The expansion of the Underwood’s Christmas Classic continues.

Following the recent boom of the tournament — which was sparked by the return of a second division for smaller schools in 2005 — Howard Payne University has now decided to throw its hat into the mix.

Along with the 25 high school games taking place Friday and Saturday at the Brownwood Coliseum and Brownwood High’s Warren Gym, the No. 2 Howard Payne Lady Jackets and the Howard Payne Yellow Jackets will also play home non-conference games as part of the two-day, two-venue event.

“Howard Payne called and asked if they could get in the schedule somewhere,” said Brownwood Lions head coach and tournament director Shane Perkins. “We’ve always had that little afternoon break, so it just happened to work out.”

The Yellow Jackets (5-3, 3-2) will face UT-Permian Basin (1-6) at 3 p.m. Friday at the Coliseum, while the Lady Jackets (8-0, 5-0) will also face UT-Permian Basin (1-11) at the same time and location on Saturday.

Still, the main focus of the event is the high school action, which features the boys varsity basketball teams from Brownwood, Early and Bangs, along with other nearby schools such as Goldthwaite and Brady.

Action is slated to begin at 9 a.m. Friday with contests at the Coliseum and Warren Gym, and the games will continue through Saturday night where the final tipoffs are slated for 8 p.m.

On the heels of the success of the round-robin format adopted by the Division I portion of the tournament, Division II will follow suit this year due to an odd number of teams comprising the field.

“Last year Division II had eight teams and this year there’s seven,” Perkins said. “I asked the coaches and the majority said they wanted four games. I told them I could do that.

“This is also easier on the people attending because they know what time and where everybody is playing. Some people, if they prefer to watch the smaller schools, they can watch a three-game set, or if you like the bigger schools you can watch a three-game set at the other building. Or, if you want to watch the local teams, you can go back and forth. It’s a good situation for the people and the businesses in the county because a lot of people attend.”

Competing in Division II will be Early, Bangs, Brady, Goldthwaite, Dublin, Sweetwater and Snyder.

Early (0-2, 0-1) enters the tournament with just two games under its belt and will be searching for its first win as District 6-2A action has already begun.

Bangs (10-2, 0-1), meanwhile, will be looking to bounce back from a loss in the 6-2A opener on Dec. 21 after starting the season with 10 victories in its first 11 games.

Division I will be made up of Arlington Sam Houston, Killeen Shoemaker, Wichita Falls, Leander, Granbury and the red-hot Brownwood Lions.

The Lions (13-3) are riding a six-game win streak into the tournament, but today’s practice will mark the first time Brownwood has been on the court since its 56-37 win at Sweetwater on Dec. 20.

“I think every coach is worried about how a team will play at this point in the season,” Perkins said. “The way the schedule fell this year we’re able to get one day of practice in. Usually we just go into the tournament straight off a five-day break. I tried to stress to the guys not to lay around and do some physical activities. A five-day break can take a lot out of you.”

The Lions have shown early on that they should be a force to be reckoned with when district play begins. With several new faces on the roster this season, the biggest concern for Perkins was whether this team could match the hustle and effort of previous teams.

“I wanted to see that this team will compete hard every night and I’ve been very pleased by that,” Perkins said. “The games where we know we’re the better team we’ve played hard and put teams away early. A sign of a good team is that they don’t let other teams hang around. Even when we’ve struggled on offense the kids realize if we play solid defense that can be the difference in us being successful.”

Perkins pointed to the Lions’ most recent outing against Sweetwater as a prime example. Though the Lions hit just 1-of-17 first-quarter shots and 5-of-32 field goal attempts in the opening half, they still owned a 10-point halftime advantage.

Despite all the positives the Lions have experienced, Perkins feels his team needs to continue its steady improvement to be prepared for the start of District 16-4A action, which is still a couple of weeks away. And while pushing the win streak to 10 games this weekend would be welcomed, victories aren’t necessarily as important as the Lions’ overall level of play.

“I want us to pick up where we left off,” Perkins said. “Going 4-0 would be nice, but sometimes you win a game and have a bad feeling because you didn’t play very well. I want us to compete hard for four quarters and at the end of Saturday night I want us to be able to say we’re better than we are right now. You want to get better as you get ready for district and we want to keep peaking as we get ready for Jan. 11.”