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Finding The Happy Side Of Oz

Jan. 29, 2011

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

Depending on how one chooses to look at it, the woods have opened and the yellow brick road lies before Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets might just end up on the happy side of Oz if they can keep the nargles at bay and work around the mugwumps tonight against Maryland and beyond.

The Atlantic Coast Conference is that ripe for the picking, and Iman Shumpert has taken up the battle with infectious conviction.

I first heard these words Friday at my brother’s shop having my car worked upon. We encountered some problems, and the parts manager (Jonathan) began mumbling about nargles and mugwumps.

Naturally, I inquired.

He explained that nargles were apparitional entities ping-ponging in your head to make you think weird stuff – misfired thoughts, if you will. Mugwumps are real rather than imagined, a large subset of three-dimensional possibilities that rattle around in the back of your car making annoying noises.

My later research revealed something called nargles in the world of Harry Potter, some sort of mistletoe parasite. Mugwumps were Republicans who abandoned their party in the presidential election of 1884.

I’m exercising literary license and after some tweaking of my own, I’m going with Jonathan’s definitions. I like them quite a bit better.

The Jackets have been plagued periodically by some confounding mental glitches, most notably when they seem to forget about defending the 3-point line, and periodic lapses of offensive rhyme or reason. I’m calling these cerebral hiccups nargles. As for mugwumps, they would be physical impediments like the Jackets’ perceived shortage of height and excess of youth in said spots.

Times may be changing given that the Jackets have won three of their past four games. Enough themes have emerged that it’s become more clear what they can and ought to do to compete. Whether they do these things often enough to reach Oz’s warm side is, of course, a mystery that we wait to see unfold.

The first step is simple: give the ball to Shumpert.

His triple double in Wednesday night’s win over Virginia Tech was numerically monumental. Yet there were elements of his 22-point, 12-rebound, 11-assist, seven-steal showing that cannot be measured by statistical metric. With a go-to player like that, which Shumpert has become, the Jackets have something of a safety net. Unless, that is, his teammates defer too much.

That didn’t happen against the Hokies, when Brian Oliver took keen advantage of spacing created in large part by Shumpert’s general domination of the ball to score a game-high 28 points in what was possibly his best game as a sophomore. That helped make up for an off night by Glen Rice Jr., who was sidelined by the flu in recent days and may or may not play tonight.

“I think what we have to do is play off of him, run more plays through him,” coach Paul Hewitt said of Shumpert. “Keep the ball in his hands as much as possible. He’s going to draw so much attention. If they’re man-to-man, you run more sets through him and trust his decision making.”

With the ball in Shumpert’s hands, and the Jackets creating some fairly steady offensive flow, the nargles have been subdued more often of late. They roared out of remission at Virginia, however, when the 3-point line again seemed like a electric fence that Tech defenders did not want to venture beyond as the Cavaliers fired away from distance in the Jackets’ loss there last weekend.

Tech’s “bigs” are still not putting up big numbers, but Daniel Miller, Kammeon Holsey (who missed the Virginia game with a stomach bug/mugwump) and Nate Hicks are far more frequently doing right on both ends of the court making important plays that don’t always show up in the box score.

The “inexperienced bigs” mugwump is shrinking gradually although Hicks won’t be available against Maryland after having his appendix removed Thursday – a mugwump of another sort.

Rice was out late in the week with the flu, quarantined away from his teammates by a most miserable mugwump. His availability, and/or effectiveness remains in question today.

For the time being, Shumpert’s cramping problem has with aggressive stretching, dietary adjustments, a few less pounds, and a few more hops come under control, a mugwump subdued.

The most relevant and real hurdle (mugwump) between the Jackets and a successful season, the ACC, is under the weather.

Tech has beaten North Carolina, the team some might consider the league’s most daunting beyond Duke. Nobody else – nobody – in the conference strikes fear but the Blue Devils, whom the Jackets draw once, in Durham next month.

The Jackets have five more ACC games at home, five on the road, and a home game against Chattanooga.

At 10-9, 3-3, if Tech can work some of its home ACC magic on the road – where the nargles are far, far more prevalent — a couple times, the Jackets can forge a record that along with some success in the conference tournament might merit consideration for additional games. That would be the happy side of Oz, which is a place where dreams are both dreamed and dashed.

The path appears navigable, although when asked Hewitt said it’s too early for his team to think or talk about such things. He’s right.

The Jackets need to concentrate on keeping the nargles quiet, and hope the mugwumps don’t over-rattle.

Thank you, if you made it this far, for indulging me. I caught a wild hair, as my late maternal grandmother might have said. Send critical analysis, or perhaps your shrink’s phone number, to stingdaily@gmail.com.

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