There's no absence of intrigue when Indiana and Kentucky meet in the NCAA Tournament. The storylines are abundant. The two programs have play each other 56 times in the past, previously meeting on an annual basis before the series was cancelled following the 2011-12 season. They actually met in the tournament that year, as well. There's the Tom Crean vs. John Calipari coaching dual. They're two teams that were top-14 in the polls, top-13 in the KenPom rankings, and the majority of analysts thought were underseeded.
You can argue until you're blue in the face that this shouldn't be a second round game, but it's the matchup we all wanted to see and now we've got it. But of all the storylines I mentioned, the most intriguing to me is the point guard battle. Yogi Ferrell vs. Tyler Ulis. Two of the ten Cousy Award finalists and probably the two favorites to win the award.
Ferrell was the unofficial runner-up for the Big Ten Player of the Year and Ulis was the official SEC Player of the Year. They're both averaging just over 17 points per game. Ulis trumps Ferrell with his assist numbers, but Ferrell is the more lethal three-point shooter by a wide margin. On the other side of the ball, they're both great defenders. You couldn't always make that claim with Ferrell, but he's vastly improved over his career and made the All-Defensive team in the Big Ten. In addition to his conference POTY award, Ulis also won the SEC Defensive Player of the Year.
The difference is, Ulis may not even be the best player on his team. Jamal Murray puts up 20 points per contest and is a likely top-10 pick in this year's NBA Draft. Murray has the capability to take over a game and allow Ulis the opportunity to play the role of distributor. Troy Williams has a similar ability for Indiana, but you're never sure which Troy is going to show up.
Good point guards tend to rule the day when the tournament rolls around. Look no further than the way Indiana's in-state rival, Purdue, lost on Thursday. There was a clear advantage at the position and it ultimately decided the outcome of the game. There's no clear advantage between the Wildcats and the Hoosiers, but whoever plays the better game between Ulis and Ferrell will give their team the best chance to win.
Although neither player needed to have their best performance for their team to win on Thursday night, Ferrell seemed to be a little more settled in. He made four of his seven three-point attempts on his way to 20 points and had a season-high 10 assists for good measure. Ulis was a little quieter with 10 points on 10 shots. He had seven assists of his own.
There's certainly other aspects that will affect the outcome of Saturday night's border battle. Williams and Murray's play will be a big factor, as will the turnover and rebounding battles. Can Indiana continue their hot shooting? They're all important, but the difference in who makes more plays between Ferrell and Ulis may ultimately be the difference in the game.