By BRAD KEITH

Sports Editor

Brad.keith@empiretribune.com

STEPHENVILLE — For the third time in the last five years, Tarleton State University (23-6) will host the South Central Region Tournament in the NCAA Division II men's basketball playoffs.

“It's quite an honor to be the No. 1 seed,” said Tarleton coach Lonn Reisman. “There are a lot of very deserving teams, and it's a great honor to host one of these things. These guys have worked very, very hard to earn this. This is what you work for, is to host the regional championship. There are 35 teams in the South Central Region, and it's a very big accomplishment to be at the top. There are only eight No. 1 seeds in the nation, and Tarleton State University is one of them. It's a great way to bring the spotlight to our campus and to the City of Stephenville.”

Tarleton, which hosted the event in both 2004 and 2005, has won the regional twice, but never at home in Wisdom Gym. The Texans advanced to the Elite Eight in 2006 by winning the regional at Texas A&M — Commerce, and repeated that feat at Southwest Baptist University in Bollivar, Mo. in 2007.

Visiting Stephenville for the 2008 regional will be No. 2 seed Northwest Missouri State (23-7), No. 3 Central Oklahoma (25-5), No. 4 West Texas A&M (21-7), No. 5 Southwest Baptist (21-7), No. 6 St. Edward's (23-6), No. 7 Fort Hays State (19-10) and No. 8 St. Mary's (17-12).

St. Mary's will be Tarleton's first opponent when tournament play begins on Saturday. The Texans and Rattlers will play in the final quarterfinal at 8:30 p.m. The event tips off at noon when Central Oklahoma meets St. Edward's, followed by Northwest Missouri and Fort Hays State at 2:30 p.m. The second session of games will feature West Texas A&M and Southwest Baptist at 6 p.m. before the Texans and Rattlers take center stage for the day-one finale.?

“You have eight great basketball teams coming in from all over this area of the country," Reisman said. "For the NCAA to come here and host this here is a very big thing for Stephenville, and I hope everyone will come out to support the student-athletes as they compete. There will be some great basketball played, and I hope everyone enjoys it.”

The semifinals of the event are set for 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, followed by the championship showdown at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 18. The winner of the event advances to the Elite Eight in Springfield, Mass. March 26-29.