Menifield sparks Hogs prior to start of SEC play

Arkansas guard Keyon Menifield Jr. dribbles during an NCAA college basketball game on Saturday, Dec. 30, 2023, in Fayetteville, Ark. (UA Athletics)

As we step into the year 2024, I have to say I feel a bit better about where the Arkansas Razorbacks basketball team stands following their 106-90 defeat of North Carolina-Wilmington last Saturday.

Yes, one could moan and groan about the lack of defense in a game which the teams were just four points shy of combining for 200 points, but as one who still remembers the glory years of Nolan Richardson’s programs, I like high-scoring games as much as I enjoy knock-down, grind-it-out defensive tussles.

Variety is the spice of life.

The game was entertaining throughout despite the fact the Hogs (9-4) had control from around the midpoint of the first half until the final buzzer.

I’m not sure I would label it a complete game played by the Hogs, but it was certainly a solid performance, highlighted by an incredible 32-point scoring night by sophomore guard Keyon Menifield in just his third game as a Razorback. The Flint, Mich. native wasn’t just a scoring machine, though. He also had gathered 4 rebounds and dished out 5 assists. That combination garnered him SEC Player of the Week honors.

Razorback coach Eric Musselman said he was impressed that Menifield scored so prolifically within the flow of the game. He added that Menifield wasn’t hunting points. He just took what came his way and made the most of it by sinking 13 of his 17 free throws and hitting 8 of his 14 shots. That’s the efficient play Musselman has been seeking from his point guard all year.

Next up for the Razorbacks

Opponent: Auburn
When: 1 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 6
Where: Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville

Next 5 games

Jan. 10 – at Georgia, 8 p.m. (ESPN2/U)
Jan. 13 – at Florida, 4 p.m. (ESPN)
Jan. 16 – Texas A&M, 8 p.m. (SEC Network)
Jan. 20 – South Carolina, 12 p.m. (SEC Network)
Jan. 24 – at Ole Miss, 8 p.m. (ESPN2/U)

Now, we must understand as the Hogs get into SEC play this Saturday when the No. 25 Auburn Tigers visit Bud Walton Arena for a 1 p.m. contest that will be televised on ESPN2, Bruce Pearl and his Auburn staff will have scouted and game planned more for the Hogs and Menifield than UNC-Wilmington did.

Teams do scout and game-plan for non-conference games, but it’s much more intense and focused once league play begins. The Tigers won’t be caught off-guard by Menifield like the Seahawks may have been.

However, if more focus goes to Menifield that just opens the door for Traman Mark, Devo Davis and Khalif Battle in the backcourt and Trevon Brazile inside and out.

Menifield’s five assists is a solid night in anyone’s book, and at the pace the game was being played between all the foul calls, three turnovers isn’t too bad, either. He also defended without fouling which is a big plus at the point guard spot.

As a young player, Menifield will have his ups and downs, but it didn’t take long to see why he was voted to the Pac-12 All-Freshman team last year when he played for Washington.

If you want to do a bit of scouting for the Auburn game, the Tigers (10-2) play Penn (8-6) at 8 p.m. tonight on the SEC Network after Tennessee (9-3) hosts Norfolk State (9-6)

SEC Hoops Update

Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl reacts as a referee talks to him about a call during the second half of an NCAA basketball game against USC, Sunday, Dec. 17, 2023, in Auburn, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Trying to compare SEC teams going into league play can be difficult based on the schedules each team has played, but make no mistake the SEC is a strong league in 2024.

One might argue from top to bottom, it is as good as the league has ever been. This might be a year when eight to 10 SEC teams squeeze their way into the NCAA Tournament.

Here’s how the latests RPI ranks the SEC squads:

Tennessee (9-3) is No. 8, Ole Miss (13-0) is No. 21, South Carolina (12-1) is No. 22, Auburn (10-2) No. 27, Kentucky (10-2) No. 28, Mississippi State (11-2) No. 32., Alabama (8-5) No. 33., Texas A&M (9-4) No. 37, Georgia (10-3) No. 38, Florida (10-3) No. 63, Arkansas (9-4) No. 90, Missouri (8-5) No. 136, LSU (8-5) No. 196, Vanderbilt (5-8) No. 265.

It’s not good that Arkansas is No. 90 in the RPI, but it does mean that the Razorbacks have the chance to improve their RPI in just about every game they play this season by playing SEC squads ranked ahead of them.

From experience, we know that Muss tends to round his teams into what they are going to be by late January. Possibly the Razorbacks’ steady play against UNC-Wilmington is a signal that the team is coming together more quickly this year than in the past?

Either way, we will know a lot more about this Razorback squad this Saturday when they host Auburn and then next Wednesday when they take their first SEC road trip to Florida.

Bittersweet goodbye to K.J. Jefferson

Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson (1) passes with blocking from offensive lineman Brady Latham (62) against Texas A&M defensive lineman Walter Nolen (0) during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

It truly is a new day in college sports. The ability to transfer without having to sit out for a season one time in a player’s career, and then again after the player has graduated has changed the face of college football, particularly for a program like Arkansas’.

Every few days, it seems, we learn of a player coming or going. Sometimes it’s expected and sometimes it is a surprise.

Fans who follow the Razorbacks closely knew K.J. Jefferson would likely be moving on from Arkansas even before the season ended.

The way the Razorbacks’ 4-8 season played out, it just seemed like Jefferson, the holder of most of Arkansas’ career quarterbacking records, might want a change of environment and a fresh start.

With the hire of Bobby Petrino as Arkansas’ offensive coordinator, the Razorbacks’ offense probably wouldn’t suit Jefferson’s strengths any more than Dan Enos’ offense did.

The Razorback program and Jefferson just seemed to be moving in different directions.

For more than a week, it was rumored that Jefferson was going to take his talents to Central Florida and play for Gus Malzahn, and on New Year’s Day the word became “official” when K.J. announced his decision on Instagram.

As if my feelings or any other Razorback fans’ mattered in this situation, I do have mixed emotions about Jefferson’s departure.

Intellectually, I get that it probably is the best thing for him and Arkansas for him to move on.

However, it’s going to be difficult watching him quarterback Central Florida next season if he wins the Knight’s starting job.

Arkansas’ all-time leading passing yardage leader — among other records — chunking the ball for the Knights?

It just seems out of kilter. And what about down the road? How will the program and fans view Jefferson?

In 10 or 15 years, does K.J. get voted in the Razorbacks Hall of Honor after finishing his career with Central Florida?

I assume he will, but who knows?

After leaving Arkansas, would he even want to be in Arkansas’ Hall of Honor in the future?

I mean Barry Switzer played and was an assistant coach for the Razorbacks, but after the success he had as Oklahoma’s head coach, he certainly is more aligned with the Sooners today than the Hogs.

The same could have been said of Frank Broyles and Georgia Tech, where he was a three-sport star in the 1940s. However Broyles is mostly remembered for his work in building Arkansas into an impressive all-sports program during his tenure as athletics director after his landmark coaching career for the Hogs.

When Jefferson’s football career is over, will doors open for him in Arkansas like they have for past Razorback greats? Or will playing his final year for Central Florida cut off those relationships?

In a single season at Central Florida will Jefferson be able to make connections in Orlando, Fla. greater than the ties he cut at Arkansas, if they were cut?

Will he one day have the opportunities to work at the UA or for the Razorback Foundation like Quinn Grovey has?

I have no clue how to answer those questions. It’s a different world with the transfer rules that are in place now.

Some players transfer in and out before we really get a chance to appreciate them or they get to appreciate the benefits of being a Razorback.

Transferring has become so easy today that I hope the young men and women are truly thinking through their decisions before they make such a leap.