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Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational Preview

Three teams come in after losses, while the other is playing their best basketball of the season for another edition of Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational.

Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

UTEP Miners

Record: 6-4, Conference USA

Key Wins: vs. Colorado State, vs. Southern Illinois

Key Players:

Lee Moore, Jr, G, 14.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg

Earvin Morris, Sr, G, 14.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg

Omega Harris, So, 23.0 ppg,

For UTEP, its about how they respond after a tough loss just 24 hours ago to NMSU which completed a season rivalry sweep, marking a four game losing streak since the start of December for the Miners.  UTEP has been struggling on both ends of the floor, but more so on the offensive side in the past two games with a couple of key guys struggling from the field.  Omega Harris was a much needed addition against NMSU as he brought his 23 point out put, but was also active on the defensive end with his quickness, and sheer speed.  The Miners have won the last three Sun Bowl Invitational's, but can this UTEP team regroup through the adversity of shots not falling, and the lack of depth in the front court?

Norfolk State Spartans

Record: 4-7, Mid-Eastern

Key Wins: 88-56 @ Coppin State

Key Players:

Jeff Short, Sr, G, 16.5 ppg

D'Shon Taylor, Sr, G, 13.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg

Coming into El Paso on a losing slide like their first round opponent UTEP, the Spartans look to continue to find their way while ushering in eight newcomers this season.  Their two returners in senior's Jeff Short, and D'Shon Taylor have had strong starts to the season despite an under.500 start. Short has scored in double figures in all but two games this year, and is coming off a 8-of-14 performance from the floor and a 22-point outing in their latest loss. Short is also shooting 41 percent from behind three point line. Taylor hit five three pointers and dropped 31-points in a 70-66 win against Northern Arizona earlier in the season.  Norfolk is an above average offensive rebounding squad, and will rely on Short, Taylor, and Charles Oliver for production with the three point shot.  Much like last season the Spartans don't have very much productive depth down on the bench.  6'6 forward Jordan Butler is their leading rebounder with 43 percent of his rebounding coming on the offensive end.  Just like UTEP they are looking for answers, should be an interesting first round matchup.

UC Irvine Anteaters

Record: 8-4, Big West

Key Wins: @ UCF,  vs. Boston College, @ Utah State

Key Players:

Mamadou Ndiaye, Jr, G, 12.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg

Luke Nelson, Jr, G, 11.5 ppg, 3.3 apg

Alex Young, Sr, G, 9.6 ppg, 4.7 rpg

Three starters return from last season's NCAA Tournament squad, in where defense, size, and a special 7'6 player returns for another Big West Title run.  Mamadou Ndiaye is the main attraction in the Sun Bowl Tournament.  The 7'6 future NBA prospect has blocked 33 shots on the season, and is UC Irvine's leading scorer and rebounder.  Teams are shooting just 39 percent from the field as their defense and ability to protect the paint keeps them in ball games, but their offense hasn't been consistent enough against the tougher opponents on their schedule.  Turnovers seem to be their biggest offensive issue, but an impressive offensive mark is the 50-plus assists each Luke Nelson, and Alex Young have dished out this season.  Ndiaye's scoring, and shooting percentage benefits from their ability to distribute as he shoots 65 percent from the paint, but he can also create his own shot on the block.  Recently they started the tallest lineup in college basketball history, showing the depth and size they posses (attn. UTEP).  The clear Big West favorite is the Sun Bowl Invitational favorite.  Another team who is coming in off a loss, and the response is the most interesting thing to watch.

Sam Houston State Bearkats

Record: 5-5, Southland

Key Wins: vs. Bethune Cookman, @ LIU Brooklyn

Key Players:

Aurimas Majauskas, Jr, F, 14.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg

Dakarai Henderson, Jr, G, 14.2 ppg, 2.9 rpg

A less than stellar start, but a breakout player and a current three game win streak has been the story line for Sam Houston State so far in the 2015-16 season.  Aurimas Majauskas played less than ten minutes per game last season, but has blossomed this season and has helped the Bearkats play their best basketball of the season in the past three games.  He is the midst of an offensive tear averaging 20.7 points per game, and is 22-of-34 from the field in his last three games.  He's also averaging seven rebounds per game in that span, and has two double-doubles on the year.  Despite losing some size from last season's 24-win team, they have improved their rebounding margin led by athletic 6'5 forward Torry Butler who averages just under eight rebounds per game.  They have struggled from behind the three point line as a team, but have flourished offensively during this three game winning streak in where they averaged 93 points, and 8.6 three pointers made.  Sam Houston doesn't matchup well against UC Irvine, but if they can continue their hot shooting, this matchup could be the best game of the tournament.

Tournament schedule:

Monday

Sam Houston State vs. UC Irvine, 5:00 p.m. Mountain Time

Norfolk State @ UTEP, 7:00 p,m, Mountain Time

Tuesday

Consolation Game, 5:00 p.m. Mountain Time

Championship Game: 7:00 p.m. Mountain Time

No TV, stream available when UTEP plays via MinerTV (subscription)