Despite Marbury’s reputation, Felton said Clemson’s game plan was to attack the freshman and force him to make mistakes. It’s a rule that applies to all point guards, Felton said, no matter how talented. Experience is their best weapon.
“He was such a weak spot for them that we probably beat them because of Marbury,” Felton said.
A few months later, Clemson faced off against Tech again in a late-season conference battle. By then, Marbury had learned the ropes, and Felton said he looked like a different player.
“They beat us, and it was because of Marbury,” he said. “We couldn’t do anything with him. That’s how much he had evolved.”
Georgia’s point guard duo of sophomore Zac Swansey and freshman Dustin Ware don’t have the same natural ability that Marbury possessed, but Felton is hoping they’ll undergo a similar transition as the season progresses. There’s no substitute for experience, he said, and in that respect, Swansey and Ware are getting better every day.
“They’re obviously really young and inexperienced, but hanging in there and getting better all the time,” Felton said of his young guards. “They have a pretty solid assist-to-turnover ratio, and I think that’s commendable when you consider how inexperienced they are.”
The process is sure to involve some growing pains, however, and in Georgia’s past two games, Swansey and Ware have gotten first-hand experience with the style of play they expect most opponents to throw at them.
Against Missouri, the Bulldogs (9-6) turned the ball over 23 times. A few days later, they had 19 turnovers in a loss to Georgia Tech. While Swansey and Ware were hardly responsible for the multitude of giveaways – they accounted for just six in the two games – their mere presence on the court has meant Georgia has faced increased pressure from opponents.
“The last couple games, we’ve received a lot of trapping, double-teaming and pressure all over the court by our two opponents,” Felton said. “That involves a lot more than the point guards. It involves the whole team.”
When the Bulldogs open SEC play today against No. 25 Tennessee (9-4), they expect more of the same, only this time the heat will be turned way up.
Forward Terrence Woodbury, who is averaging nearly 14 points per game despite an ankle injury that has limited his availability, said the press Georgia saw from Tech will pale in comparison to what Tennessee runs, meaning the Bulldogs’ young point guards will have to show they’ve learned from experience in order for the offense to function properly.
“The pressure’s going to come out because we are a young team,” Woodbury said. “At critical times of the game, we’ve got to take care of the ball.”
Against Tech, Georgia watched a 13-point second-half lead fall apart against the press. The Bulldogs went nearly 10 minutes without a field goal down the stretch, allowing Tech to take the lead and eventually earn the win.
In Georgia’s practices since, Ware said handling the press has been a focus.
“It’s going to be a point of emphasis because a lot of people will pressure us because they think we’re a young backcourt and can’t handle it,” Ware said. “We’ll start seeing it more, and I don’t think we’ll have a problem with it down the stretch.”
Of course, even if Georgia manages to execute on the offensive end of the court, the job on the other end won’t get much easier.
While the Bulldogs managed to hold Tech below 40 percent shooting, they were allowed 23 offensive rebounds – providing plenty of second-chance points. That can’t happen against a top-flight team like Tennessee, Felton said, if Georgia hopes to kick off its SEC slate with a victory.
“They’re immensely talented, athletic, long and big,” Felton said of the Volunteers. “They’ve got all the pieces you’d want.”
The biggest piece to Tennessee’s attack is junior forward Tyler Smith, who is averaging 17.2 points and six rebounds a game this season, causing Felton to label him one of the SEC’s toughest matchups.
“He’s very hard to handle,” Felton said. “He’s such a hard draw. It’s hard to stop him on the drive, and when you do stop him, he counters with those big, penetrating spin moves.”
Georgia’s non-conference slate was among the toughest of his tenure, Felton said. So while Tennessee will be a challenge, he is confident it’s one his team is ready to meet.
After all, he said, experience is only gained by playing the games, and he likes the direction his team is headed.
“I expected us to look very, very young and to have moments where we literally shook in these early games, and we’ve had some of those experiences,” Felton said. “But we’ve improved like I hoped and thought we would.”