Welcome to the surprise offseason. No one expected the season to be completely over this early as recently as, well, 24 hours ago. It is a reality, however, and one we have to deal with.
Part of that reality is looking forward to the 2020-21 season. I guess, technically, Purdue will still be riding a streak of five straight NCAA Tournaments and three straight Sweet 16s. We even get to feel like the season is a bit of a mulligan. Purdue loses only two front line players in Jahaad Proctor and Evan Boudreaux. I tend to think that they will be replaced by Brandon Newman and Mason Gillis, too. Other than them and walk-on Tommy Luce, everyone is back.
16-15 and the fringe of the NCAA Tournament (at best) isn’t the goal though. Purdue is a program where each season an NCAA Tournament bid is expected at minimum. After three straight seasons in the second weekend of the tournament and in the Big Ten race until the final day of the regular season we were a bit spoiled. To get back to that level everyone has something to work on. So let’s take a player-by-player look at what each player needs to work on this offseason, starting with #55 Sasha Stefanovic
Sasha Stefanovic – Redshirt junior in 2020-21
2018-19 Stats: 36 Games played, 0 starts. 11.5 mpg, 2.5 ppg, 1.1 rpg, 0.4 apg, 39% FG, 41% 3FG, 35.7% FT
2019-20 Stats: 30 Games played, 22 starts. 26.4 mpg, 9.1 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 1.7 apg, 38.5% FG, 38.3% 3FG, 81.6% FT Team leader in 3-pointers, attempts and percentage (64 of 167).
With the departure of Ryan Cline, Sasha stepped into a much larger role in 2019-20. When he came to Purdue there was a pretty clear lineage of Dakota Mathias to Cline to Sasha. That is likely why Sasha redshirted in 2017-18 and given how Cline finished in 2019-20 it would have been nice, in retrospect, to have him back this year after an early redshirt.
If you look at their numbers, however, Sasha is on par or even slightly better than Cline and Mathias at the same time. In Cline’s second season he averaged 5.4 points in a little over 21 minutes per night. He shot 42.5% from the floor and 41.3% from three (shooting almost exclusively from three). Mathias in his second season was only playing 19 minutes per game and 38.6% from three at 5.5 points per game.
Twice this year he saved the season with monster threes (vs. Minnesota and at Northwestern). He was close to two more with the late miss at Wisconsin and his heroics getting trumped by Geo Baker against Rutgers. One thing that separates Sasha from Mathias and especially Cline is that he gets to the free throw line a lot more and drives a lot more. Sasha was 40 of 49 from the line this year, while in year two Cline was a mere 5 of 6 and Mathias was 19 of 22.
It seems like, the same as much of Purdue’s team, Sasha needs consistency. One needs only look at the two games against Rutgers to see his extremes. In Piscataway he was 0 for 5 from the floor and held scoreless. In West Lafayette he hit five threes and had 22 points. As Purdue’s top three-point option we can’t afford him to go 0-fer. Purdue only won twice when Sasha did not hit a three: at Ohio and at home against Indiana. He did hit 6 and had 20 points in the win over Virginia, had 7 and 23 in the win over Central Michigan, and hit five in the home win over Iowa.
I also think that, like Cline and Mathias, Sasha will excel when the rest of the offense opens things up for him. They thrived because they had other players as primary scorers drawing attention away from them, leaving open looks. Having Trevion Williams as a great passer out of the post also helps a lot.
I’d love to see him make a similar jump that Mathias did in year three. That year Dakota added four points per game and hit 45% from three while also handing out. 3.8 assists. Is a 45% FG-45% 3FG -90% FT club a possibility for Sasha? He also has a penchant for hitting the big shot when needed, so he can be the go-to guy there.
Sasha will likely begin the season as Purdue’s starting No. 2 or No. 3. He will stay in the lineup as long as he can consistently knock down the open three. If he continues to progress along the Cline-Mathias track that would be great.