Tarleton State's men are ranked first in the Bennet Rankings and third in the National Association of Basketball Coaches poll entering the NCAA Division II Championship.
Metropolitan State College of Denver is hosting the men's South Central Region Championship, where eight teams will vie for one of the coveted spots in the Division II Elite Eight.
Tarleton is seeded second behind Metro State. The Texans face seventh-seeded Texas A&M-International at 3:30 p.m. (CST) Saturday at Auroria Event Center. Both teams are hot, with TAMUI winning the Heartland Conference Tournament while Tarleton was busy winning the Lone Star tourney.
Conference tournament losses by Drury (Mo.) and West Liberty (W.Va.) made room for the Texans to jump from fifth to third in the NABC poll. Metro State is No. 1 and East Stroudsburg No. 2. Behind the Texans, Southern Connecticut State and South Carolina-Aiken round out the top five.
Tarleton head coach Lonn Reisman says the South Central may be the toughest regional tournament in the nation.
"We have the number one and number three teams in the country and then you throw Midwestern in there, it's hard to be much tougher than that," said Reisman, who is leading the Texans to the NCAA Championship for the 11th time in 13 years. "But everyone is good at this time of the year. It's the top 64 teams in the country out of more than 300 in Division II, and every one of them are getting ready to put their best game on the court when it matters most."
Reisman says top-rated teams, such as his own, should be wary of upsets at every turn.
"You can't look past anyone in this tournament. Crazy things happen at this time of year," he said. "I saw the Kansas Jayhawks lose to Bucknell University one year. The Jayhawks aren't supposed to lose to Bucknell, but it happened. And it can happen to any team on any day. That's why they call it March Madness."
The same applies to the women's side of the tournament, where the TexAnns have the three seed entering the South Central Region championship. West Texas A&M earned the top seed, largely because the Lady Buffs edged Tarleton in last week's LSC Championship final. The event is at WTAMU's First United Bank Center in Canyon.
The TexAnns play the opening game of the event at noon on Friday against sixth-seeded Texas A&M-International. It's Tarleton's fifth straight trip to the regional.
"This time we want to take a couple more steps, for sure," said Tarleton head coach Ronnie Hearne, whose TexAnns have never advanced past the second round of a regional. "We want to keep this team and these seniors and coaches together as long as we can. A lot of good teams don't get this far. Texas Woman's is one of them, and so is Fort Lewis (Colo.). In every conference or region there are good teams who don't get to participate, so you can't take it for granted.
"I told my players they have a chance to compete for a national championship," Hearne continued. "I told them after the conference tournament that if they play that way in the regional, they will have a chance at a rematch with West Texas. That's what we want."
The game times fall at comfortable times for both teams, the coaches say. Hearne's club dominated a pair of afternoon games in the opening two rounds of the LSC Championship, and Reisman's club is unbeaten in afternoon games this season and is regularly practicing at the time they will tip off against TAMUI.
The winner of the men's game faces third-seeded Midwestern State or sixth-seeded Arkansas-Fort Smith in the regional semifinals.
The winner of the women's contest meets second-seeded Colorado Mesa or seventh-seeded Midwestern.