Menifield and Mark: Arkansas’ Newfound Backcourt

As with the transfer portal, Eric Musselman and his staff never rests. Easter Sunday has since come and gone, but the day didn’t end without Arkansas receiving a fantastic Easter basket. While there was smoke days prior, Houston transfer Tramon Mark became a Razorback. Holding a final list also including Texas A&M, Florida, and Kansas State, they didn’t make the cut. The 6-5 combo guard will have three more years of eligibility despite already completing three seasons with the Cougars. Mark is also taking part in the NBA draft process as it stands. 

As far as rankings go, Mark is a four-star on a handful of different services. 247 Sports thinks the highest of the Dickinson, TX native as he ranks 15th out of over 1300 listed transfers. Switching over to On3, Mark is rated at the 45th best player and still a four-star. As far as stats fall, let’s dive in there. Mark’s best attributes come on the defensive end, but he has been building on his offensive game. 

Last season he averaged 10.1 PPG on 39% shooting. Taking on more three-point attempts, he cashed in 32.8% and was also a solid free throw shooter. He averaged 4.9 rebounds per game with an above average number of offensive boards. Passing the ball around some, he finished with 1.8 assists per game and a 1.48 assist to turnover ratio. Those numbers stem from playing in all 37 games for the Cougars this season.

Despite the hype of Mark becoming a Hog, he isn’t the only fish Musselman has reeled in. Less than a week ago, Washington point guard Keyon Menifield was the first to join the fold. While less experienced than the likes of Mark, one point guard hole left by Nick Smith Jr. was filled. Menifield also brings an entirely different style to the court than his now teammate. While not known as a shooter, the offensive awareness of Menifield is high, especially considering his youth. 

The rankings for the former Husky are also closely related when it comes down to 247 Sports and On3. Rated just inside the top 25 at number 24, On3 is the site with higher regards for the point guard. Over on 247 Sports, their portal rankings has him rated number 32 out of the same number of transfers mentioned prior. 

Looking at Menifield’s stats from last season, his points per game finalized at 10.0 while shooting 41.0/33.0/69.8 from the field, three-point line, and charity stripe. He also picked up 3.1 assists, 2.9 rebounds, and 1.1 steals per game. 

While Mark projects as a definite starter with Menifield’s purpose up in the air, the question becomes what the pair can bring to Musselman’s team. Looking at their game individually, both players have areas to improve upon, but hold key abilities to fit the Musselman mold. Beginning with the newest commit, let’s look at what Tramon Mark brings as a new piece for Muss.

Tramon Mark’s Style

Mark comes in noted as a secondary ball handler with a high defensive efficiency. One could just leave it at that. Alternatively, when peeking at his offensive game, the first initial glance may suggest there isn’t a whole lot to like. His most targeted weak point lies in shots off the dribble and beyond the arch. While it seemed as if some of Arkansas’ shooters struggled with shot selection this season, that is also where Mark falters at a great clip. 

Looking over at stats provided by KenPom, Mark’s poor shot selection is reflected by 0.89 expected points per shot. Considering he wasn’t asked to be a volume scorer, beyond the arch wasn’t nearly as detrimental as shots taken off the dribble. Sitting at a 39% EFG (effective field goal) off the dribble, it truly comes down to his shot selection. The positive surrounding his general weaknesses is that both can be addressed early on under Musselman. That’s generally where his weaknesses end and the positives begin to build. 

Staying on the offensive end, Mark has excelled as a midrange shooter and only improved since his freshman season. As a lefty, shooting from the left elbow has been highly prioritized and successful for the guard. Matter of fact, the left elbow is where Mark took the majority of his shots a year ago. Taking 20% of his 328 field goal attempts from that spot, he cashed in on 52% of his looks. While not nearly as great of a clip from the right elbow, he still took 14% of his shots from that spot. Those numbers were due mainly to much higher spot-up success than contested shots off the dribble. With his love for slashing combined with his midrange prowess, it should remind you of a recent Hog. Ricky Council IV officially moving on with his career, a lot of Mark’s tendencies reflect those brought by Council. 

To fit right in with the high ball-screen offense run by Musselman, that is another one of Mark’s strong suits. As a ball-screen handler, he fell in the 83rd percentile in points per possession (PPP) as a part of coach Sampson’s squad. When faced with taking the ball to the rack as the ball handler, he averaged 0.94 PPP.

Combining both offensive aspects of his spot-up rate and handling the ball on screens, it has allowed his vision to flourish a number of times. While his assist numbers aren’t through the roof, his 1.8 per game stems from an 11% assist rate. Many of his assists come from drives that result in feeds above the rim or dump offs underneath, often to his screening teammate. His success from the elbows and within can be accredited toward fear often occurring with the opposition off screens. 

Shifting gears to his defensive capabilities, there are a few notes. As a member of a team that ranked fifth in defensive efficiency, Mark held a rating of 91.3 which ranked third among his Houston Cougars. At 6-5, his length and wingspan are often used to pester ball handlers above the three-point line and driving to the hoop. That length has also come in handy on the defensive boards as he posted a 13.6% rate for the season and over 16% in the final ten games of the season. 

Looking away from stats, Mark is a matchup nightmare for plenty of players at the one, two, and even three. In some cases he can match up with the four with little decrease in success. With Devo Davis’ future in question having put his name in the draft pool, Mark’s defensive prowess will need to translate to year four. That’s the case especially if Devo decides to move on.

Keyon Menifield’s Style

Switching styles and players, Menifield is coming in after a season where he started 21 games as Washington’s primary point guard. With many guards on the roster getting injured, Menifield was asked to be the energy guy to take their place. The thing is, once he found the floor, he made it tough for coach Hopkins to bump his minutes back down. While high energy is one thing, having that translate into offense and defense is another. 

Menifield’s offensive game may not have produced a ton of points while at Washington, but there are a bunch of positives that fall in line with Musselman’s style. The initial aspect of his offensive game that shows up on tape is his want to get to the basket. Even at his size of 6-1 and 170 pounds, it wasn’t something that slowed him down in Seattle. Of his 295 field goal attempts, 35% of them came at the rim. Combined with his patience on drives, it produced a 57% clip near the basket. Seen mainly with Muss’ use of players such as J.D Notae and Mason Jones, having a primary ball handler love getting downhill is a key component of his teams. While adding weight is currently a concern, it will only improve the desire to storm the rim once achieved.

While his slashing style is most prominent, he can truly score from anywhere on the floor. That was most evident with his three-point shooting ability. Despite not getting the green light all that often (just taking 106 threes on the season), he took advantage, especially on the wings. From the left and right wings combined, he took 29% of his field goals and shot 30.5% from those locations. Despite those strong spots, much like Mark, he also owns a 0.89 expected points per possession which reflects a developing shot selection.

As a player that had multiple 50-point games in his high school career, Menifield came in as a respected shooter. Realizing he owned that respect from the opposition, it allowed him to become a stellar passer. As a member of the Pac-12 Freshman team, he held the highest assist to turnover ratio (1.8) among freshmen. Owning a 23% assist rate, he has developed a knack of reading the floor off ball-screens and beyond the arch. Seen most strongly in his game is his passing above the rim. When attracting just a hair of extra attention from a second defender, oftentimes they pay for their mistakes. Especially put on display in his 27-point outing against Oregon, his alley-oop passing accuracy is something to marvel at. 

There are many more aspects of his offensive game that flash so much potential, but the weaknesses are highlighted on the defensive side. None of which come by way of lacking effort. As mentioned previously, being just 170 pounds, many guards took advantage of his small frame. While it is something that is just taken in stride, Menifield is often bodied by bigger guards. That’s something that will be inescapable in Fayetteville as well. Clearly Arkansas feels strongly about their defensive support cast to make up for the times Menifield will fall short. 

In times where physicality might be too much for him to handle, he does have elite quickness to make up for it in some cases. Coming in handy outside the paint, his respectable length plus the speed has produced a 2.3% steal rate. It will also be a huge aspect of how often Arkansas likes to pump the tempo. With the biggest improvements coming in the transition between year one and year two, it will be exciting to see if Menifield can become a more consistent all-around point that Arkansas fans have been yearning for. If he wants to start, improvement will be a demand.

The Layden Blocker Angle

That’s when the plot gets slightly thicker. As part of the freshman pair including fellow five-star Baye Fall, Layden Blocker isn’t coming in to ride the pine. Rated as one of the best point guards in the 2023 class – before the Menifield addition – there was a great chance Blocker could be the starter come next season. As mentioned in an article previously, Layden carries a lot of the same positives that Menifield in fact brings to the table. 

Carrying above average speed coming out of high school, he has a knack for charging the rim and creating havoc on fast breaks. Outside the paint, he has the knowledge to pick his spots and be a spot-up shooter, but lacks success from the arch. Blocker, while still developing as a newer point guard, he was doing it to the tune of a 3.8 assist to turnover ratio. With all of those aspects sounding much like those in play from Menifield, Blocker holds the athletic advantage. 

While the battle will likely take place during this offseason, the proposition of all three playing can be thrown into the circle. Unfortunately, I don’t see that being the case outside of small ball situations. Mark being a lock as a secondary guard and ball handler placed at the three would put two primary ball handlers on the floor together. That would leave none to come off the bench. That’s the negative result, not that they couldn’t play together, but there wouldn’t be a second-team primary point.

Now, Musselman didn’t shy away from utilizing Nick Smith and Anthony Black – two point guards – on the floor together. The issue came when one or both of them got into fatigue or foul trouble, casting duties to Devo Davis and the like. With all signs pointing to Temple wing Khalif Battle joining the squad from the portal, that would certainly lock off the three spot, pushing hope for Mark as a three away. Add that to the list of why not to move forward with the idea.

All things considered, just prepare for one of them to start the majority of games and the other to play a valuable role, potentially as the sixth man. The experience of Menifield could get the better of Blocker to start the season, but Blocker has the ability to take over at any point as he garners experience at the SEC level. At Washington, Menifield gaining experience while being a ball of energy is what earned him 21 starts. That could end up being the case that earns Blocker some early starts. 

An even bigger wrench that could be thrown into the ring is the silence coming from the Anthony Black camp. With no peep of an announcement to take on the NBA draft to this point, things are beginning to feel a little sideways. If the minute chance that he returns becomes reality, then throw out any argument that was just placed on the table. That being said, with the additions of Blocker and now Menifield, it feels as if Muss has prepared for his inevitable departure. All I suggest to Arkansas fans is buckle up and watch Musselman continue to work his magic outside of his now reestablished backcourt of the future.