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Pressure shifts to Tom Izzo with Tyson Walker’s return

With a loaded roster, the pressure is now on Tom Izzo.

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Tyson Walker
© Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK

With Tyson Walker announcing his return to Michigan State for one final season, the pressure shifts to Tom Izzo.

Tyson Walker is back. The senior guard announced his decision to exercise his extra year of eligibility on Monday. Retaining Walker is as big of an announcement as flipping a five-star high school player or signing an all-conference player out of the transfer portal.

Walker has shown steady improvement during his two seasons at MSU after transferring from Northeastern. He has always been a good defender and shooter, but his development as a passer and a more aggressive scorer last season were signs of bigger things to come. Unfortunately for Walker and the Spartans, their season ended right before it felt like Walker was ready to take college basketball by storm.

With another offseason of work and improved talent on the roster, it’s not impossible to see Walker finishing his MSU career on par with other guards like Kalin Lucas, Denzel Valentine, and Cassius Winston.

Now, the pressure shifts to Tom Izzo.

It’s going to be on Izzo to manage this roster – along with Tyson Walker – to get the most out of this group. The 2023-24 Michigan State basketball team sets up quite differently than the teams of the past three seasons. Unlike those teams, this one has depth. It’s not out of the question to see Michigan State going 10 or 11 deep next season. In the modern day of college basketball, getting enough minutes for everybody is going to be a challenge.

The other significant hurdle to manage will be where this roster has depth. It’s in the backcourt. A.J. Hoggard, Jaden Akins, Tre Holloman, and Jeremy Fears Jr. are all guys that will be fighting for minutes at the guard positions. Walker obviously didn’t come back to play a diminished role – and MSU showed how badly they need Hoggard on the floor last season. That leaves only one guard spot (presumably Akins) with backup minutes available for Holloman and Fears Jr. Balancing those minutes to keep everyone happy while also trying to put MSU’s best lineup on the floor may take some time to figure out.

The other difference between the 2023-24 team and teams of recent memory is that this team will have talent. Talent that goes beyond the typical standards at Michigan State. The Spartans haven’t put a player on the first-team all-conference list since Cassius Winston in 2020. This team has a couple of guys who could get there. Walker, Hoggard, Akins, and even freshman Xavier Booker are all guys that should receive preseason recognition in some form or fashion.

According to 247Sports, Michigan State is also bringing in the third-ranked recruiting class in the country – statistically one of the best all-time for MSU.

It is worth noting that this type of “on paper” talent hasn’t always translated to great success for MSU. The three most comparable examples are the Michigan State teams from 2011, 2014, and 2018. All three of those teams featured prominent players returning (Kalin Lucas, Gary Harris, Miles Bridges) to go along with tremendous talent on the existing roster. Together, those three teams produced one Big Ten championship, one Big Ten Tournament title, and one Sweet 16 appearance. Personally, those are also three of the most disappointing teams in the Tom Izzo era.

The point here is not to paint Izzo as a coach who can’t coach talented teams. He’s had plenty of successful years to point to the contrary. What it is to say is that teams as a whole don’t always add up to be greater than their individual parts. Great coaches consistently prove otherwise by maximizing their talent for the betterment of the team.

For the past couple of seasons, MSU fans have been patient because they have been able to see that – for the most part – Tom Izzo has done that. Patience this upcoming season will be much shorter.

It’s still fairly early in the offseason. There are dominoes left to fall. What does Malik Hall do? Does MSU have an unexpected transfer as a result of that decision? Time will tell. For now though, for what feels like the first time in quite a while, Izzo has a group of “dudes” that can stack up against anyone. At a place like Michigan State, this type of roster doesn’t come together often. Izzo knows all too well that at this point in his career, it could be the last time all of the stars align. It’s up to him to put it all together.

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