NCAA Tournament 2010: Kentucky, Syracuse New Favorites With Kansas Gone

Jameson FlemingSenior Writer IMarch 21, 2010

NEW ORLEANS - MARCH 20:  Members of of the Kentucky Wildcats celebrate near the end of the game against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons during the second round of the 2010 NCAA men's basketball tournament at the New Orleans Arena on March 20, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

It shouldn't come as a shock that the other two no-brainers for No. 1 seeds, Kentucky and Syracuse are now the tournament favorites.

However, the events that led up to the tournament suggested that those two teams might be put on the backburner for West Virginia and Ohio State as the top picks after Kansas.

The Mountaineers and Buckeyes won their conference tournaments and looked like great candidates to pick up the final No. 1 seed in the tournament.

West Virginia ended up in Kentucky's bracket and became the trendy pick to reach the Final Four from the East Region.

It was just so easy to pick West Virginia.

Kentucky is inexperienced, inconsistent, and incoherent against a zone defense. The Wildcats rarely play a full 40 minutes of basketball.

Someone was just bound to beat this team. Texas with all that talent, Wake with that defense, Cornell with the Cinderella in it, or Wisconsin with that flex offense and slow tempo.

That no longer seems like the case.

Kentucky didn't pull a Kansas and struggle with its 16 seed. The Wildcats obliterated East Tennessee State.

Kentucky's second-round game set up to be a defining game for John Calipari's club.

Yes, Wake Forest had been struggling down the stretch, but the Demon Deacons found enough to beat Texas and have one of the best defenses in terms of forcing tough shots in college basketball.

If there was going to be a team that could frustrate Kentucky with its length and athleticism, Wake Forest was it.

It didn't matter though. Kentucky made Wake Forest run and gun which meant the Wildcats' near-perfect transition attack could operate at its finest. Kentucky struggled at times this year against defenses that made the 'Cats work for their shot.

Kentucky posting a 65.9 effective field goal percentage (that stat weights three-pointers) is outright ridiculous.

Kentucky is operating as efficiently as it has all season. With a Cornell team two steps into completing a replication of Davidson's 2008 run, the Wildcats must and will maintain that against Cornell.

Kentucky isn't the only one seed playing some of its best basketball suddenly.

Entering the tournament, Syracuse looked like it may be the first one seed to go out in the dance. Between a suddenly inept two-point defense and Arinze Onuaku's absence (which should only exacerbate that problem), the Orange looked prone to an upset.

What's clear now is Wes Johnson playing through injury for the majority of the Big East schedule was more important to the Orange than Onuaku's mysterious quad problem.

Following the Orange's first disaster against Louisville, I wrote that Johnson must be a superstar for this team to win in March.

When teams prevent the Orange from running, things can get stagnant in the half-court offense because Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph have been the only players to be able to create their own shot, but those two players are still developing their offensive games as sophomores.

Johnson isn't the greatest at putting the ball on the floor, but he's got a good first dribble, which allows him to pull up and shoot against anybody.

Now that he's healthy, those shots are falling and Johnson is finally aggressive. Throughout the season, Jim Boeheim essentially complained that the Iowa State transfer wasn't taking it upon himself to take over games.

Johnson dropped 31 points against Gonzaga and took four shots in the opening minutes. It was clear from the beginning that the offense, if it hit a rut, would run through Johnson.

The first weekend made three things clear: The overwhelming favorite is gone, Kentucky is playing a full 40 minutes of basketball, and Syracuse has its much-needed superstar.

When you're filling out your second chance pools (because clearly everyone needs to after the chaos of the opening two rounds), don't be afraid to go chalk and take Kentucky against Syracuse.

For more updates on college basketball, follow @JamesonFleming on Twitter. Jameson will be in Syracuse covering the East Regionals and later in Indianapolis covering the Final Four for Bleacher Report .