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Time to bring home a championship: Zags vs. Bearcats for Maui Title

I would like to apologize if this preview starts to ramble or go off in different directions. However,  I am so pumped for this match up tonight I can barely contain myself. If you look back at our season preview and predictions, you will clearly see that I think this Cincinnati team is going to be exceptional. They have so much toughness and grit all over the court that I in no way envy the job the Gonzaga trainer will have to do after the game. If you are a fan of physical defense, excellent rebounding, and elite level athletes, then this is the game for you to watch. Normally, I wouldn't give a Gonzaga team any shot against a team with the combination of skill and toughness that the Bearcats have. However, as we have learned through the first month of the season, this Gonzaga team has a rare toughness that many teams in the past have lacked. With that said, the contrasting style of play is what will make this game so fascinating. Gonzaga will look to push the tempo and score the ball quickly, but will have to do so against the most physical and dominating defense they will see this season. Cincinnati will look to drag out possessions and establish Yancy Gates in the post, but they will not see many teams who like to run and have so much talent on the perimeter like the Zags do.

The toughness and skill of Elias Harris and Rob Sacre will need to be at an incredibly high level tonight. In Yancy Gates, the Bearcats have the strongest and toughest post presence Gonzaga might see all season. Gates is averaging 13 points and 9 boards per game and is shooting nearly 60% from the field. When he gets solid post position, it's nearly a guaranteed two points on the board. Rob, Elias, and Will (there is no chance in hell we see Kelly on Gates) will need to use their strength to either front the post or push Gates off the block. When Gates starts to dominate the game, it completely opens up the lanes for their perimeter players to attack. As much as I like the perimeter combo of Deonta Vaughn and Lance Stephenson, limiting the touches of Gates will be the key to the Zags pulling out a victory.

Although I couldn't be much happier with the play of Matt Bouldin this season, this is the type of game that I need to see Matt perform at a high level during. Throughout his career, Bouldin has struggled against elite level defenders. Tonight, he will be facing the type of physical and athletic defenders that he needs to learn to be successful against. Matt must use his high basketball IQ and strong post game to get his points and get his teammates involved. I think this is the type of game where we could really see the combo of Meech Goodson and GJ Vilarino thrive. Cincinnati does not possess great talent at the point guard position, and Goodson and Vilarino should be able to push the tempo and get good looks in transition.

I have gone back and forth on how I think this game will end up. Both teams are reasonably well rested after comfortable wins in the semi-finals of the tournament. Both teams are young and playing above some of the preseason projections that the national media had. However, in a game like this, I like the fact that Gonzaga has some big game experience in the back court and on the coaching staff. This type of experience can be huge in a big early season game. Therefore, in an incredible close, Gonzaga wins the Maui Invitational by a score of 72-66.