When Kentucky (27-8) and Indiana (26-7) meet Saturday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, one could argue the teams are nearly mirror images of the opponent. And the heart and soul of both the Wildcats and the Hoosiers is an All-American point guard who figures to be the key to their team advancing to the Sweet 16.
One of the best individual matchups the tournament may witness this year is UK's Tyler Ulis against IU's Yogi Ferrell.
Ulis, the SEC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, enters the matchup averaging 17.0 points, 7.1 assists and 1.4 steals per game while shooting 86 percent at the free-throw line. The 5-foot-9 sophomore from Chicago was even better against ranked opponents, averaging 24.0 points and 8.3 assists with a 5.0 assist-to-turnover ratio and establishing his reputation as a "big-game" performer.
Asked where Ulis ranks among the players his team has faced this season, Indiana coach Tom Crean said: "I'm not sure on the ranking part. I just know he's really good... There is no question with the year that he's had he's going to be one of the better players that we faced.
"I don't really have a lot of comparisons that I would compare them to. I love coaching Yogi. I wouldn't trade him for anything, and he's gone up against a lot of great guards and led his team against a lot of great teams, especially this year."
The 6-foot Ferrell comes in with similar numbers, averaging 17.1 points, 5.7 assists and 1.2 steals per game while shooting 82 percent at the line and 42 percent from beyond the 3-point arc. He was exceptional in the Hoosiers' impressive 99-74 opening-round win over Chattanooga on Thursday, recording a double-double with 20 points and 10 assists.
"They both lead their teams," UK coach John Calipari said of the two floor generals. "Yogi is probably more of a perimeter shooter than Tyler, and I think Tyler has probably more of a mid-range game than Yogi. But I think they both play extremely hard, extremely smart, know how to create fouls, know how to turn down pick and rolls, know when to speed up their team and when to say, 'Hold up, guys, let's play basketball here.' They're both very, very good players"
While Ulis admitted that he's always been driven to prove himself against other highly-regarded players -- especially those bigger in physical stature to him -- he said Saturday's game will not be about his head-to-head matchup with Ferrell.
"It's not a one-on-one matchup. We've to prepare as a team," he said.
Ferrell agreed. "This is just us versus them... I don't get too hyped up in the matchup, go out, play the same we would have played all year, stick to our strengths, not try to do anything fancy, just try to go out there and get the win."