With the team sputtering out of the gates, Arkansas basketball is getting a much-needed midseason boost with Keyon Menifield Jr. entering the mix.
The transfer from Washington was originally set to redshirt this year because of an academic issue, but the UA announced Friday that he had received a waiver and would be eligible upon the conclusion of the fall semester.
This was finals week at Arkansas, so that means he’ll be able to suit up and play in the Razorbacks’ game against Lipscomb at Simmons Bank Arena in North Little Rock on Saturday.
“It has been a long process that we had to work through, but we are excited for Keyon and are proud of how he handled the process,” head coach Eric Musselman said in a statement. “Our staff and administration have worked hard to get this done and we appreciate their hard work. Keyon is an explosive point guard with great play-making ability.”
Menifield will maintain his walk-on status throughout the rest of the season.
Keyon Menifield at Washington
Listed at 6-foot-1, Keyon Menifield possesses the type of quickness and shot-making ability that could drastically improve an Arkansas offense that has been relatively inconsistent.
He is not necessarily a true point guard any more than players like El Ellis or Devo Davis might be, but he did average 3.1 assists as a true freshman at Washington last season, including 5.0 over his last six games.
Menifield does, however, provide another scoring punch to a Razorback squad that already has several capable individual offensive pieces. While players like Khalif Battle and Tramon Mark have had their fair share of scoring outbursts already this season, the overall lack of ball movement and consistent scoring as a team has been concerning to say the least.
Although he averaged just 10.0 points at Washington last season, Menifield scored 21 or more points five different times in his freshman season, including three times in his last 10 games – he averaged 13.0 points overall in that stretch.
He’s another capable 3-point shooter, hitting 33% of his long range attempts a season ago, including 10 games with multiple 3-pointers made. This isn’t an eye-popping percentage, but when combined with the other good offensive players on the Razorbacks’ roster, it’s more than serviceable – not to mention better than most players the Razorbacks have had over the last few seasons under Musselman.
How He Fits with Arkansas Basketball
The point guard position has been anything but steady so far this season for Arkansas, though El Ellis seemingly earned the nod early on due to his offensive arsenal and overall game experience. Layden Blocker didn’t take long to make his presence felt as a “glue guy” who defends opposing guards for 94 feet, crashes the offensive glass and generally makes winning basketball plays.
They’ve both had their ups and downs, but neither has been a consistent scorer or facilitator at this point in the season. Given the size of all three players – and considering Devo Davis, Khalif Battle and Tramon Mark will still be taking up the majority of minutes at the 2 and 3 positions – it might be unlikely to see two of Ellis, Blocker and Menifield on the court together for any extended stretches unless something like foul trouble or injury dictates otherwise.
Still, Menifield isn’t likely to step in and become a 30-minute-per-night starter on this team. He certainly could take over the starting role at some point, or even play the most minutes of the three point guards, but neither feels like the most likely scenario.
For starters, Menifield will have a slight adjustment period to get back into game-shape and gel with the other guys on the team in game situations. Fortunately, Musselman has noted a few times that Menifield has played a vital role in practices, mostly working on the scout team when preparing for games.
Once the Flint, Mich., native gets acclimated, he’ll still be in a position battle with guys like Ellis, Blocker, Davis and Battle for consistent minutes. Currently, no Razorback averages more than 2.6 assists per game, so his passing ability is much needed.
For Keyon Menfield to earn his way onto the court, he’ll have to prove at least one of two things: 1) that he’s a willing facilitator and a better option to distribute the ball than some of the other guards in contention or 2) that he’s the most consistent scorer of the point guard options due to his speed and shot-making ability.
The second point could lean heavily in Menifield’s favor considering the Hogs have not been able to consistently capitalize on fast break opportunities this year. They rank No. 93 in adjusted pace of play on the season, but Menifield is a quick guard who could easily bump the entire pace of play for the team with just his presence on the court.
Again, he’ll have to do a lot of other things well to beat out the other guards fighting for minutes, but his speed – and general shot-making ability – could open the door to him helping the Hogs in areas of need.
Does Menifield Help Defense Woes?
To be clear, Keyon Menifield is a huge addition to this roster and he holds the potential to help the Hogs in multiple areas of need, but it’s hard for any one player to join a roster nearly halfway through the season and change the entire trajectory of the team overnight. This adjustment will take time.
Arkansas has struggled mightily with defending the perimeter this season. Though Menifield did average 1.1 steals per game with the Huskies, he’s known much more for his offensive bursts than his defensive prowess.
His shiftiness should allow him to be a good defender in a good defensive system, but he’s not the type of player to step in and change the defensive identity of a team, either. Musselman has noted, though, that his team’s combination of too many fouls and not enough steals is an odd combination, so perhaps Menifield will help generate more fast break opportunities at the very least.
The Hogs still have a lot of work to do, both from a development and gameplan standpoint, but adding another explosive option to an already talented backcourt is certainly not a bad thing. Menifield holds the potential to be the spark Arkansas needs to get their season headed back in the right direction.
Check out some highlights of Keyon Menifield from his freshman year at Washington:
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