By BRAD KEITH
Editor’s note: This is the first in a multi-part series of previews as Tarleton State prepares to enter the NCAA Division II Championship for the seventh straight season and the 13th time in the past 15 years.
STEPHENVILLE (March 9, 2016) — If Lonn Reisman had his way, the NCAA Division II Championship would be seeded nationally as opposed to its current regionalization format.
Reisman, 28th year head coach at Tarleton State and sixth among active Division II coaches with 611 wins, prefers the nationwide concept of seeding teams for the postseason.
Of course he does. As he prepares for his 13th NCAA tournament in 15 years, he realizes he’s tired of seeing Lone Star Conference rivals in the South Central Region Championship.
“I’d like to be able to avoid seeing the same teams again, the way they do it in Division I,” Reisman said. “They do it at that level every year, so we know it can be done.”
Like most things, it’s a matter of money. To be more specific, it’s a matter of travel costs.
Not just because many teams would be forced to travel greater distances for regional rounds of the playoffs – a cost refunded by the NCAA – if the regionalization concept is dropped, but also because in the Division II ranks, teams don’t often travel outside their region during the regular season, minimizing available metrics to effectively compare playoff contenders nationwide.
In the Division I level, teams avoid members of the same conference until at least the round of eight, or the regional finals. This would be the equivalent of missing conference rivals until the national quarterfinal at the Elite Eight for Division II teams.
“I think it would also open up the possibility of two teams from the same area of the country being able to advance to the Elite Eight if they can avoid each other in a regional tournament,” he said.
He’s been part of numerous examples. His Texans were ranked in the top five for much of the season in 2003, the year then-LSC rival Northeastern State beat beat Tarleton in a regional final at Wisdom Gym. Northeastern dominated its competition at the ensuing Elite Eight tournament, winning its only national title and the last captured by a member of the LSC.
In more recent years, Tarleton has gone 0-4 in regional rematches against Midwestern State, playing the Mustangs for the fourth time of the season in each of those years, the last in 2014 when Tarleton won the LSC championship and tournament title only to fall to its arch-rival in the second round of the South Central Regional hosted by Metro State (Colo.) in Denver.
One of the most painful regional round losses of Reisman’s career was at Wisdom Gym in 2008, when Tarleton saw a double-digit second half lead disappear against then-LSC rival Central Oklahoma, which won on a jumper from the top of the key with four seconds remaining.
Tarleton has had some success in regional tournament rematches, beating LSC Champ and tournament champ Texas A&M-Commerce on the road in a South Central final in 2005, and knocking off Angelo State in the third meeting between those teams in a regional final at Wisdom Gym just last year.
“It doesn’t just happen every now and then, it happens more years than it doesn’t for us, and I’m sure it happens to other teams around the country, too,” Reisman said of meeting conference rivals early in the playoffs.
But that also begs another point. While he may not prefer the regionalization concept, it’s every conference and region in the nation facing these issues, not just the LSC and the South Central.
And it will be a hot topic again this weekend when conference rivals are sure to square off around the country in regional tournaments, and when that could very well again include Tarleton and Midwestern. If the fourth-seeded Texans survive an opening round contest against Colorado Mines Saturday night and top seed and host Midwestern takes care of eighth-seeded Lubbock Christian, the Texans and Mustangs will meet up for the third time this season in Sunday’s regional semifinals.
“It is what it is and everyone has to deal with it,” Reisman said. “It’s just a matter of seeing which teams deal with it the best.”
South Central Region Championship at D.L. Ligon Coliseum in Wichita Falls:
Saturday || Quarterfinals
Noon: 2 Fort Lewis College vs. 7 Dallas Baptist
2:30 p.m.: 3 Angelo State vs. 6 Arkansas-Fort Smith
6 p.m.: 1 Midwestern State vs. 8 Lubbock Christian
8:30 p.m.: 1 Tarleton State vs. Colorado School of Mines
Sunday || Semifinals
5 p.m.: FLC/DBU vs. ASU/UAFS
7:30 p.m.: MSU/LCU vs. TSU/CSM
Tuesday || Championship
7 p.m.: FLC/DBU/ASU/UAFS vs. MSU/LCU/TSU/CSM