Friday Sweet 16 preview: Oklahoma vs. Syracuse
After my single prediction yesterday, I'm back for more. This one's a little more visual.
(2) Oklahoma vs. (3) Syracuse - South Regional, Memphis
Syracuse and Oklahoma have had different "shapes" to their season. A graph of the total net efficiency margin (NEM) over the entire season shows the performance trend from a tempo-free, opponent-independent viewpoint. These graphs use a 5-game moving average to smooth the values and make the trends more obvious.
Syracuse played at a relatively flat 20 or so NEM through their first 27 (D-1) games. Starting with their February 24 win at St. John's, the Orange have stepped up their game to a phenomenal 36.2 NEM. That includes, of course, their epic Big East tournament run and 6-OT win over Connecticut. While the graph shows they've dropped bit from their peak around game 32, they're still playing at a 30+ NEM level.
The graph breaking down the offensive and defensive NEM shows that while the offense started the run, they've also turned up the defense. (Smaller defensive NEM values are better.)
On the other hand Oklahoma has been relatively consistent offensively throughout the season. The Sooners' defense is another story, and the D has driven the inconsistency in their overall play. I've already written about the effect of Blake Griffin's absence. However, the graph shows that the recent downward trend started around the January 31 game at Iowa State (game 22), several games before Griffin's injury.
The offensive/defensive breakdown shows despite some improvement defensively, the offense has largely driven the recent downward trend. The Sooners' ball handling is largely to blame - in their last 11 games, they've coughed it up in 21.8% of their possessions, after only doing so 18.3% of the time before.
It all comes down to whether the recent Syracuse hot stretch can continue, or whether Oklahoma, led by likely NPOY Blake Griffin, can remain consistent on offensive and find just enough defense to slow Jonny Flynn and company.