Adventures in Atrocious Mainstream Media Sports Writing: Jim Souhan Edition

Jim Souhan has officially jumped the shark. I use a cliche to begin this post as an homage to the cliche-a-minute Souhan who found a way to embarrass himself, mainstream media sportswriters and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune on consecutive days.

I've actually liked Souhan over the years, specifically when he spent time on the baseball beat at the Star Tribune. I know many stat-first types never liked Souhan, and I understand that, but I always thought that Souhan was able to combine solid reporting with good writing, a key for any beat reporter. The strengths that Souhan had as a beat guy have completely disappeared as a columnist for the Star Tribune. Souhan's forced attempts at humor miss the mark. His analogies are often off-base. And he's fallen into the trap of trying to write columns about sports he doesn't cover closely or understand, and that's why his recent column made him the laughingstock of the college basketball world and provided bulletin board material for the Xavier Musketeers, who beat the Gophers in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Here's what Souhan wrote on the eve of the Minnesota-Xavier game. Let's first pick that column apart.

Yes, it's Our Gophers who are declaring themselves valiant overachievers now that they've snuck in through the fire exit at the back of the Big Dance. Gifted with an 11th seed in the NCAA tournament, they'll face sixth-seeded Xavier in Milwaukee on Friday.

By definition, the Gophers were underdogs against Xavier. Minnesota was an 11 seed. Xavier was a 6 seed. I'm not sure what Souhan means by "Gifted with an 11 seed," but I'll presume he means the team was lucky to get into the Tournament. If that's the case, why is it that Minnesota shouldn't be the underdog?

This is a wonderful script, as long as you don't think too hard about the Gophers' self-proclaimed underdog status. Because if you think about it, embracing them as underdogs requires the same willing suspension of disbelief as watching an M. Night Shyamalan flick.

M. Night Shymalan flick? Really, that's what you're going with? Also, it's not "self-proclaimed." Again, by definition, the Gophers were underdogs.

• Xavier is coached by a rookie who got his job only because his predecessors bail out for bigger paychecks as soon as they can. Chris Mack's salary is probably supplemented by free Skyline chili. Friday, for the first time, he'll be a head coach in an NCAA tournament game.

He'll be facing Tubby Smith, who makes millions of dollars a year and has taken four programs to the NCAA tournament. In fact, he's taken four programs to the tournament at least twice, and he won it all with Kentucky in 1998.

Let's hope Tubby The Titan doesn't allow himself, or his team, to pretend to be overmatched in this game.

Skyline chili? That's what you're going with? Even if the Minnesota audience knows that Cincinattians love their chili, this is another typical and horribly forced attempt at humor from Souhan. But to his relevant points, I'd point out to Souhan that the size of an individual coach's contract has nothing to do with his coaching acumen or lack thereof. Talent, most of the time, wins basketball games.

• The Gophers play in a power conference, the Big Ten. Xavier plays in the Atlantic 10.

Which team has a better chance of being battle-hardened by conference play -- the team that played Ohio State, Michigan State, Purdue and Wisconsin, or the team that played Duquesne and St. Joe's?

Sure, the Atlantic 10 has good teams, including Xavier and Richmond. The difference is the Big Ten is filled with teams that should be good every year; the Atlantic 10 is filled with teams that must overachieve to qualify for an NCAA tournament bid.

For starters, the Atlantic 10 isn't exactly the Big West. I'm not sure how Souhan picked out Duquesne or St. Joe's, but the Atlantic 10 boasts other very good teams in Temple, RIchmond, Saint Louis, Rhode Island, Dayton and Charlotte. I bet those teams would wipe the floor with Iowa, Penn State, Indiana, Michigan and Northwestern. In fact, Northwestern was just whipped in the NIT by Rhode Island. Whether or not you buy the "Big Ten is better" argument, that's really irrelevant and was just something Souhan came up with to fill space. Minnesota and Xavier played Friday, not Duquesne or Iowa.

• Minnesota beat Butler. Xavier lost to Butler.

Minnesota beat Butler on a neutral court. Xavier lost at Hinkle Field House on the road by 1. Xavier also happened to beat Florida on the road handily. What NCAA Tournament team did the Gophers beat on the road? Oh, that's right, not one.

• The Gophers' key players all participated in the NCAA tournament last year. Xavier's best player, Jordan Crawford, is a transfer from Indiana.

Here's the point where I started to feel bad for Souhan. He simply has no clue. He had probably never heard of Jordan Crawford before. Crawford happened to be the best player on the court Friday afternoon, and that matters much more than the irrelevant fact he transferred from Indiana.

Souhan ends with this.

The Gophers should have the good taste to consider themselves favorites Friday. Given their experience, their depth and the pedigree of their coach, they have no excuse not to play like favorites, too.

Considering Xavier had more talent, more experience, better guards, superior inside play and the 6 seed and the Gophers have a bunch of role players, Tubby Smith and an 11 seed, I'm just not following Souhan's logic. Problem of course is, Souhan never watched Xavier until Friday afternoon. He just assumed they were some non-BCS college creampuff. Souhan's column of assumptions were almost entirely incorrect.

No wonder Xavier coach Chris Mack took exception. Here's what Mack said about Souhan after the Xavier win.

"We're tired of being the little engine that could. We're a really good program. And our kids aren't scared of anybody. We don't always win, but we're not afraid to compete. And Jen and Jim Souhan -- however you pronounce his name -- from the Star-Tribune, thanks for the motivation to tell our kids that we should be fodder against Minnesota. Our kids are used to this stage. We played a lto of NCAA tournaments. We've been very successful. It's my charge and our kids' charge to continue to do that."

From a Minnesota perspective, we have a local columnist who 1) doesn't know college basketball and 2) because he had to force a column about the NCAA Tournament, gave the opposing team bulletin board material. Kudos, Jim.

If this wasn't bad enough for Souhan, this apparent ego-maniac decided to try and capitalize on the new-found attention. He and his Star Tribune editors, who are clearly more interested in Web hits than journalism, published a new column titled "Hey, I'm famous." And that's not even the most obnoxious part.

You're welcome. I know that you don't have the force of personality of coaching chops to inspire your players by talking to them about, you know, playing in the NCAA tournament in front of millions of fans, trying to bring glory to your school and perhaps even improving your fugure (sic) career options. Nope, you need a guy writing about your opponent to rally your players.

Obviously, they don't listen to you, or you might have been able to inspire them by asking them to win one for you, the first-year, overmatched coach. So you needed a newspaper columnist to do your job for you.

I will expect you to send me your paycheck for the week for handling your job for you. I hope there's a columnist in PIttsburgh (sic) who can help you this weekend. More likely, Jamie Dixon, a real coach who actually motivates his players all by himself, will eat you alive. Maybe some day you'll be big-time enough to do your own work.

Where to start with this narcissistic drivel, grammatical mistakes aside. Souhan is clearly enjoying being part of the news, something journalists tend to try and avoid. Souhan, of course, didn't have the chops to say any of this to Mack face-to-face.

The condescending tone should earn Souhan a suspension from his Star Tribune duties. Suggesting Mack isn't a "real coach?" What on Earth is that based on? Because he's not a known name? Does Souhan not understand that coaches use media fodder as rallying points all of the time? And considering Mack's Muskateers just ousted Jamie Dixon's Pittsburgh team, what does that make Dixon, a non-real coach?

This response from Souhan comes across as highly defensive, which isn't surprising because Souhan surely knows his first column was something a real columnist would find offensive.

Some advice for Souhan. If it's fame you're after, why don't you drop the cliches, bad jokes and non-analysis, and actually try to understand the subjects you are opining about. I'm guessing the Star Tribune's declining circulation doesn't benefit from employing an over-matched columnist who cares more about infamy than the child-like analysis you provide.

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