expand the poll by 25 percent.

    Well, it's about time for more expansion. In the past 25 years, the list of D-I teams has grown by 59 from 292 to 351a 20.2 percent increase. Shouldn't the poll also increase by 20 percent to 30 teams?

    But I'll get off of my soapbox and instead use this space to pay tribute to 20 very good teams who weren't able to make it into the latest AP Top 25 rankings. A few of these teams didn't even receive a single vote on Monday, but I'd be willing to bet a pretty penny that at least 16 of these 20 teams compete in the 2015 NCAA tournament.

    Please note that this is not based on the "Others receiving votes" section of the AP poll. If it was, TCU would be at No. 2 instead of No. 16. Rather, these are teams that we feel deserve mentioning as quality squads regardless of AP votes.

    The breakdown of things considered in ranking these 20 teams is 66 percent what they have already done (or not done), 33 percent what we expect them to do (or not do) going forward and 1 percent dart throwing.

Honorable Mentions

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    AAC's Best Team

    Who is it? Your guess is as good as ours. Tulane currently has the best record, but the Green Wave haven't exactly played anyone.

    Cincinnati plays solid defense, but its offense is a mess. SMU might be the best team once Markus Kennedy becomes eligible, but it isn't there yet. Connecticut has the AAC's best win (neutral vs. Dayton), but the Huskies also have a very embarrassing loss vs. Yale. Memphis doesn't even deserve to be mentioned.

    Someone is bound to put together a somewhat respectable resume. Until then, the entire conference gets an honorable mention.

    B1G's Fifth-Best Team

    Wisconsin, Ohio State, Maryland and Michigan State are all ranked, but if you think it's hard to identify the Big Ten's second-best team, good luck deciding on its fifth-best team.

    There's a pretty good chance that one of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan and Minnesota will separate from the pack and establish itself as a tournament-worthy team. Alternatively, perhaps they take turns chopping each other down a peg and never really get anywhere.

    Davidson

    We see Davidson's one-loss record, but we're required to withhold judgment until the Wildcats actually beat a quality opponent. Even if you count a home win over Charlotte as a good win, Davidson's second-best victory might be the road game against Montana.

    Louisiana Tech

    We want to believe in the Bulldogs, but a complete lack of quality wins makes that difficult to do. Had the two-point loss at Syracuse instead been a two-point victory, maybe it's a different story.

    Wyoming

    Tough call here, but it's looking like Wyoming is up to its old trick of being a formidable foe at home in a high altitude while struggling to be anything more than average on the road. That 56-33 home win over Colorado was pretty ridiculous, but show us something outside of the state limits.

20. Penn State Nittany Lions

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    Record: 10-1

    Best Wins: vs. George Washington (64-51)

    Losses: vs. Charlotte (106-97 on neutral court)

    We mentioned the fifth-best Big Ten team as an honorable mention. Maybe that team is Penn State. But the Nittany Lions deserve their own slide for being one of the only teams in the conference exceeding expectations.

    Annually projected to be one of the worst teams in the Big Ten, Penn State has jumped out to a fast start with 10 wins.

    This is the first time since 1995-96 that the Nittany Lions have won 10 of their first 11 games. Heck, it's the first time since 2008-09 that they won nine of 11 to start the season.

    However, only one of their 10 wins (vs. George Washington) is particularly worth writing home about. We need to see this team against another quality opponent or two before we start thinking about Penn State's tournament resume.

19. Texas A&M Aggies

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    Record: 7-2

    Best Wins: vs. New Mexico (64-51 on neutral court), vs. Arizona State (72-71)

    Losses: at Baylor (77-63), vs. Dayton (55-53 on neutral court)

    When we posted projected SEC standings in July, we still didn't know if or when Texas A&M would have Jalen Jones and Danuel House. Operating under the assumption that the Aggies wouldn't have those players until next season, they were projected for 10th place.

    With both Jones and House playing, though, they have been pretty solid.

    Even without Housewho wasn't ruled eligible until a week into the season for some completely inexplicable reasonTexas A&M nearly beat Dayton in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off.

    In the SEC where it's Kentucky and a whole lot of question marks, there's no reason this team can't win at least 22 games and finally get to the tournament under Billy Kennedy.

18. UCLA Bruins

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    Record: 8-3

    Best Wins: vs. San Diego (75-68), vs. Long Beach State (77-63)

    Losses: vs. Oklahoma (75-65 on neutral court), vs. North Carolina (78-56 on neutral court), vs. Gonzaga (87-74)

    UCLA isn't very good.

    Yet.

    The Bruins have played three quality opponents and have lost each of those games by double digits. They'll probably be making it four out of four against Kentucky this weekend.

    However, this is a very young team relying heavily on first-year players Kevon Looney and Isaac Hamilton while also expecting significantly more from its other three starters than it was a season ago.

    Speed bumps were to be expected.

    Yet, Looney has proved to be one of the best rebounders in the country, and a year away from the court hasn't had any sort of negative impact on Hamilton's ability to shoot.

    UCLA can score with anyone. If the Bruins figure out how to defend, they'll finish near the top of the Pac-12 standings.

17. Old Dominion Monarchs

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    Record: 7-1

    Best Wins: vs. VCU (73-67), vs. LSU (70-61 on neutral court), vs. Richmond (63-57)

    Losses: vs. Illinois State (64-45 on neutral court)

    The one loss might look pretty bad, but Illinois State came within four points of beating both Seton Hall and VCU. Keep an eye on the Redbirds as potential spoilers in the Missouri Valley.

    Outside of that, it's been all smiles for Old Dominion. The Monarchs already have three very nice wins and will get a chance at a fourth against Georgia State on Wednesday.

    To an extent, their success has been predicated on limiting turnovers and second-chance opportunities in slow-paced games. In those three quality wins, though, Old Dominion shot 48.9 percent (22-of-45) from three-point range while its opponents shot 30.9 percent (17-of-55).

    We'll let you and time be the judge on whether that's a sustainable trend. Last season, the Monarchs ranked 253rd in three-point percentage and 261st in three-point defense, according to KenPom.com (subscription required). Two years ago, they ranked 340th and 341st, respectively.

    To remain in the top 60 in both of those categories would be quite the swing.

16. TCU Horned Frogs

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    Record: 10-0

    Best Wins: at Ole Miss (66-54), vs. Mississippi State (61-52 on neutral court)

    Losses: None

    I'm one of the few people in the country actually talking about TCU, but I'm still waiting on the Horned Frogs to face a quality opponent.

    The road win over Ole Miss might eventually amount to something, but it doesn't look very special when Western Kentucky and Charleston Southern can boast the same accomplishment.

    Even if we call that a quality win, TCU's schedule smells about as sweet as burnt hair.

    It's a fun story to see this team likely open the year with a 13-0 record, but the Horned Frogs don't belong anywhere near the Top 25 until they prove their mettle in the Big 12.

15. Arkansas Razorbacks

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    RICHARD SHIRO/Associated Press

    Record: 7-2

    Best Wins: at SMU (78-72), vs. Dayton (69-55), vs. Iona (94-77)

    Losses: at Iowa State (95-77), at Clemson (68-65)

    Good on Arkansas for bouncing back from a blowout loss to Iowa State and an embarrassing loss to Clemson with a key win over Dayton, but it's the trip to Georgia on January 6 that may well determine if the Razorbacks ever sniff the Top 25 again.

    In his first three seasons as the head coach at Arkansas, Mike Anderson had a record of 51-6 (89.5 percent) at home and a record of 8-33 (19.5 percent) away from home.

    The road win over SMU gave us faith that this team might finally be good enough to avoid that drastic dichotomy, but the loss to Clemson brings us right back to assuming this team simply doesn't know how to travel.

    With four easy home games coming up before the start of conference play, maybe the Razorbacks find their way back into the AP Top 25. They did receive 19 votes this past Monday. However, we're going to wait and see how well they show up in the next couple of road games before casting our final ballot on whether Arkansas is any good this year.

14. Seton Hall Pirates

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    Record: 8-1

    Best Wins: vs. George Washington (58-54), vs. Illinois State (84-80 on neutral court)

    Losses: at Wichita State (77-68)

    After a rough start to the season, super frosh Isaiah Whitehead has really turned a corner.

    He averaged 10.5 points and 4.0 turnovers per game through Seton Hall's first six but proceeded to score 48 points with just three turnovers against Rutgers and Wichita State.

    Angel Delgado has played incredibly in the paint. The freshman forward is averaging 8.3 points and 10.0 rebounds per game. Sterling Gibbs has scored in double figures in all nine games for the Pirates. Brandon Mobley is averaging better than 10 points per night.

    With Whitehead starting to hit shots and make better decisions, this is going to be a very difficult team to beat.

    The first half against Wichita State was discouraging, but it was Seton Hall's first true road game of the season, and it came against a team still angry from losing its first regular-season game since 2012-13.

    Look for Seton Hall to make a statement on Sunday at Georgia.

13. Xavier Musketeers

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    Record: 8-2

    Best Wins: vs. Stephen F. Austin (81-63), vs. Alabama (97-84), vs. San Diego (82-71 on neutral court)

    Losses: vs. UTEP (77-73 on neutral court), vs. Long Beach State (73-70 on neutral court)

    A pair of narrow losses on neutral courts to good mid-major teams is the only thing standing between Xavier and a perfect record.

    The losses were close, but the wins haven't been. Each of Xavier's eight wins has been by at least 11 points.

    However, it needs to be noted that the best nonconference game the Musketeers play this season won't even come until mid-February against Cincinnatiand the Bearcats are currently a borderline tournament team at best. Only two out of 17 brackets updated in the past few days are projecting Cincinnati for a bid.

    Regardless of the strength of the opponents, though, Xavier's offense has been pretty incredible. Thanks primarily to senior Matt Stainbrook and freshman Trevon Bluiett, Xavier entered play on Tuesday with the fifth-highest effective field-goal percentage in the country, according to KenPom.com (subscription required).

    There aren't many people talking about the Musketeers because they haven't played any ranked teams, but it should only be a matter of time before they're making some national noise.

12. LSU Tigers

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    Record: 7-2

    Best Wins: at West Virginia (74-73), vs. Massachusetts (82-60)

    Losses: vs. Clemson (64-61 on neutral court), vs. Old Dominion (70-61 on neutral court)

    This might be the most confusing team in the country.

    In the first two weeks of the season, LSU needed overtime to win a home game against Texas Tech before suffering two neutral-court losses to inferior opponents.

    In the past two weeks, though, the Tigers became the only team to beat West Virginiaon the road in come-from-behind fashion, no lessand absolutely blew out a somewhat respectable Massachusetts team.

    Five Tigers are scoring in double figures. Jordan Mickey is averaging a double-double and Jarell Martin is just a couple rebounds away from claiming the same.

    In the game against West Virginia, Mickey only had four points and Josh Gray had eight turnovers. If they hadn't shot 53 percent from three-point range, they never would have had a prayer. But in the loss to Clemson, Mickey had 18 points and Gray committed just one turnover.

    Were they unlucky in November or lucky in December?

    If LSU was an Algebra word problem, the answer would be "Not enough information to solve."

11. Green Bay Phoenix

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    Record: 7-2

    Best Wins: at Miami (68-55), vs. Evansville (64-62 on neutral court), at Florida Gulf Coast (59-45)

    Losses: at Wisconsin (84-60), at Georgia State (72-48)

    It's pretty impressive that Green Bay has been blown out twice this season by a 24-point margin but still has the 13th-best adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom.com (subscription required). Florida and Green Bay are the only teams in the top 17 in that category while not currently ranked in the AP Top 25.

    It's even more impressive that the Phoenix responded to the blowout against Georgia State by picking up a quality win at Miami just two days later.

    With Keifer Sykes (18.7 PPG, 3.6 APG, 1.6 SPG) leading the way, this is one of the most dangerous mid-major teams for a second consecutive season.

    It'll get a rematch against Georgia State on December 27 in a game where the winner will get to walk away with reasonable at-large hopes.

10. Georgia State Panthers

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    Record: 6-2

    Best Wins: vs. Green Bay (72-48)

    Losses: at Iowa State (81-58), at Colorado State (80-70)

    Coming into the season, Georgia State was an extremely popular Cinderella team.

    Led by R.J. Hunter and Ryan Harrow, the Panthers went 17-1 in the Sun Belt last year before falling in overtime to Louisiana-Lafayette in the conference championship game.

    With the starting backcourt back for another year, it's not hard to see why we all fell in love.

    After opening the season with a 1-2 record, though, the Panthers suddenly disappeared from the national radar.

    No need to fear. They have bounced back well, regardless, and they will get a couple of chances at key road wins against Old Dominion and Green Bay in the next two weeks before presumably destroying all "challengers" in the Sun Belt.

    If he wants to, Hunter could lead the nation in scoring. He's currently averaging 23.3 PPGnot to mention Harrow's 19.9 PPGand it's not like the competition is about to get any stiffer.

9. Syracuse Orange

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    Record: 6-3

    Best Wins: vs. Iowa (66-63 on neutral court), vs. Louisiana Tech (71-69)

    Losses: vs. California (73-59 on neutral court), at Michigan (68-65), vs. St. John's (69-57)

    If and when Kaleb Joseph makes the transition from turnover machine to moderately competent power conference point guard, you're going to regret selling all of your Syracuse stock.

    Rakeem Christmas and Chris McCullough have been incredible in the paint, maintaining Syracuse's decades-long status as one of the best shot-blocking and offensive-rebounding teams in the nation. Trevor Cooney and Michael Gbinije have been very active on defense and will eventually start making some of their three-point attempts.

    Even Tyler Roberson and B.J. Johnson have proved valuable off the bench, helping out a team that was supposed to be woefully short on players with all it lost this offseason.

    Turnovers have been a huge problem, though.

    With Tyler Ennis at the point last year, Syracuse's turnover rate was just 14.8 percent. Thus far this year, it's 20.1 percent, and Joseph is averaging 3.8 giveaways per game.

    We're not asking him to be Ennis, but the freshman needs to show some noticeable improvement soon.

8. Northern Iowa Panthers

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    Record: 9-1

    Best Wins: at Stephen F. Austin (79-77), vs. Richmond (55-50)

    Losses: at VCU (93-87)

    After a double-overtime road loss to a very good VCU team, Northern Iowa inexplicably dropped out of the AP Top 25 this week. For my money, it was the most impressive game the Panthers played thus far this season, and they were penalized for it.

    In the loss, a few players had breakout parties. Seth Tuttle only scored five points and struggled all game, so someone had to lead the team to its 87 points.

    Wes Washpun scored 27 off the bench, and Matt Bohannon seemed to hit about 20 clutch buckets en route to an 18-point game. For both players, it was a new season high in points.

    They'll both be key going forward as Northern Iowa seeks to knock Wichita State from its perch atop the Missouri Valley Conference.

7. VCU Rams

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    Record: 7-3

    Best Wins: vs. Northern Iowa (93-87), vs. Oregon (77-63 on neutral court), vs. Tennessee (85-69 on neutral court), at Illinois State (66-62)

    Losses: at Old Dominion (73-67), vs. Villanova (77-53 on neutral court), vs. Virginia (74-57)

    Say this much for the Rams: They've played one heck of a schedule. Most notable about the seven games listed above is that five of them came away from home.

    So, yes, VCU has three losses and was completely embarrassed by Villanova in the Legends Classic, but the Rams also have a few quality wins and put up quite a fight against a very, very good Virginia team.

    There are some warts. They aren't forcing quite as many turnovers as usual, they're committing a lot of fouls and opponents are shooting a ludicrous 41.6 percent from three-point range against them.

    Still, VCU is the team to beat in the A-10, and it isn't that close. Once the Rams start firing on all cylinders, they'll be a strong contender for a deep tournament run.

6. Harvard Crimson

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    Record: 7-1

    Best Wins: vs. Massachusetts (75-73), vs. Northeastern (60-46)

    Losses: vs. Holy Cross (58-57 on neutral court)

    Remember these guys?

    Harvard merely opened the season ranked in the AP Top 25 after returning three of the primary players from its tournament upsets in each of the past two seasons before suffering a one-point loss to Holy Cross and completely dropping off the radar.

    Let's view that loss as what it was: an anomaly.

    The Crimson committed 24 turnovers in that game but haven't turned it over more than 14 times since. Kenyatta Smith only played three minutes. It was the worst game Steve Moundou-Missi's season.

    It was the worst game of Siyani Chambers' college careeran O-rating of 32!

    Weird things sometimes happen in the first week of the season, but Harvard has responded welleven if the AP voters refuse to take notice.

    The Crimson have a huge chance for redemption this Sunday against Virginia.

5. Colorado State Rams

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    Record: 10-0

    Best Wins: at Colorado (62-60), vs. Georgia State (80-70), vs. UTEP (65-62)

    Losses: None

    TCU is unbeaten but hasn't played anyone worth a darn.

    Colorado State is unbeaten and has only played two or three cupcakes.

    What we love most about the Rams is how unselfish they are. They are averaging 15.8 assists per game and recording an assist on 65.3 percent of made field goals. Through 10 games, seven players have already recorded at least 10 assists.

    While some teams have one or two players who do a little bit of everything, this entire team is a Swiss army knife. Colorado State has a seven-man rotation in which all seven players are capable of contributing in at least four of the five major stat categories.

    The Rams might end up without a singular candidate for Mountain West Player of the Year, but that won't stop them from challenging San Diego State for the regular-season crown.

4. California Golden Bears

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    Record: 9-1

    Best Wins: vs. Syracuse (73-59 on neutral court), vs. Wyoming (45-42)

    Losses: vs. Texas (71-55 on neutral court)

    Do people even realize that this team is continuing to win games without one of its primary pieces?

    Jabari Bird (11.7 PPG) has missed the last four games for the Golden Bears as he nurses a foot injury back to health.

    Though their wins haven't been pretty without him, they still count as wins.

    Tyrone Wallace (19.4 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 4.5 APG, 1.4 SPG, 45.8 3P%) has been nothing short of incredible and needs to be mentioned in all Pac-12 Player of the Year conversations henceforth.

    California was expected to be the weak link in the 2K Sports Classic but won the opener against Syracuse before running into a buzz saw named Texas. Even in that game, the Golden Bears committed just seven turnovers and would have had a pretty good shot at beating Texas if they hadn't shot 31.3 percent from the field.

    They haven't gotten much attention since then, but they have a huge opportunity on Monday when they host Wisconsin.

3. Florida Gators

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    Record: 6-4

    Best Wins: vs. Yale (85-47)

    Losses: at Kansas (71-65), vs. Miami (69-67), vs. Georgetown (66-65 on neutral court), vs. North Carolina (75-64 on neutral court)

    Like Syracuse, this is a team that a lot of people have already given up on, but I will gleefully purchase all of the Florida stock you're selling.

    The Gators have a "No Big Wins, No Bad Losses" resume at the moment with three quality losses by six points or fewer and an 11-point loss to North Carolina in which they were blown out for the first 10 minutes before making things interesting.

    Not only are the losses not bad, but they're understandable given the injuries and suspensions Florida has dealt with.

    Dorian Finney-Smith and Chris Walker both missed the game against Miami and didn't start playing up to their full potential until the loss to Kansas. Eli Carter missed four games and was clearly not healthy for a few others.

    The competition hasn't been anything special over the past 10 days, but it's evident that Florida is hitting its stride, nonetheless. The Gators won home games against Yale, Texas Southern and Jacksonville by an average of 36.0 points per gamea far cry from an overtime win over Louisiana-Monroe and struggling with UAB.

    Even if they had been healthy, it was going to take some time to replace four starters. They may have finally gotten there.

2. Baylor Bears

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    Record: 8-1

    Best Wins: at South Carolina (69-65), vs. Stephen F. Austin (67-51), vs. Texas A&M (77-63)

    Losses: vs. Illinois (62-54 on neutral court)

    If Baylor had struggled after losing Isaiah Austin, Cory Jefferson, Brady Heslip and Gary Franklin, no one would have been too surprised.

    Quite the contrary, the Bears have been extremely efficient on both ends of the courtthanks in large part to the their rebounding machine, Rico Gathers.

    Gathers is gathering (I'll show myself out) 10.2 rebounds per game and has been one of the best offensive rebounders in the country for a third straight year. According to KenPom.com (subscription required), Gathers has ranked in the top seven in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage in each season with Baylor.

    He hasn't been quite as ridiculous as Kenneth Faried was during his days with Morehead State, but a comparison between the two at least warrants a discussion.

    Meanwhile, JUCO transfer Lester Medford and freshman Johnathan Motley have been excellent additions to the rotation, helping pace this Baylor team to its hot start.

    As is the case with Xavier, not many have paid Baylor much mind since the Bears haven't played any ranked teams yet this season, but get ready to see this team finish in no worse than fifth place in the Big 12 en route to a single-digit tournament seed.

1. Georgetown Hoyas

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    Record: 6-3

    Best Wins: vs. Florida (66-65 on neutral court)

    Losses: vs. Wisconsin (68-65 on neutral court), vs. Butler (64-58 on neutral court), vs. Kansas (75-70)

    Georgetown is the most underappreciated team in the country, and it's not even close.

    The Hoyas' freshman class of Paul White, Isaac Copeland and L.J. Peak has been remarkable. Duke and Kentucky have clearly been No. 1 and No. 2 as far as freshmen go, but Georgetown isn't that far behind at No. 3.

    The returning Hoyas have been quite good too.

    D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera hasn't shot that well thus far, but he has adjusted quite nicely to being the primary ball-handler in the absence of Markel Starks. Jabril Trawick, Joshua Smith and Aaron Bowen are each shooting better than 64.0 percent from the field, and Mikael Hopkins has been a monster in the paint, leading the team in blocked shots.

    Their win over Florida was no fluke. Neither were the near wins over Wisconsin and Kansas.

    St. John's and Butler have been very good. Seton Hall and Xavier will be quite competitive. But it's Georgetown that will contend with Villanova for the Big East title.

    If you insist on betting on a long shot to win the 2015 national championship, let's just say you could do a whole lot worse than Georgetown at 200-1.

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

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