College Basketball

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Back To 1983

By: JJ Lanier news services

In most years the first weekend in April means one thing, Final Four.

Even though that’s obviously not taking place this year, it doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate the Final Four in some capacity.

So, in that spirit I thought I’d hop inside the DeLorean in my mind and travel back to 1983, the one and only year the Georgia Bulldog basketball team made it to the Final Four.

Now, before I start, I should let you know I was only two years old at the time this was taking place, so there’s no firsthand knowledge on my part about what transpired. However, that doesn’t mean there weren’t a few things that stood out while reading up on that team and that season.

The team most people remember from that year’s tournament is N.C. State; their improbable run, the team they beat to win it all (Houston), and definitely the way they won.

What I imagine is most people outside of Athens don’t remember, or like me, were completely unaware of, was how improbable Georgia’s tournament run was compared to State’s.

Back then 52 teams made the tournament, which produced a bracket of preliminary games and abbreviated first round games (5-12 seeds only), in order to arrive at the Round of 32. Luckily for Georgia, they were a four seed and got to move directly past go, to the second round.

After squeaking by fifth seeded VCU, they defeated one-seeded (#3 overall) St Johns, and a second seeded (# 8 overall) North Carolina team, whose roster was made up of players like Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins, and Brad Dougherty, before losing to NC State in the Final Four.

NC State, by comparison, was a six seed, had to win one more game than Georgia to advance to the Final Four, but did not face the same level of competition to get there.

Since I was watching “Sesame Street” and “He-Man” at this point in my life, I can’t accurately judge the talent on the ‘83 roster, outside of the fact the only name I recognized was Vern Fleming.

As far as I can tell the former Georgia and NBA guard is the only player from that team to make it to the NBA. Based on that, I imagine they were a good college team that had a player or two get hot in the tournament, and probably had a little luck in what looks like fairly competitive games.

The other thing that stands out, and this has to do with the regular season as opposed to the tournament, was how balanced the SEC was that year.

Of the ten teams that made up the SEC, only Kentucky (13-5) and Florida (5-13) didn’t finish somewhere between 8-10 and 10-8. In fact, Florida was also the only team that finished below .500 on the season.

Just for the fun of it, this year’s SEC consisted of fourteen teams, ten different conference records ranging from 5-13 to 13-5 and four teams that finished either at or below .500 for the season.

With sports on an indefinite hiatus, it doesn’t mean we can’t go back and watch highlights of the teams we enjoyed watching while we grew up, or in some cases, before we became sports fans.

If you happen to be a Georgia basketball fan and are jonesing for a fix, the ‘83 team is a great to start.

NCAA Crystal Ball

By: JJ Lanier news services

At the beginning of conference basketball play I made three predictions that I promised to revisit after the season, regardless of how they turned out.

With the season now over, unfortunately not the way anyone would’ve predicted, I guess it’s time to see if I’m Nostradamus or the back-alley fortune teller.

Prediction: Florida will win the SEC Regular Season. Final Result: Fifth Place. Well, this one blew up in my face.

Not only did Florida finish fifth in the SEC, but they were one of the more disappointing teams in the country.

A top 10 team to begin the season, the Gators season is almost a perfect microcosm of the college season in general; they could never really find any consistency throughout the year.

The defense, which has been Florida’s calling card since Mike White arrived a few years ago, just wasn’t where they needed it to be.

They added some offensive talent, but when looking at their record anytime they allowed more than 65 points, their winning percentage dropped drastically.

It’s tough to win conference games when you have difficulty playing to your strength. The talent was there to make a deep run in the tournament, and I think so Mike White is a good coach, but sometimes it’s just not your year.

Prediction: Anthony Edwards will be the SEC Player of the Year. Final Result: Second Team All-SEC. So yes, technically I missed this one, but I’m ok with that.

Out of the three predictions I made, this one was probably the longest shot of them all. And it’s not like Edwards had a bad season. He did win Freshman of the Year honors and at least made an All-SEC team.

To expect him to come into a league like the SEC, playing for a program like Georgia where the lack of talent around him would make it easier for opposing teams to game plan against him, was a bit unrealistic.

Also, as good an overall season as Edwards had, he certainly had his struggles in conference play. There’s a good chance he’ll still be a Top 3 pick in the upcoming draft, but it’ll take him a few years to adjust.

Prediction: No more than five SEC teams will make the NCAA Tournament. Final Result: ??? Obviously, we’ll never know for certain how many SEC teams would’ve made the tournament, but I feel like I may have actually gotten this one right. Kentucky, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi State, and Florida were all probably locks to make it, depending on how conference tournaments turned out.

Outside of those five, there really wasn’t any team that was even on the bubble.

South Carolina may have been able to make an argument had they made a deep run in the conference tournament, but I’m not sure that would’ve been enough to get them in.

The talent level in college basketball was down across the board and the SEC was no exception. Even with teams like Auburn and LSU exceeding preseason expectations, this was still a rough year for the conference.

So, in the end, I completely missed the one prediction I thought I would get right, got a bit carried away with my expectations on the one that was a little out of reach to begin with, and never got a chance to validate the one that I may have actually have gotten right.

Well, that sounds about right.

Conference Survival

By: Kenneth Harrison news services

The SEC Men’s basketball tournament starts this week in Nashville, Tennessee.

Kentucky has dominated this conference since its inception. The Wildcats have won 51 regular season SEC Championships (including this year) and 31 Conference Tournament championships.

Kentucky (25-6) had the best record in conference play (15-3). They have the top seed in the tournament. The top four seeds in the tournament do not have to play until the third day of the tournament.

As good as Kentucky is, they are always led by freshmen since they embrace the one and done players. Because of this they do lack experience, which means they are more susceptible for an upset.

They have lost games to Evansville, Utah and South Carolina, who are not great teams. They are led by sophomore guard Immanuel Quickley who averages 16 points per game.

Auburn (25-6) is the No. 2 seed in the tournament. Bruce Pearl has turned the program around since he was hired in 2014. They have gotten to the NCAA Tournament the last two seasons. Last year they advanced to the Final Four.

Three of their top four scorers are seniors so they have a lot of experience. Senior guard Samir Doughty leads the team with 17 PPG and 4 rebounds per game.

Auburn has beaten Kentucky during the regular season so they have already proven they can beat them.

LSU (21-10) is the third seed but they have the same conference record as Auburn, 12-6. This team confuses me because they play to the level of their competition. They have lost to VCU, Utah State, USC and East Tennessee State. For a Power 5 team going to the NCAA Tournament they should win those games.

The Tigers lost to Auburn on the road but only by one point. They also lost to Kentucky by three. I don’t believe in moral victories but they have shown they can compete with the best teams in the conference.

Senior guard and Baton Rouge native Skylar Mays is the team leader with 17 PPG. If they advance and face Kentucky or Auburn, they have a legitimate chance to win.

Mississippi State (20-11) is the fourth seed. They have the same conference record (11-7) as Florida but they won the tiebreaker by beating the Gators last month.

Despite this, they are on the bubble to make the NCAA Tournament.

“They base so much off November,” said Mississippi State head coach Ben Howland. “There’s not enough emphasis based today on how you play at the end of the year, how you play in the last 12 games. That used to really be important. But we have to beat a Quad 1 team (Florida) to continue to make our case.”

They have non-conference losses to Louisiana Tech and New Mexico State. In conference play they have lost to lower level teams like Ole Miss (15-16), Alabama (16-15), Texas A&M (16-14) and South Carolina (18-13). The Bulldogs have to win their quarterfinal game to have a chance to get to March Madness.

Florida (19-12) is also on the bubble. The Gators need to win a couple of games to get to the tournament. Their first game is the second round against the winner of No. 12 Ole Miss or No. 13 Georgia. If they win, the next game is against Mississippi State. I think they can win those two games but time will tell.

The Madness

By: JJ Lanier news services

Football is the most popular sport in the country and baseball may be America’s favorite pastime, but for my money there is no better sporting event than the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

With its close games, buzzer beater shots, upsets, and feel good storylines, it always seems to deliver year after year, even though some years are better than others. It’s basically the sporting world’s version of Marvel movies.

As unpredictable as the opening weekend has been in the past, this year has the potential for there to be even more surprises than usual.

Normally, in most seasons heading into the tournament, there’s two or three teams you feel fairly confident in having a legitimate shot at making a run. This year though, it’s wide open; just take a look at this past week’s top ten.

Dayton and San Diego State have had arguably the most successful seasons, and depending on conference tournament results, could both wind up being number one seeds.

They’ll also be the two teams picked most likely to lose before the Sweet Sixteen.

Then you have teams like Florida State, Maryland, Louisville, Baylor, and Seton Hall that have all exceeded expectations this season, but they suffer from major flaws, many of which have been exposed over the year by inferior teams.

And as much as you’re likely to hear John Calipari complain about where Kentucky is seeded, along with how difficult their bracket is, and how disrespected they are, the truth is they’re not very good. Throw in Hagans taking time away from the team and they seem primed for an early tournament exit.

Which leaves Kansas and Gonzaga, who are probably the two best overall teams, yet I’m not really sure there’s much confidence in either. Or, looking at it another way, whatever confidence there is has more to do with what the rest of the field looks like, as opposed to the talent level on each team.

You could almost make the argument there are more teams ranked outside of the top ten with a better chance of winning it all.

It’s one of the reasons why this year’s outcome, more than ever, will rely heavily on seeding and which bracket teams are placed in.

It’s actually kind of a scary proposition when you think about it; the committee doesn’t exactly have a great track record of getting those decisions right.

That’s not to say the committee is charged with an easy task when it comes to seeding, but those choices will be extremely impactful.

One of the running jokes come tournament time, once the field has been set and the brackets have been printed out, is that anyone can win their local office pool, no matter their knowledge of college basketball.

That the tournament itself is such a crapshoot that you almost have a better chance of winning by guessing or picking teams because you like their mascot or the color of their uniforms than you do overthinking the whole thing.

In a year where very little separates the top team and say, the twenty fifth, that joke may never be more true.

And for a tournament that predicates itself on upsets, buzzer beaters, and Cinderella runs, don’t be surprised if this year’s edition shows you something you haven’t seen before. Personally, I can’t wait for it to begin.

Best Chief Ever

By: Robert Craft news services

Florida State University’s basketball team is contending for the Atlantic Coast Conference title and a top seed in the NCAA tournament.

Coach Leonard Hamilton is in his 18th season as Head Coach at Florida State.

In 18 seasons, Hamilton at Florida State is 357-220, that is a .619 winning percentage. In 32 years of coaching Hamilton is 557-430, which is a .564 winning percentage.

In a conference with three Hall of Fame coaches (Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, North Carolina’s Roy Williams and Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim), and a fourth destined to end up there (Virginia’s Tony Bennett), Coach Hamilton is often overlooked.

Currently at 24-4, the Seminoles are a virtual lock to make the NCAA tournament for the eighth time in the past twelve years. Not bad for a program that’s 10 for 61 in total tournament appearances.

A team that lost six of its top eight scorers from last season could very well make it to the Sweet 16 for the third consecutive year. Though a Final Four appearance has eluded him, he has made a career of winning at places where few have: Oklahoma State, Miami, and now at Florida State.

Florida State is a school where football is unquestionably king.

Hamilton insists very little has changed over the years and in some ways he is right. His fundamental principles and beliefs have remained unchanged. Through it all, he has managed to stay young. Hamilton, who is in his early 70’s (but looks 45), making him the BBall Benjamin Button.

At Florida State, Hamilton had losing seasons in two of his first three years, but the Seminoles are on a 15-year win streak. Including 20+ wins in his last five seasons.

Florida State’s basketball program doesn’t need a superstar to carry the program. That’s part of the appeal in Hamilton’s recruiting pitch. Hamilton has convinced players to accept their role and focus on the team.

With 14 NBA Draft selections under Hamilton since 2004, the Seminoles are fourth in the ACC for most draft picks (Duke 28, North Carolina 23, and Syracuse 18). Florida State has had at least one player selected in the NBA Draft in 11 of the last 15 seasons.

For the Seminoles under Hamilton, the academic achievements of his players is a long-standing tradition of success. During Hamilton’s tenure at Florida State, more than 90% of his players have earned their degrees. The Seminoles were one of seven ACC teams credited with a perfect Academic Progress Report score.

Ask someone to name the top five winningest coaches in Atlantic Coast Conference history.

The first three are obvious, I named them earlier in the article.

If you are a college basketball fan, they might get former Maryland coach Gary Williams at Number 4.

Yes, Leonard Hamilton has more ACC wins than Bobby Cremins, Terry Holland, Tony Bennett and Lefty Driesell.

Quietly, Leonard Hamilton has become the most successful coach in Florida State history, fifth all-time winningest coach in ACC history and a future Hall of Famer.

Buzz Kill

By: JJ Lanier news services

I’ve always viewed social media as a type of reality show, with the participants often leaving out anything negative, manipulating what you see to fit whatever narrative they’re trying to sell.

The only difference being that on social media it’s playing out in real time, not at a weekly designated time.

Most of the time I’ve spent on Twitter has been pretty disheartening, but there have been moments where it was borderline magical.

One instance was almost a year ago when people were updating videos and pictures of Josh Pastner sitting at the ACC tournament, as he received messages on his phone, concerning the NCAA’s notice of allegations that were levied against his Yellowjacket program.

It was one of those occasions where I couldn’t refresh my phone quickly enough to keep up with all the posts and comments.

Normally, I don’t take joy in other people’s misfortunes, but Pastner has made it fairly easy for me to root against him; reading about the Georgia Tech scandal and some of his comments towards it is a good place to start.

Even though this event took place almost a year ago, I bring it up because as Georgia Tech is currently looking at their third straight losing season, while dealing with NCAA sanctions due to things that transpired under Pastner’s watch, it’s about that time of year to question whether or not the Yellowjacket coach will be back next year.

On the surface, the answer looks to be cut and dry- “No”. There’s not really much of a reason to keep him on staff and in all honesty, I wasn’t even sure Pastner would make it to this season-outside of the infractions. I don’t think he’s great of a coach to begin with.

I have no idea which way the administration is leaning, but there’s a part of me that actually hopes they don’t let him go.

In far too many instances, when a coach or program is punished for breaking the rules, the guilty party doesn’t have to suffer through penalties. While the coaches and players that follow have to do all the heavy lifting, the guilty party stays out of the spotlight for a year or two before getting back into coaching at a smaller school and working their way back up.

If Georgia Tech were to keep Pastner on, it’s the perfect example of “you’ve made your bed, now you must lie in it.”

Instead of bringing in another coach to deal with the aftermath, and one who will probably lose his job because he’ll be dealing with a somewhat stacked deck to begin with, Pastner has to deal with it.

Personally, it would be nice to see someone have to actually face the scrutiny they brought upon themselves by their actions.

However, I’m realistic and I know this scenario isn’t likely to play out, mainly because it would entail Georgia Tech paying millions to a coach they wouldn’t want around, just to prove a point.

Still, I can’t help but feel, in a society where everything is filtered, how refreshing it would be to see an athletic program that knows it’s going to struggle for a few years, regardless of who’s running the show, bite the bullet and go all in the uncomfortableness of the situation.

It may not be realistic, but it would make the comments on social media an entertaining read.


Donovan Delivered

By: Robert Craft news services

Former Florida coach Billy Donovan returned to the program he put on the college basketball map.

For the first time since 2015 we will see the man return to the O’Connell Center floor that was named after him. His signature was placed at both ends of the court between the 3-point line and the top the key.

Donovan is the current coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder. With the NBA All-Star Weekend, Donovan was honored at halftime of the Florida vs Vanderbilt contest.

Donovan became the coach at Florida in March of 1996 after Lon Kruger resigned to take the job at the University of Illinois.

The Gator basketball program had only fleeting success over its history. The Gators reached the Final Four under Kruger in 1994, but slipped back to mediocre levels the next season.

The 1998-1999 season the Gators went 22-9 earning 20 plus wins for only the fifth time in school history. They made their third NCAA Sweet Sixteen appearance and became the second squad in school history to appear in the final top 25 polls (17 in ESPN and 23 in Associated Press).

While success in the regular season became a standard, post season the Gators consistently underperformed.

In the 2005-2006 season, Donovan’s sophomore led Gator team posted a school-best win streak to start the season reeling off 17 straight wins and reaching number 2 in the Associated Press poll. The Gators struggled during conference play, posting a 10-6 conference record heading into the SEC tournament.

Florida cruised through the SEC tournament and defeated South Carolina in the finals, earning the Gators second conference tournament title. In the 2006 NCAA tournament, The Gators were a three seed.

2005-2006 Gator basketball team would come together and defeat UCLA 73-57 to capture the school’s first NCAA basketball title. As exciting as the championship game, during the post championship celebration, the entire starting five (Lee Humphrey, Taurean Green, Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Cory Brewer) announced they would return and attempt to win back to back championships.

The 2006-2007 Gators did not disappoint Gator Nation. They became the first team since the 1991 and 1992 Duke teams to win back to back NCAA Championships. The Gators defeated the Ohio State Buckeyes 84-75 for the repeat championship.

With the Florida Gators football having won the 2007 BCS National Championship game (also over Ohio State). The University of Florida became the first school in NCAA history to hold both the football and basketball National Championships at the same time.

The Gators in the Donovan era were 467-186. The Gators won two national championships (2006 & 2007), four SEC tournaments championships (2005,2006,2007 & 2014) and six regular season conference titles (2000,2001,2007,2013 & 2014). Donovan’s Gators reached the Final Four 4 times with trips in 2000 and 2014 in addition to the national championship seasons.

Billy Donovan is the second coach in Division I history to notch 500 career wins before reaching his 50th birthday. The other was Hall of Famer Bobby Knight.

Billy Donovan thanked former players (30 plus in attendance), former assistants (8 in attendance), his former boss Jeremy Foley, his family and Gator Nation for helping him reach this career pinnacle.

Simply put, Billy Donovan made basketball matter at the football first school.


Top Dawg

By: JJ Lanier news services

Writing about sports, and really just writing in general, can be a fickle endeavor.

Originally, I sat down to write about what is sure to be Anthony Edwards’ single season in Athens, and whether or not it should be deemed a success or failure.

I thought it would be pretty simple since in most cases, when a highly recruited player spurns one of the more well-known programs for one with not as much caché behind it, the answer is usually fairly cut and dry.

Most of the time both the player and team underperform, leaving behind a season that is unforgettable to almost everyone involved. However, Edwards and Georgia is that rare case where the success of one has not translated into success for the other.

For all intents and purposes, Edwards has lived up to being the number one ranked player in his class. He’s basically a guarantee for SEC Freshman is the Year and there’s a good possibility he’ll receive that same recognition on the national level.

I’d be shocked if he isn’t a 1st team All-SEC player (possibly SEC Player of the Year) and is currently projected as a Top 3 pick in this year’s draft. When you look at what he’s accomplished this season, from his perspective, it’s really hard to look at his short-lived tenure in Athens as a bust.

Of course, the key phrase there is “from his perspective” because as good as he’s been- especially these last few weeks- Georgia’s season has been the exact opposite. If Edwards individual season has been “Parasite”, Georgia’s has been “CATS”.

No one with realistic expectations thought this was a Final Four team, but when you have arguably the second most talented player in your program’s history on campus, you at least hope to capitalize on their time there.

Normally, that includes some mixture of national exposure, either from upsets, an overachieving season, or at the very least an appearance in the NCAA Tournament.

This way you’re not only proving to recruits that you can help propel them to the next level, but that people will actually know who they are when they get there.

Besides Edwards’ game against Michigan State back in November, where his highlights were all over the internet, has anyone outside of the SEC even watched him play?

Imagine the narrative surrounding the basketball team if instead of battling with Vanderbilt not to finish in last place, they were somewhere in the middle of the conference, battling for a tournament bid, with one or two upsets under the belt.

I also don’t think it’s too farfetched to say that Edwards would be getting some National Player of the Year whispers as well in this scenario, something that always plays well to future recruits.

Now, please don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Edwards is perfect and this season’s disappointment falls on Tom Crean and the rest of the roster- neither of those statements are true. That just happens to be a different column for another day.

Hive Killer

By: Kenneth Harrison news services

Georgia Tech athletics have seen better days.

During the 1990’s through early 2000’s they were good in both football and Men’s basketball. They were accustomed to playing in the post season almost every year.

Fast forward to now and both are in trouble. The Yellow Jackets have not played in the NCAA Tournament since 2010. Tech is currently 10 – 12 and 12th in the ACC. There are 15 teams in the conference.

The most recent game was an 80 – 72 loss to Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish are only 4 – 6 in conference play but they swept Georgia Tech this season.

“You can’t leave points off the board because (the Irish) will make you pay because of their offensive skill set,” coach Josh Pastner said after calling Notre Dame perhaps the best offensive team in the ACC.

“We did a great job with 20 offensive boards, a good job in the red zone (paint, 44-18). The bottom line is they hit some tough 2’s and they made nine 3’s. We didn’t make enough 3’s (4 for 18). Not having Mike Devoe hurts us because it takes away a shooter.”

The first person we have to look at is Josh Pastner. He’s been the head coach in Atlanta since 2016. The best record he had was 21 – 16 in his first season. Since then they have had losing records and won less than 15 games each season.

Based solely on the product on the court he is not right for the job. He also has additional personal issues that have negatively affected the program.

The NCAA announced that they have banned Tech from the 2019-20 postseason, put the school on four years probation, placed recruiting restrictions on the staff, forced the program to vacate wins, and fined the ACC institution an undetermined amount of money.

The question is what did he do to cause this? He brought his friend Ron Bell around the team and he committed major violations. This was reported in November 2017 when jilted former friend Bell shared this with the media.

According to the school, Tadric Jackson accepted benefits totaling less than $525 while Josh Okogie accepted benefits totaling less than $750.

Bell turned over documents to CBS Sports that show he spent $233.40 on a plane ticket for Okogie, sent him three pairs of shoes totaling around $444 and ordered him two shirts totaling $56.

Bell also provided CBS Sports with documents that show he spent $233.40 on a plane ticket for Jackson, sent him two pairs of shoes totaling around $271 and ordered him New York Knicks apparel worth $80.

Those documents add up to around the estimates Georgia Tech self-reported, and any incongruities could be chalked up to estimation differences, which are allowable by NCAA rules.

What I do not understand is why Pastner has not been fired yet. He is not getting results on the court and he has baggage. It looks like a safe bet that they will not be able to qualify for the NCAA Tournament even if they were eligible.

They need to part ways from him after the season and hire the right coach. They can get back to being a contending team in the ACC with the right leadership.

Flying To Mountain Top?

By: Mike Anthony news services

For most of the last four seasons, the book on Georgia Southern men’s basketball has been the same.

The Eagles are an athletic team with plenty of talent and – injury permitting – a lot of depth.

They’ve consistently out-performed preseason predictions and have been a mainstay near the top of the Sun Belt standings and have earned one of the top four seeds in the conference tournament in four of the last five seasons.

But for all that success, the Eagles have never quite been able to reach the top of the mountain.

Shooting woes and a difficulty in winning road games have popped up at the worst times and the Eagles have seemed to be on the wrong end of most ‘must-win’ games.

The result is still a solid Georgia Southern squad – but one that is now closing in on 30 years without an appearance in the NCAA tournament.

So, while this season’s team has all the looks of a possible contender, it will be battling nearly three decades of demons along with the rest of the Sun Belt.

To be fair, the deck is stacked against the Eagles, as well as most other programs not fortunate enough to play in one of the power conferences.

Despite the Sun Belt quickly improving its overall statistics as a league and pulling off a pair of first round NCAA victories in recent history, the postseason continues to take more and more power conference teams with at-large bids.

So, while the Sun Belt has a handful of viable league title contenders this season and the ability to make some noise on the national stage, it’s already written in stone that only the league’s tournament champion will get an invitation, regardless of the resumes of the others.

In a way, that makes things a bit easier for Georgia Southern. To paraphrase the all-time classic movie ‘Major League’, “There’s only one thing left to do… Win the whole thing.”

That’s much easier said than done, but it’s an attainable goal for this season’s Eagles and one they’d do well to set their minds on right now.

Of course, coach speak rules the day in any sport. No amount of success or struggle will get GS coach Mark Byington to talk about a conference title in December – or in January or February, for that matter.

But the truth of the matter is that if the Eagles want to make the big dance in March, they need to start putting themselves in position for it right now.

The team has taken the first steps with a pair of wins in its’ first two Sun Belt games. A good conference tournament seed will likely net a more favorable run of opponents during the must-win games.

As the season goes on, the team also needs to consider rest for players, as everyone will have to be prepared for what could be three or four straight days of single elimination play.

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