Terrill Weil

COLUMN: With Victor gone, LSU needs to see what's in frontcourt cupboard

Combination of Sims, Epps, Robinson and Bridgewater has to find a groove to compensate for losing savvy veteran big man

Wayde Sims, you are invited to jump off the learning curve now and into the frying pan.

Aaron Epps, it’s time to get tougher, cleaner with the ball and more consistent on both ends of the court.

Elbert Robinson, you are 7-foot-1 tall, get five fouls a game and have a chance to be a force on the backboards and as a post passer.

And Brian Bridgewater, whether it’s 3 minutes at a time or however long, now is finally your time.

There’s no proof that any of the above statements have been uttered (yet), but with LSU’s roster suddenly with a major hole punched in it after reliable veteran Craig Victor II was dismissed earlier this week, maybe some or all of the above should be part of come-to-Jesus chats between the Tigers’ coaches and their reserve big men.

Because an LSU season already on wobbly legs is suddenly sitting there like that stray thread on a new sweater that you don’t want to tug on because you know the unraveling might lead to an undesired ending.

Victor filled a lot of roles for LSU, some measurable, some intangible. The Tigers got better when he returned from a suspension that cost him the first three games and a limited role for three more. He was an effective post scorer who could step out and hit mid-range shots, he had streaks of rebounding ferocity and Victor injected a mean streak the Tigers have lacked at times.

Now, just like that, the New Orleans native is gone and that stings.

LSU coach Johnny Jones insisted that Victor’s release wasn’t a distraction after his team lost to Vanderbilt 96-89 on Thursday. That’s the right thing to say. But it was clear the suddenness of Victor’s departure had an effect.

One game of feeling dazed and confused is understandable. It’s time to regroup and move forward and that’s where the imagined heart-to-hearts need to come into play.

To be clear, none of the four players mentioned above can replace Victor alone. Epps is the readiest in terms of experience, but he isn’t nearly as polished. Sims has the most potential – perhaps even more than Victor – but lacks experience. Robinson and Bridgewater are career role players.

So this is definitely a by-committee operation, at least in the beginning, and that should generate a high level of competition.

Sims made the biggest splash in Victor’s initial raw absence with 14 points, bolstered by 4-for-6 shooting from 3-point range. The 6-foot-7 freshman is smaller than Victor and not nearly as physically filled-out, which is why Jones wanted him to operate as a wing this season. Under the circumstances, though, Sims may need to turn back the clock and go back inside and bang like he did during a spectacular five-year career at University High in LSU’s back yard.

Epps gives the Tigers a second slender 6-foot-11 big man capable if impacting the game on both ends and he is a better shooter than Victor from 15 feet out. His issues have always been whether he can do the job on defense without fouling, a lack of rebounding contributions at time and being strong with the ball in traffic.

Robinson has been enigmatic from the day he stepped on campus: A hulking human who struggles to keep his massive frame under 300 pounds, but one who seems intent on using finesse more than power. While Robinson has to be something of a scoring threat, if he can get to a point where his horsing the glass and finding open teammates from the high post, his scoring total is lagniappe.

Then there’s Bridgewater. Regarded as a diamond-in-the-rough recruit when he signed with LSU out of nearby Scotlandville, the thickly built 6-4½ senior can be a mismatch in both directions because he has surprising quickness and a knack for coming up with lunch pail plays, but he is just too short to be a serious force inside on defense. Injuries have persistently derailed his chance to get on the court and stay there, but giving the Tigers 3-6 energetic minutes a game would be huge at this point.

There are options for Jones and his coaches, but they also need to concoct some alternative methods to compensate for Victor’s absence.

LSU can play four out, one-in at times – especially with gritty veteran guard Branden Jenkins back in the mix. The Tigers need to play more zone defense when Robinson is involved because he occupies a ton of space and would be less susceptible to pick-and-roll breakdowns. That means coaches preaching that sermon and players leaving their egos behind and buying in.

And there is always the possibility of committing more to full-court pressure with so many guards who have shown a knack for effective defensive pressure. At this point, LSU is giving up way too many points as it is, so why not try to turn that glaring deficiency into some value?

Victor’s dismissal is a serious blow to whatever hopes LSU had of remaining competitive in an SEC that has plenty of chances for wins if the Tigers can find their stride. But losing Victor doesn’t have to be a season destroyer if one or preferably two of the big men waiting in the wings seizes the opportunity to become a reliable starter.

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