Time For West Virginia to Make a Big Change

Morgantown, West Virginia – Let me preface this by saying that Jimmy Bell, Jr. has exceeded expectations. He lost a ton of weight, he’s got into good shape, he has played hard and done far better than predicted. While he only averages 5.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game this season, he has been a central cog for the West Virginia interior and has given outstanding effort each and every game.

With that said, Jimmy Bell is not the best player at his position on the West Virginia Mountaineers right now. That honor belongs to James Okonkwo, an emerging star for the Mountaineers, who has clearly demonstrated that he’s ready to be the team’s starting center.

Okonkwo, a 6’8 240 sophomore from England, plays much larger than his 6’8 frame and has recently taken his game to the next level. Last Saturday against Oklahoma, Okonkwo really broke out, scoring a career-high 10 points and pulling down 10 rebounds in only 14 minutes of play. In West Virginia’s 76-71 win over #11 ranked Iowa State, Okonkwo had 4 points, 9 rebounds and 3 block shots in 14 minutes.  In comparison, Jimmy Bell scored 1 point and had 3 rebounds in 15 minutes against Oklahoma and 2 points, 4 rebounds and 1 block in 24 minutes of play against Iowa State.

Although Bell is a capable center in the Big 12, Okonkwo is clearly the better offensive player and a superior defensive player of the two, and he has earned his opportunity to get more minutes and start at center for the Mountaineers.

While it doesn’t ultimately matter who starts the game, Okonkwo is getting less minutes than Bell and that is a problem. Okonkwo is a game-changer, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, and although Bob Huggins has always been hesitant to make lineup changes, this is an obvious adjustment that would make a huge difference as the team enters the most important part of the season.