Michigan State basketball: Coveted transfer Tyson Walker is the PG Spartans need to rebound next season
After a three-year run atop the B1G standings, Michigan State took a step back in a disappointing 2020-21 campaign under Tom Izzo.
Like most teams this season, the Spartans juggled the stress and complications of playing through a pandemic. That included a midseason outbreak among the Michigan State program and a lengthy pause to basketball activities. Fortunately, the team responded down the stretch to sneak into the NCAA Tournament before a First Four exit in a loss to UCLA.
Despite those complications, the disappointing season cannot be blamed on anything but Michigan State’s play on the court. Even before the pause, the Spartans lost on the road to Northwestern and blew a huge second-half lead in a loss to Purdue.
One of the issues for Michigan State this year was the lack of elite point guard play, a staple for great Izzo-led squads. For the past four years, that role belonged to Cassius Winston with his departure leaving a huge void heading into 2020.
Izzo and company entered the year with Rocket Watts and Foster Loyer both attempting to establish themselves as the leading point guard. Unfortunately, neither was able to hold down the role all season long with both taking turns in the starting lineup – along with freshman A.J. Hoggard – before Loyer’s season-ending shoulder surgery.
To their credit, both Watts and Loyer brought a different element to the starting lineup. Watts thrives as a slasher and scorer but was not as adept as a facilitator, lending him to serve more as a combo guard sparkplug. For Loyer, he did a better job getting other players involved but struggled to score and shooting the ball this season.
Without a true point guard that was able to create his own shot and effectively distribute the ball, the Spartan offense found itself in too many stagnant stretches during the year. It evolved into Aaron Henry operating with the ball in his hands a lot while leading the team in scoring (15.4) and assists (3.6).
With such a glaring need heading into the 2021 offseason, Izzo turned to the transfer portal and landed Northeastern guard Tyson Walker on Saturday. And with the addition of Walker, there’s every reason to believe the Spartans can find their way back towards the top of the B1G standings in 2021-22.
Walker told ESPN’s Jeff Borzello that the biggest thing he brings to the Spartans will be his ability to get people open shots. While he also realizes his scoring will come down a bit with the Spartans, Walker believes his assists will be a big factor as Michigan State looks to compete next season:
“They’ve been talking to me since I went into the portal,” Walker told ESPN about Michigan State. “They talk to me about every day. Just what they have and what they need. They’re ready to win a championship. I’m the missing piece.
“It caught me by surprise, [Tom Izzo’s] personality. We built a good relationship over the phone and through Zooms. What they were missing this year was a point guard.”
Along with the addition of Walker, Michigan State currently stands to get a lot of minutes back on the court heading into next season. Joshua Langford was the only senior to play for the Spartans this year. And even Langford has the opportunity to return for another season due to the NCAA’s blanket waiver.
Beyond Langford, the only other key player that would appear likely to move on is Aaron Henry. He mulled the possibility of leaving for the NBA before returning for his junior season. After everything that happened in 2020, it is certainly possible he decides to come back for his senior year.
Second-leading scorer Joey Hauser, along with key players in Watts, Gabe Brown, Malik Hall, Julius Marble, and Marcus Bingham all seem likely to return to East Lansing. Add in the 2021 recruiting class that includes five-star shooting guard Max Christie and it is entirely possible that Walker proves to be the missing piece needed for Michigan State.
After an inconsistent run at point guard for the Spartans last season, it’s up to Walker to stabilize things moving forward. Hopefully, it pays off with a deep run in March after an early exit this season.