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WestStar Bank Don Haskins Sun Bowl Invitational Preview

NCAA Basketball: Akron at Creighton Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

UTEP Miners

Record: 2-7, Conference USA

Key Players:

Omega Harris, Jr, 17.5 ppg, 48% FG%

Dominic Artis, Sr, 14.8 ppg, 8.4 apg, 6.3 rpg

Matt Willms, Jr, 10.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg

UTEP comes into the tournament reeling, having lost six straight and unable to grab guarantee games you would expect the Miners to put in the win column. The Miners main struggles have been on the defensive end, allowing teams to shoot 48 percent from the field, and 42 percent from 3-point distance. Omega Harris, and Dominic Artis have been bright spots on the offensive end, and have UTEP averaging close to 15 forced turnovers per game due to Artis ability to create steals. Matt Willms continues to battle through his broken nose, but production from UTEP's front court has been almost non-existent at times outside of Willms gutsy efforts. UTEP has been struggling in the rebounding department as of late, and the lack of depth in the front court was exposed against Northern Arizona, and NMSU. The Miners are looking for something positive to chew on from their out of conference slate, but can they right the ship or make any sort of positive progress this week is the big question.

Maryland Eastern Shore Fighting Hawks

Record: 1 -11, Mid-Eastern

Key Players:

Ryan Andino, Jr, 13.7 ppg, 43% 3PT%

Bakari Copeland, Sr, 13.4 ppg, 5.7 rpg

Playing one of the toughest out of conference schedules in the country, Maryland-Eastern Shore is win-less against D-1 opponents, and have played 10 of their 11 games so far on the road. Some notable road losses were George Washington, Boston College, Wichita State, Colorado State, LA Tech, Virginia Tech, and Michigan. Both Copeland and Andino have led the team in scoring in 10 of their 12 total games. Copeland, 6'6, 235 pounds will be big matchup problem for UTEP with his size and skill set. The Hawks shoot below 40 percent from the field, and from 3-point land, while their opponents shoot well over 40 percent from both the field and long distance.

UC Irvine Anteaters

Record: 5-8, Big West

Key Players:

Jaron Martin, Sr, 13.9 ppg, 3.3 rpg

Ioannis Dimakopoulos, 9.9 pgg, 3.9 rpg

The Anteaters are in the midst of a three games in four day stretch, opening their week with NMSU on Monday ahead of the tournament. UC Irvine lost four key players from last year's Sun Bowl Invitational championship team, and have also been without all Big West guard Luke Nelson has been hampered by hamstring injury. Jaron Martin hit seven 3-pointers against NMSU, dropping a career high 31 points, bouncing back from a rough shooting stretch before Monday's big performance. The Eaters have been getting nice production from a pair of freshman in guard Eyassu Worku, and forward Tommy Rutherford. Worku has averaged 13 points per game in the past four games, while Rutherford has scored in double figures in three of the last four games, and has grabbed 20 rebounds in the past two games. Defense is one of their main calling cards, ranking 33rd nationally in field goal percentage defense before their game against NMSU, and rank in the top-50 nationally in blocks. Another team in the field who has had a rough start, but is starting to find productive pieces all without their best player.

Akron Zips

Record: 8-3, MAC

Key Players:

Isaiah Johnson, 14.9 ppg, 6.3 rpg

Noah Robotham, 11.2 ppg, 46.3% FG%

The favorite to win it all in El Paso, Akron comes in 2-2 so far in December after a hot November start. The Zips won six straight after dropping their season opener, and bounced back from a loss to Gonzaga with a nice win against last week Marshall before heading to El Paso. Akron has won 20 games for 11 straight seasons, coming off a NIT appearance last season all coming under current head coach Keith Dambrot. 6'10 center Isaiah Johnson might be the best player in the tournament, scoring in double figures in 10 of the Zips 11 games. Defense is where Dambrot wants to leave his mark, the Zips have blocked 41 shots, 10 of those coming from another 6'10 player in Kwan Cheatham. 6'9 freshman Michael Hughes has blocked nine shots so far this year. An efficient offensive attack has the Zips shooting at 47.7 percent from the field, and they average 14.5 assists per game as a team.

Tournament schedule:

Wednesday

Akron vs. UC Irvine, 5:00 p.m. Mountain Time

Maryland-Eastern Shore @ UTEP, 7:00 p,m, Mountain Time

Thursday

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)

Tickets for the tournament are available at the Sun Bowl Association office at (915-533-4416 or 800-915-BOWL), the UTEP Ticket Center (915-747-5234) and TicketMaster outlets. Tickets can be reserved now by calling the Sun Bowl Association office. Tickets are also included in UTEP season ticket packages.

Four-Game, Two Night Package:

$40 (rows 1-34) and $20 (rows 35-39)

*$20 UTEP students, plus one guest at same price

Two-Game, One-Night Package:

$22 (rows 1-34) and $12 (rows 35-39)

*$12 UTEP students, plus one guest at same price

*Must purchase at the UTEP Ticket Center Only

Single Day Sales

-Single event sales (2-games, 1-night) will be offered beginning Tuesday, Dec. 20, 8 a.m.