Could Keyon Menifield’s Redshirt Year Be Layden Blocker’s Big Break?

Layden Blocker, Keyon Menifield, Arkansas basketball
photo credit: Arkansas Athletics

FAYETTEVILLE — Keyon Menifield, a transfer from Washington, will not play for Arkansas basketball in 2023-24, according to his profile on the official UA website.

The 6-foot-1 guard’s profile states he will redshirt for the Razorbacks this season. According to sources, the move stems from an academic issue and he won’t be on scholarship this year.

Considering he hadn’t redshirted at Washington, where he earned Pac-12 All-Freshman accolades by averaging 10.0 points and 3.1 assists in his lone season, Menifield will still have three years of eligibility to use at Arkansas – they’ll just begin in 2024-25 instead of this coming season.

He was expected to provide a scoring punch this year, either as a starter or off the bench, but him not being available doesn’t mean the Razorbacks are without talent. They return a handful of key pieces from last year’s Sweet 16 team, plus added a heralded transfer portal class and signed a pair of high four-star recruits in Layden Blocker and Baye Fall.

Even without Menifield, Arkansas basketball is widely projected to be a preseason top-25 team that could be borderline top-10 when the season rolls around.

While the expectations aren’t likely to change, being without the dynamic scorer from Washington in 2023-24 will have a ripple effect on the Razorbacks…

Impact on the Arkansas Basketball Roster

When the Razorbacks secured a commitment from Memphis transfer Chandler Lawson late last month, many headlines focused on how he essentially finished off their roster for the upcoming season.

After all, he was the 13th scholarship player pledged for 2023-24, which is the NCAA limit. Confirmation from the UA earlier this week that Baye Fall was on campus and practicing with the team seemed to further solidify that belief.

However, that changed with Friday’s news about Keyon Menifield. Arkansas basketball once again has a scholarship to play with, but a source has indicated to Best of Arkansas Sports that it won’t be open for long.

Exactly how the Razorbacks plan to fill it remains to be seen, but the timing of Menifield’s status change limits their options. Most high-level players in the transfer portal have already found new homes and Eric Musselman has shown he’s not afraid to go through a season with just 12 scholarship players, as that’s what he did his first year in Fayetteville.

Another thing Arkansas could do is use the scholarship on one of its two walk-ons: Cade Arbogast and Lawson Blake. However, choosing one or the other might be difficult because they have very similar roles. Both only play in the closing minutes/seconds of blowouts – which totaled 13 minutes in nine appearances for each of them last season.

Finally, one name to watch is Denijay Harris, a transfer from Southern Miss. He is a 6-foot-7 forward whose name has been connected to the Razorbacks since backing out of his commitment to New Mexico State last month.

Harris started 43 games for the Golden Eagles over the last three years and is coming off his best season yet, averaging 8.9 points and 5.6 rebounds in 24.2 minutes. He has yet to announce his future plans, but Jalen Graham recently tagged him in an Instagram post.

What it Means for Arkansas Basketball’s Rotation

It’s unlikely that a single player will fill the role Keyon Menifield would have had, but there appears to be a clear frontrunner to be the biggest beneficiary of him not playing in 2023-24.

All signs pointed toward freshman Layden Blocker having somewhat of an uphill battle to playing time given the announcement of several incoming transfer guards including Menifield, Tramon Mark from Houston, Khalif Battle from Temple, El Ellis from Louisville and even Jeremiah Davenport from Cincinnati.

Before Friday, Menifield – an explosive young guard who previously played at Washington – was a strong candidate to earn a starting job. The news of him redshirting significantly increases Blocker’s chances of earning meaningful minutes this season.

Breaking down the potential backcourt a bit further, Davenport is a combo guard/forward who is more likely to soak up minutes at the three and four, but the other three are experienced ball handlers – and most will be fighting for starting backcourt positions alongside returning combo guard Davonte Davis.

At the moment, Mark seems like the most likely candidate to start alongside Davis in the backcourt. He’s listed at 6-foot-6 and has a plus-wingspan that allows him to defend multiple positions. Toss in his high left-handed shooting release and streaky scoring outputs, and Arkansas basketball fans might think they’re seeing double when he shares the court with Davis.

The other backcourt starting spot, however, remains up for debate. Mitchell and Brazile seem likely to start in the front court, but Musselman could certainly opt for a smaller, faster lineup consisting of another big wing/forward like Battle or Lawson to go alongside Brazile.

Either way, that leaves the one guard position open – Davis is more of a shooting guard, but he could shift into more of a point guard role should Musselman decide to start him alongside a duo like Mark and Battle. Again, Menifield was a strong candidate to earn that final starting spot, but now it feels like more of a two-man race between Ellis and Blocker.

Ellis has two years of experience leading Louisville – including averaging 17.7 points for a subpar Cardinals team last season – so it’s reasonable to expect him to have the upper hand over a true freshman coming into training camp. However, Blocker had an impressive high school campaign, showing off promising flashes of defense and facilitating along with an ever-improving outside shot. It’s easy to see a path for Blocker to become a better defender than Ellis – and as we all know, Musselman values defense greatly, especially in his guards.

Even if Blocker does end up in a backup role behind a more experienced guard like Ellis, it’s a distinct possibility that Blocker’s game impresses enough to make it difficult to keep him off the court, especially now that Menifield is no longer an option in the Arkansas backcourt.

Worst-case scenario, Blocker now has a prime opportunity to step into a backup role early in the season and work his way into rotation minutes – similar to what we saw from Davis in 2020-21. Best-case scenario, Blocker could impress from the jump in training camp and see himself as a Day 1 starter alongside an otherwise experienced group of Razorbacks.

Check out some highlights of Layden Blocker here:

What it Means for Keyon Menifield

Keyon Menifield came to Arkansas as a heralded transfer portal prospect and likely had expectations of getting a chance to prove himself. Unfortunately, that won’t happen this season – but that doesn’t mean Menifield’s time as a Razorback is over.

In fact, the last time Musselman brought a guard into the program who had to redshirt for one season, he ended up making an All-SEC first team during his time in Fayetteville. That guard’s name was JD Notae. Menifield has a different style of game than Notae, but he is still a smaller, explosive guard capable of getting hot in a hurry on the offensive side of the ball.

Having to watch from the sidelines is sure to be frustrating in any situation, but Menifield now has a unique opportunity that not many transfers get in the modern era of free transfers. The second-year guard now has a chance to sit back and learn from Musselman and the entire staff while watching the Razorbacks’ system both in practice and real-game settings for an entire season – while being more likely to maintain his health and add strength – before putting his talent to the test on the court the following season.

Of course, it would be nice to have Menifield available now, but it seems as though the Arkansas backcourt has enough depth to potentially cover for his absence. Who knows what the situation will be like next season, though?

Given his recent track record, it feels likely that Musselman will flip nearly his entire roster each offseason to bring in the best talent available in the portal, but the 2022-23 season showed just how much a lack of experience can hurt a team.

Musselman already responded by bringing back five players from last year’s squad this summer – the most ever since he’s been at Arkansas. Having Menifield available to return next season, with an entire year of Musselman’s system under his belt, to run the offense in place of likely departing players like Davonte Davis, El Ellis and Tramon Mark could wind up being a luxury for the Razorbacks in 2024-25.


Andrew Hutchinson contributed to this report.


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