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Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college basketball (framed oil paintings of Doug Shows’ illegal screen call against Syracuse sold separately at Georgia Tech):
THE COACHING CAROUSEL CRANKS UP
Yeah, it’s about that time. Taking a look at the jobs currently open, several others that could follow soon, and one man perpetually in the NBA rumor mill:
John Calipari (1) said Monday morning on the SEC teleconference that it’s “not happening.” He’s not going to the New Orleans Pelicans to be reunited with two star big men he coached at Kentucky, Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. That was about all he said on the subject, because Cal turned over his longer, in-person media session later Monday to assistant Kenny Payne to preview the Tuesday beatdown of Missouri. (This is not a departure; Cal has done that before with his assistants. No need to read more into it than that.)
There may not be anything else to be said on the subject – he’s rich and powerful and recruiting like a sultan and coaching his kid at Kentucky right now. But a Calipari denial of interest in an occupied job in mid-February is a given – there’s nothing else he can say. For now.
Current Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry is 11 games below .500 this year, 33 games below .500 in his Pelicans tenure and 68 games below .500 in his NBA coaching career – he’s not exactly cemented into place in New Orleans. So if Cal wants to kick the tires on coaching the Pelicans – Yahoo Sports colleague Adrian Wojnarowski has reported in the past, his interest in the NBA has not vanished – they just might listen.
His asking price would be steep, and it likely would include front-office control – which may be the hardest thing for a competent franchise to give him. And The Minutes has been told previously that Cal’s personality wouldn’t necessarily mesh with the New Orleans front office style.
But if Davis and Cousins both told management they want him … and a king’s ransom salary was offered … plus roster control … plus the possibility of bringing in a star guard to play with two elite big men? Then we’d have something to talk about more substantially this spring.
There is a non-theoretical opening at North Carolina State (2), which announced last week that Mark Gottfried would not be retained past the end of the season. Moving on from Gottfried is the right move, and doing it now is not an atrocity – no matter what Calipari had to say about it Saturday night. Letting the public know that Gottfried was not going to be able to salvage his job with another March miracle run to bail out a bad season ends any uncertainty about what’s to come next.
As for what is to come next: Dayton’s Archie Miller already has had his name bandied about plenty, which makes sense as an alum who has done great work at Dayton. The school will clearly seek to engage him in discussion, but it’s expected that this search will go beyond Miller for multiple reasons. Miller may have concerns about working under athletic director Debbie Yow and her unknown successor – she’s expected to retire in two years. On the other side of the equation, at least one power program did its due diligence on Miller a couple of years ago and decided against pursuing him. What appears to be a natural fit on paper doesn’t mean it’s inevitable.
That would bring a number of other candidates into play, among them Will Wade of VCU, Chris Holtmann of Butler, Matt McCall of Chattanooga, Kevin Keatts of UNC-Wilmington, Pat Kelsey of Winthrop and LeVelle Moton of North Carolina Central.
Indiana coach Tom Crean has been mentioned as a possible escape-hatch candidate in Raleigh. That’s a non-starter, according to multiple industry insiders.
The guy who is the perfect fit for N.C. State is Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall. He’s been treated like a sultan there and it would take a sweetheart deal to get him to go, but he worked in the region for years at Winthrop, and he’d fit N.C. State’s spit-in-the-eye underdog mentality vis-à-vis blueblood neighbors North Carolina and Duke.
The other job currently open is South Florida (3), which fired Orlando Antigua earlier this year after a staggering combination of on-court ineptitude and off-court academic issues. This American Athletic Conference underachiever program continues to intrigue coaches, and could draw interest from some successful guys – if the academic fraud allegations don’t become part of potentially major NCAA sanctions. It wouldn’t be a shock to see Kevin Willard of Seton Hall take a run at USF after seven seasons with the Pirates. That in turn would give the Hall the chance to try and lure Rhode Island’s Danny Hurley back home to north New Jersey.
Among jobs that are likely to come open:
Illinois (4), where John Groce will miss the NCAA tournament for the fourth straight year, could be interesting. The industry is teeming with talk about California coach Cuonzo Martin looking to get back to the Midwest – he’s from East St. Louis, Ill., played at Purdue and coached at Missouri State – and he could be a prime candidate at both Illinois and Missouri (5).
But there also is Illinois-based speculation about a couple of coaches with NBA and Midwestern ties – Chicago Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg and former New Orleans coach Monty Williams, now in the front office in San Antonio. Hoiberg, a former player and coach at Iowa State, had far better success as a coach in the college level than he has had in the pros. Williams, who played at Notre Dame, has a charismatic image that would be appealing as a college coach.
Other potential names at Missouri to replace embattled Kim Anderson would include Keatts and possibly Marshall, who discussed the job three years ago and declined, leading the school to hire Anderson. But that was two athletic directors ago at Missouri, a school just starting to find some stability after a campus-wide period of tumult.
LSU (6) seems certain to open a year later than it should have, as Johnny Jones has crash-landed in last place in the SEC in his fifth season. If the school wants an up-and-coming head coach with SEC experience, it may take a look at Illinois State’s Dan Muller, who spent 12 seasons at Vanderbilt as an assistant to Kevin Stallings. Within the same state there is Louisiana Tech’s Eric Konkol, a former Jim Larranaga assistant at Miami who is 43-18 in less than two seasons at Tech.
Washington (7) is this year’s LSU, going nowhere with the potential No. 1 pick in the NBA draft. That should be enough to cost Lorenzo Romar his job – well, that and missing the NCAA tournament for the sixth straight year. Romar has one thing going for him – he hired Michael Porter to his staff and signed his son, Michael Jr., who is the No. 1 player in the class of 2018. But Washington would be foolish to fall for that a second straight year. There has been speculation about Romar parlaying the Porter connection into another quality job, but any school making that hire would be thinking in the extreme short term – if Porter is as advertised, he’s in college for one season.
If Brad Brownell’s tenure at Clemson (8) ends in a frustrating flurry of close losses that leaves the Tigers on the wrong side of the bubble yet again, VCU coach Wade will be the obvious choice. He’s a Clemson alum who was director of operations under Oliver Purnell earlier this century, and has gone 87-41 as a head coach at Chattanooga (two years) and VCU (two years). If Wade isn’t the guy, keep an eye on Kelsey of Winthrop – though he needs to make an NCAA tourney appearance to fill out the résumé. There is a chance Clemson might take a run at Marshall, but this isn’t a guy who seems well-suited to playing second fiddle to football.
Like Brownell, Mark Fox has toiled through more than his share of tough luck and tough losses at Georgia (9). The Saturday knee injury to leading scorer Yante Maten may doom this team’s already tenuous NCAA chances, and that in turn may doom Fox – regardless of the outspoken support from Calipari. This would figure to be a highly coveted job – fertile recruiting ground and a conference short on quality competition. Mississippi State’s Ben Howland, who has staffers with strong Atlanta recruiting ties, may well try to get involved – though he’s a decade past his best coaching work and has gained almost no traction in two seasons in Starkville. Chattanooga’s McCall, a former Billy Donovan assistant, and East Tennessee State coach Steve Forbes, a former Bruce Pearl aide, would be attractive candidates among coaches from lower levels.
Septuagenarian Steve Fisher has one year left after this on his contract at San Diego State (10). He waited until last May to decide he was coming back for this season, which hasn’t gone well by recent SDSU standards (16-10, 8-6 in a very down Mountain West). Fisher is working for a new boss who may encourage him to retire, presumably activating the succession plan that has been in place for six years and elevate assistant Brian Dutcher into the job.
Then there is Indiana (11), where a lot of people on the outside seem more prepared for something to happen than the people on the inside. The injury-ravaged Hoosiers have lost four straight and six of seven, sliding out of the field of 68 for the time being. The remaining schedule is tough – three of four on the road, starting with Iowa on Tuesday – and it would take an improbable rally to change the tenor of the season. But widespread speculation about Crean looking to jump before being pushed runs into this familial reality: his son, Riley, is enrolling at Indiana next year as a member of the baseball team. Leaving would seem to be closer to his last option than his first option. After winning the Big Ten last year, Indiana let Crean’s contract length dip to less than four years (it expires in 2020), which gets tricky in recruiting. Now the administration may have to make a decision: extend him after a disappointing season, or don’t offer an extension and basically put the writing on the wall.
The Indiana-Crean situation might be the latest case of Tubby Syndrome (12) in college basketball – where it’s simply time for both sides to contemplate something new. That was the case when Tubby Smith left Kentucky, and to a lesser degree the case when he left Minnesota for Texas Tech. There are two other potential cases of Tubby Syndrome in the Big Ten:
Thad Matta/Ohio State (13): The Buckeyes appear destined to miss the Big Dance for the second straight year after nine berths and two Final Fours in Matta’s first 11 seasons. Matta’s back and foot issues make him look older than his 49 years, and this team – currently 13th in the 14-team Big Ten – hasn’t made him feel any younger. Athletic director Gene Smith is supportive of his coaches and probably wouldn’t urge Matta to go elsewhere, but you wonder if it’s time for a reboot.
Fran McCaffery/Iowa (14): This Iowa team is very young, and McCaffrey is coming off three straight NCAA bids. And we know Iowa is loyal to its coaches (ask Kirk Ferentz). But is it possible that volatile Fran is feeling a seven-year itch after that many seasons in Iowa City?
THE ROAD MORE TRAVELED BY MID-MAJORS
ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi proclaimed Monday night on-air that there could be a record number of teams with losing or .500 conference records in the hunt for NCAA tournament bids. If so, shame on the sport.
Letting in teams with lousy league records keeps out teams from mid-major and low-major conferences that have had 20-win seasons and may have dominated their leagues during the regular season, only to lose in the postseason. And many of those teams have endured scheduling and travel gauntlets that the power schools would run away from screaming.
If you want to see how much the deck is stacked against the non-power programs, go inside the schedules of some high-functioning mid-major teams and some mediocre high-majors. Start with this: UT-Arlington (15) vs. Arkansas (16).
The Razorbacks are comfortably in on most mock brackets, including as a No. 9 seed on the Yahoo Sports Big Board. The Mavericks quite likely aren’t getting in unless they win the Sun Belt Conference tournament.
Now consider this: they played each other Nov. 18. An Arkansas home game, of course. The Razorbacks won, 71-67, rallying from a 17-point deficit.
Now here’s the rest of the story: UT-Arlington was playing its fourth game in seven days, the last three of them on the road. On Nov. 14, the Mavericks were at Minnesota; on Nov. 16, they were at Florida Gulf Coast; and two days later they were in Bud Walton Arena trying to make an 11-point halftime lead stand up.
Arkansas hadn’t left Fayetteville yet, playing its third straight at home over the course of eight days.
Fair fight? Hardly. And if the outcome had gone the other way, it might be the difference between in the Dance and out for both teams.
UTA coach Scott Cross is offering no excuses, but he offered an explanation. He told The Minutes that his program is tasked with creating $300,000 annually in guarantee-game revenue, which is one reason the Mavericks played nine road games and just four at home during non-conference play. He also said that after upsetting Ohio State and Memphis on the road last year, scheduling games became much more difficult for 2016-17.
One home game against Rice fell through due to a conflict with a volleyball tournament, so UTA picked up the game at FGCU in August, on the only date offered – right in between road games at Minnesota and Arkansas.
UT-Arlington lost all three of those road games, despite having double-digit leads in all three. Minnesota is a tournament team, FGCU leads the Atlantic Sun, and as mentioned Arkansas is in most brackets at present.
UTA? Not getting much at-large love, despite a 21-6 record, an 11-3 league mark and a No. 36 RPI ranking through games Sunday. The Mavericks won at Saint Mary’s and at Texas, but haven’t picked up any quality wins in the Sun Belt because there are none to be had.
But consider one more fact of life on the road as a mid-major: UTA’s only loss since Jan. 14 was by two points at Coastal Carolina. It was the second game of a road trip, coming two days after playing Appalachian State in Boone, N.C. UTA’s trip required a flight to Charlotte, a bus to Boone, then a five-hour bus trip from App State to Myrtle Beach, S.C., for the game against Coastal Carolina. That’s a bad loss that came at the end of a brutal trip.
“That one is on us,” Cross said. “I can’t blame the schedule for that.”
Still, teams like Arkansas don’t make those trips, with bus rides and back-to-back road games commonplace. Teams like Arkansas don’t play UTA’s non-conference schedule. But they get the benefit of the doubt at tourney selection time.
Other damaging mid-major losses with mitigating circumstances that the selection committee should keep in mind when sifting through bubble teams:
UTEP over Middle Tennessee (16), Feb. 4. The Blue Raiders are 24-4. Their only loss since before Christmas was by three points in the second game of a Thursday-Saturday road trip, having played at UT-San Antonio 48 hours earlier.
Elon over UNC-Wilmington (17), Feb. 11. The Seahawks are 24-5. Their loss at Elon was by a single point, 43 hours after winning at James Madison in a Thursday-Saturday road trip.
St. Peter’s over Monmouth (18), Jan. 2. That’s the 23-5 Hawks’ last loss, with 13 straight victories following. The St. Peter’s upset came on the road two days after an overtime victory against Rider, and was Monmouth’s third game in a six-day stretch that began at North Carolina.
Now examine the non-conference schedules played by some major conference bubble teams:
California (19) is the most egregious. The Golden Bears (18-8, 9-5 in the Pac-12) played nine home games, three neutral-site and zero true road games. And one of the neutral sites was Sacramento. Until March, the Golden Bears will have traveled no farther east than Tucson. That’s ridiculous.
Syracuse (20) is the traditional go-nowhere power. This year the Orange (16-12, 8-7 in the ACC) played 10 home games, two at neutral sites (Brooklyn and New York City) and one true road game – at Wisconsin as part of the Big Ten-ACC Challenge, something Jim Boeheim had no control over. The first seven times Syracuse played outside the Carrier Dome, it lost.
TCU (21) played nine home games, two on the road and one at a neutral site. One of the road games was 40 miles east, at SMU. Washington was the only Power Five opponent in non-conference play, and as mentioned above, Washington is terrible. And the Horned Frogs (17-10, 6-8 in the Big 12) played them twice.
Georgia Tech (22) opened the Josh Pastner Era with nine non-conference home games and three true road games – which, it should be noted, all were in a row. The Yellow Jackets (16-11, 7-7 in the ACC) lost two of those three on the road, to Penn State and Tennessee. They also lost at home to Ohio and Georgia.
Texas Tech (23) played nine at home, two in Mexico and one true road game, at Richmond. The Red Raiders (17-10, 5-9 in the Big 12) are winless on the road in conference play.
HOW MANY BIDS FOR A BAD BIG TEN?
Once the NCAA selection committee declared that the Big Ten wasn’t worth a top-16 seed on Feb. 11, it put the league in a bit of a bind: If nobody is really good, how can the teams help their NCAA tourney standing by beating each other? It makes you wonder.
As of now, five teams seem solid: Purdue, Wisconsin, Maryland, Northwestern and Minnesota. On the other end, six would seem to have no chance without winning the league tournament: Rutgers, Ohio State, Illinois, Penn State, Iowa and Nebraska. That leaves three in the gray area:
Michigan (24) has won one true road game, at tail-spinning Indiana. Three of the last four are on the road, and the Wolverines certainly must win two of them (Rutgers and Nebraska). That would guarantee 9-9 in the league with a home triumph over Wisconsin – but, again, the league is down. Of greater value than overall league record to the Wolverines would be neutral-site wins over SMU and Marquette.
Michigan State (25) has a home loss to Northeastern and is bringing a diminished team into March after the injury loss of Eron Harris. If the committee will truly evaluate a team based on the players it will have available for the tourney, the next three weeks are vital for the Spartans (16-11, 8-6).
Indiana is only even theoretically viable because of what it did in November – beating Kansas and North Carolina. You defeat two potential No. 1 seeds and you should be a lock, right? Not when you’re 5-9 in an underwhelming league, plus a loss to Fort Wayne.
The problem for all three teams: their victories against each other aren’t worth as much as they hoped they would be at the time the games were played.
THREE GAMES THAT COULD DECIDE LEAGUE TITLES
It’s a pivotal week in three conferences, as league leaders face top pursuers to see who can potentially win some hardware and lock up top tourney seeds. The list:
Louisville-North Carolina (26), Wednesday. The situation: If the Tar Heels win, they would just about eliminate Louisville from being the ACC tourney No. 1 seed – Carolina would be two games ahead and own the head-to-head tiebreaker. Then it could come down to Duke-UNC on March 4. But if Louisville wins, the Cardinals would own the tiebreaker over both the Heels and Blue Devils with a manageable remaining slate (Syracuse at home, at Wake Forest, Notre Dame at home). The pick: Carolina. Teams have begun exploiting Louisville’s defense off the dribble, and few teams have as many weapons as the Heels.
Florida-Kentucky (27), Saturday. The situation: tied for first and two games clear of South Carolina, one of these two is highly likely to wear the regular-season crown. The Gators blew out the Wildcats in Gainesville, but they’ve since lost center John Egbunu to a knee injury and guard Canyon Barry is working through an ankle sprain. The pick: Kentucky. Without Egbunu, Florida will be up against it on the glass and lacks a physical presence to neutralize Kentucky’s inconsistent but powerful Bam Adebayo in the paint.
UCLA-Arizona (28), Saturday. To clinch the Pac-12, the Wildcats have a navigable path: USC and UCLA at home and a trip to overmatched Arizona State. The Bruins will be the tough one – and while they might not be able to catch the Wildcats from two games down in the loss column, they can facilitate Oregon’s quest for the No. 1 seed. The Ducks are a game behind Arizona but would win the head-to-head tiebreaker if they finish with the same record. The pick: Arizona. With the Wildcats’ injured players expected to return to action this week, it’s hard to see them losing at home.
Meanwhile, Villanova (29) has two games against its closest pursuers to clinch a fourth straight outright Big East title, which is nearly in hand now. First the Wildcats host Butler on Wednesday, then Creighton on Saturday. The pick: Villanova times two. The Wildcats can avenge a January loss to Butler in Hinkle Fieldhouse and sweep the Bluejays.
FATHERS AND SONS
It was an eventful weekend for a trio of basketball dads, who reacted to the work of their basketball sons in interesting ways. The one clear takeaway: it’s impossible to be objective about your own kids.
Saturday afternoon, there was former NBA player and coach and current ESPN analyst Doug Collins (30) losing his mind in the stands at Welsh-Ryan Arena. Why? Because his son, Chris, was trying to keep Northwestern from potentially throwing away the first NCAA tourney bid in the school’s tortured history by losing to lightweight Rutgers. The elder Collins was in tears at one point, doubled over at another, and ecstatic at the end when the Wildcats pulled out the victory after trailing most of the second half. It was a profound reaction that illustrates the emotional difference between wanting to win and wanting your kid to win, and between having some control over a situation and having no control whatsoever.
Then Sunday night, there was Louisville coach Rick Pitino (31) in the stands at Williams Arena watching his son, Richard, coach Minnesota against Michigan in what was close to a must-have game for NCAA purposes. Pitino was calmer than Collins, but still had multiple heart-in-the-throat moments as what looked like a secure Gophers win wandered into overtime before the home team put it away. While Chris Collins has been coaching to secure some history at Northwestern, the younger Pitino has spent much of this year coaching to secure his job after entering the season on the hot seat. He’s done more than enough to solidify his standing.
The dad who drew the biggest reaction was LaVar Ball (32), father of UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball. During the Bruins’ blowout of USC over the weekend, LaVar told the Pac-12 Network that Lonzo was better than reigning NBA MVP Steph Curry – right now. It was the latest big statement from LaVar, who has predicted that Lonzo will be the first of three No. 1 draft picks from the family, followed by younger brothers LiAngelo and LaMelo. Pride is good, and so is Lonzo. But some hopes, dreams and expectations are better left unspoken.
BEAVERS BREAK THROUGH, AGGIES STILL SEARCHING
Last week The Minutes chronicled the last two teams winless in conference play. This week, there is only one.
Oregon State (33) shocked Utah on Sunday night, 68-67, rallying from a nine-point deficit with 3:23 left to play. The Beavers (5-23, 1-14 in the Pac-12) got the winning basket on a lunging lob by Stephen Thompson Jr., with 10 seconds to play, their first victory since Dec. 21, 2016.
Alas, North Carolina A&T (34) couldn’t quite follow suit a night later. The Aggies (2-26, 0-13 in the MEAC) went to triple overtime against Maryland Eastern Shore Monday before submitting, 106-95. NC A&T had a couple of good looks at winning shots in regulation but couldn’t get one to fall. The Aggies have three games remaining in the regular season. The vigil continues.
FIVE QUESTIONS WITH A COACH
Every week The Minutes has a brief conversation with a coach about some element of the game. This week’s subject: Gonzaga’s Mark Few (35), whose team is undefeated and ranked No. 1 in America. The topic: Gonzaga’s uniquely successful recruiting, which melds traditional recruiting with savvy international work and vigilant transfer monitoring.
FM: Simply put, how do you manage to be successful recruiting from such diverse sources?
MF: We’ve had a great mix of kids from the Northwest, but sometimes that can be very cyclical. Our program is nationally known enough that we can also go into other areas. We’ve got a great reputation overseas – (assistant coach) Tommy Lloyd does a great job evaluating people and does a great job not wasting time on players who aren’t going to come.
FM: And where does the transfer piece fit in?
MF: That just kind of happens. Nigel Williams-Goss (a Washington transfer currently starring at guard for Gonzaga), we were two-three weeks late into that thing, but we decided we should at least try and he liked what he saw.
For the most part, the transfer situation and international recruiting fits our style better. We’re not going to go down certain roads that some people do. Some kids are almost brainwashed into thinking about conference affiliation, facilities. … It’s almost propaganda. Not quite North Korea-level, but it can be pretty thick.
FM: What roads aren’t you going to go down?
MF: I’m sure you know what we mean there. No need to go into detail. You can fill in the blanks – you need to write a book.
But that’s why it works for us with transfers – with a transfer, he’s done with all the stuff. He doesn’t care about marble staircases and uniforms. This is, ‘I’m not winning, and I’m watching you guys on TV in March. I want to win.’ And to be honest, the European kids are that way from the jump. No sense of entitlement.
FM: How long did it take until Gonzaga’s recruiting clout caught up with the on-court results?
MF: A while. I remember that first Elite Eight run (in 1999), when I was an assistant, we thought, ‘OK, let’s start calling some guys.’ And it didn’t even register. Both in scheduling and in recruiting, it took a while to set in.
After seven or eight years, we were able to get some guys. Now the key is not to waste time. We seem to be able to make everyone’s top five, but second place is the worst you can finish in recruiting. So we want to be smart about it.
FM: So in all these years of finding hidden gems, who is your biggest steal?
MF: I don’t know, that’s hard to say – but right now, we’ve got (2017 signee) Corey Kispert from the Seattle area. I don’t know how he wasn’t on all the lists. He’s the best shooter on the circuit, and he’s got a high GPA, he’s an off-the-charts leader, motivated to no end. Virginia and Notre Dame recruited him, but we were happy to get him.
UNDER THE RADAR LOVE
Keon Johnson (36), Winthrop. He’s tiny but prolific. The 5-foot-7, 160-pound Johnson is closing in on 2,000 career points for the Eagles, averaging a career-high 22 points per game as a senior. Johnson has led Winthrop to a 21-6 record and a tie for second place in the Big South, one game behind UNC-Asheville. Johnson went for a career-high 40 against UNC-Asheville earlier this month in a double-overtime loss. A rubber match between those two teams in the Big South tournament seems fitting.
COACH WHO EARNED HIS COMP CAR THIS WEEK
Bob Huggins (37), West Virginia. Don’t scare us like that, Huggs. The game is far better off with you than without you.
COACH WHO SHOULD TAKE THE BUS TO WORK
Tony Bennett (38), Virginia. The Cavaliers have plummeted from contention for the ACC title and an NCAA tourney No. 1 seed, losing four straight after Monday night’s come-from-ahead collapse at home against Miami. The old knock on Bennett’s teams has returned: they simply go through painfully long stretches of offensive ineptitude. In their last 85 minutes of play against the Hurricanes and North Carolina, Virginia has scored a total of 89 points. If something doesn’t improve, that kind of offense is a ticket to another painful NCAA dismissal short of the Final Four.
When hungry and thirsty in Duke’s backyard of Durham, The Minutes vigorously encourages a visit to Dame’s Chicken & Waffles (39). Order the Barnyard Honcho – a chicken cutlet, classic waffle, eggs and grits – and pair it with a Triangle White Ale (40). Thank The Minutes later.
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