It’s hard to imagine a 6-foot-9-inch bruiser being the secret weapon of a basketball team in the Southeastern Conference.
Sophomore power forward Craig Victor II is no secret to those inside the LSU basketball program, but he is the team’s most physical weapon. With physicality comes fouls, and the structure of a two-half collegiate basketball game where a player usually has to sit after picking up two fouls in the first half doesn’t always favor a player who mixes it up on the low block.
LSU coach Johnny Jones’ job got a little easier when Victor became eligible after transferring from the University of Arizona, now the only task is finding a way to manage his intensity.
“Coach knows we’re a better team when I’m out there, I just believe he doesn’t want to risk it and have me pick up a third foul,” Victor said.
Victor, a New Orleans-native who spent a portion of his prep career at St. Augustine High School has been in Baton Rouge for a year since transferring from Arizona last year but was restricted to the practice floor until the Tigers took on Gardner-Webb University on December 16.
Victor wasted no time making his presence felt when he finally stepped on the court, scoring 10 or more points in nine of his first 10 games as a Tiger. His physical style of play has turned the Tigers into an entirely different team.
Southeastern Conference teams took notice of LSU’s secret weapon when it opened league play with an impressive win at Vanderbilt, who was picked to finish second in the SEC preseason media poll. Despite being in foul trouble for most of the game, Victor scored 11 points and grabbed six boards against the Commodores.
Three days later Victor gave fans in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center a show, posting a double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Tigers to an 85-67 victory over then-ranked No. 9 Kentucky.
SEC teams caught wind of the new-look Tigers after victories against the two teams picked to finish at the top of the conference before the season. Texas A&M made a concerted effort to disrupt LSU’s rhythm on both ends of the court by getting Victor in foul trouble.
Victor played just 23 minutes and picked up four personal fouls in the Tigers’ 57-71 loss to the Aggies on January 19.
Jones said the offense struggled to find good looks offensively when Victor wasn’t on the court.
“We did not have the post presence that we needed,” Victor said. “A lot of times when Craig Victor II is in there, there’s a read, whether he’s diving, getting to the block or staying high and setting screens.”
Victor said foul trouble won’t change the way he plays because it’s more about adjusting to the referees from game to game. It’s evident that the Tigers are a different team when Victor’s in the lineup and he’s more than aware of that.
Victor might not be a secret to SEC teams anymore but his focus is on staying in the game to remain a threat.
“I feel teams have looked at us when I’m not playing — before I started playing and looked at us as a totally different team when I’m on the court,” Victor said. “They feel that if they can take me out they have a better opportunity.”
Follow C.J. Rucker on Twitter @Ruckmatic.