AMES, Iowa (AP) - The NCAA tournament field in Ames has some head-scratchers in it when it comes to seeding.
Kentucky, the 12th-ranked team in the country, is a No. 2 seed for the first time in 30 years. One-loss Green Bay is ranked two spots above the Wildcats, and yet is a No. 7 seed. And both could have to go through unranked Iowa State, which boasts of one of the nation's top homecourt advantages.
It's a weekend for the fortunate and the not-so-fortunate in Iowa, one that tips off Saturday when the Wildcats (25-6) face 15th-seeded McNeese State (26-7). The Phoenix (30-1) will take on the 10th-seeded Cyclones (18-12) in the nightcap.
"I'd be lying if I didn't say I wasn't disappointed in our seed. At the same, we can't control that - and we've never been about making excuses for ourselves," Green Bay coach Matt Bollant said. "But we can control how well we play, and that's been our focus all week."
The only knock on Green Bay appears to be the league it plays in.
All the Phoenix could do about that was win the Horizon League's regular-season title for the 14th straight time. They also beat the only team that beat them, Detroit, to win the conference tournament.
Green Bay is 4-0 against high-major opponents this season, reached the regional semifinals last season and, in 2010, took the Cyclones to overtime in Ames in the opening round before falling 60-56.
Iowa State is back in the tournament for the sixth year in a row, but this isn't the most talented team longtime coach Bill Fennelly has had. Iowa State had to sweat it out before earning an at-large bid, having lost 67-63 TO Kansas State in its opening game of the Big 12 tournament.
Unlike Bollant, Fennelly is thrilled with his team's seed simply because it means they're back in the postseason after an up-and-down year.
"Besides my family and maybe Christmas, this is the greatest thing in the world to me - and you can give me any number you want to. Just give me a number," Fennelly said. "If it's 10, I'll take it."
Where the Cyclones might have an advantage over the smaller Phoenix is 6-foot-2 Chelsea Poppens, who is averaging 14.3 points and 10.7 rebounds a game. But Iowa State will have their own challenge dealing Green Bay senior star Julie Wojta, who is scoring nearly 20 points a game along with 10 rebounds and 3.6 steals.
Fennelly compared Wojta to Iowa State men's player Royce White, the multi-skilled star who led the Cyclones past Connecticut in the tournament Thursday night.
"She's a matchup nightmare. I don't know how you figure out who you're going to play on her. She can dominate on the block and she can pull you out and leave you with a broken ankle," Green Bay teammate Hannah Quilling said of Wojta. "She's very good at what she does."
The Wildcats just might have their best chance yet at the Final Four berth that's eluded them. To get to Denver, they'll have to bounce back from a loss in the SEC tournament and get standout freshman Bria Goss going again.
Goss was the SEC's freshman of the year. But she recently hit the rookie wall, shooting just 4 of 24 from the field over her last three games.
"We certainly need her to play better than she did late in the season," Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell said of Goss. "She just needs to let the game to her. One great thing about her. She's going to stay positive and, if anybody can get through it, she'll get through it."
Kentucky won the SEC regular-season title over Tennessee - also its first in 30 years - only to get tripped up by unranked LSU in the tourney semifinals.
The Wildcats are led by a pair of guards who were around for their somewhat surprising regional finals run two years ago; SEC Player of the Year A'dia Mathes and senior bench star Keyla Snowden.
McNeese State is back for the second year in a row behind guards Ashlyn and Caitlyn Baggett, who've combined for nearly 30 points a game. The challenge facing the savvy twins is to find a way to deal with Kentucky's relentless defense.
The Wildcats lead the nation in turnover margin at nearly plus-11 per game and pride themselves on playing what they've dubbed "40 minutes of dread."
"They try to get you out of control and in a little faster pace than what you're used to, and if we just attack, but under control, we can stay in it for 40 minutes," Caitlyn Baggett said.
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