The 1910s continued to see a growth of the game, and national AAU tournaments showed that collegiate teams could compete at the highest levels of the sport with sponsored non-collegiate teams.
The first season of the decade featured strong records, but no clear champion. Oklahoma was 8-0, including a 90-1 win over Edmond Teachers, but their schedule was both limited and weak. Virginia Tech went 11-0, destroying all comers, but their best victories may have been a sweep of 6-6 Washington & Lee. Kansas went 18-1 and beat every team on their schedule, including both Premo-Porretta #12 Kansas State 44-19 at home and the famed Kansas City Athletic Club on the road. Their only loss was by one to 7-5 Washington University in St. Louis, and they handled Wash-U in their other three meetings. Williams College is the 1910 Premo-Porretta pick after going 11-0 against a schedule that featured no Premo-Porretta top 25 teams, but did include a sweep of 6-4 Dartmouth. Williams can be compared to 11-1 Columbia, the Helms champion, whose only loss was by one to the alumni team. Williams beat Wesleyan by an average of 14 points, while Columbia won by 23. Columbia beat Yale by an average of 7, while Williams beat Yale by 17. Williams and Columbia appear to both have a strong claim to the championship, but so does Kansas since the Jayhawks had better wins (and more of them) than Williams or Columbia. Although there is an argument for Premo-Porretta #3 Kansas to be the pick, Williams and Columbia had no losses to collegiate teams and played in a generally stronger region.
GDB Co-National Champions: Williams & Columbia
St John’s was the pick of both Helms and Premo-Porretta for 1911, and for good reason. Dayton went 10-0, the first of three consecutive unbeaten seasons. Their year included a 6-point win against Premo-Porretta #13 Notre Dame, whose only other college loss came in a split with 10-1 Wabash (Premo-Porretta’s #6). Columbia dropped a game at Penn in their season finale, ruining an otherwise unbeaten campaign. Columbia had a very similar performance to St John’s in games against common opponents. The only notable difference is undefeated St John’s won by two at Premo-Porretta #23 Penn instead of losing by two. St John’s also took down #9 Wesleyan, the New England Champions, won four more games than Dayton, and played a stronger overall slate.
GDB National Champions: St John’s
Both Helms and Premo-Porretta selected 15-0 Wisconsin for 1912, co-champions of the Western Conference with Purdue, who went 12-0 overall. While Wisconsin swept Beloit (handing them their only two losses), Purdue beat Premo-Porretta #16 Chicago twice in conference play, just like Wisconsin. Purdue played five conference opponents in home-and-homes, beating those opponents by an average of 18.5 points per game. Wisconsin only won by an average of 15.1 in those same ten games, but won three additional games on the year. Between Purdue and Wisconsin, it is safe to say Wisconsin had a more challenging slate, but Purdue was more dominant in games against common opponents (Wisconsin needed overtime in a 3-point win against Minnesota). Wesleyan once again took the New England title. They finished 13-0, giving 6-1 Springfield their only loss. They also beat Premo-Porretta #15 Dartmouth in both of their matchups, and took out 12-6 Manhattan by 21 and won at 8-5 Union by 16. Dayton once again went unbeaten at 13-0 but did not play a difficult schedule. The same can be said for 9-0 Kentucky and Mississippi State teams. Grove City (PA) had their only perfect season in program history at 12-0, but cannot claim to have played as strong of a schedule as Wisconsin, Purdue, or Wesleyan. While Wesleyan has an argument, Wisconsin had two additional wins against Premo-Porretta ranked teams and two additional wins overall. Purdue also beat #16 Chicago by at least 9 points in both games, but Wesleyan’s largest margin of victory over #15 Dartmouth was 4. By a slim margin, Wisconsin and Purdue have the edge over Wesleyan. But arguments between Wisconsin and Purdue could go either way.
GDB Co-National Champions: Purdue & Wisconsin
9-0 Navy was selected by both Helms and Premo-Porretta. While they only played nine games and all of them were in Annapolis, they absolutely smashed high-caliber opponents. They beat 12-2 Lehigh, 56-17. They also won over 14-3 Catholic (59-33), 11-5 Georgetown (67-18), and 12-8 St John’s (55-30). While there were some other strong seasons around the country, no teams have a comparable level of dominance against strong opposition.
GDB National Champions: Navy
Navy went undefeated for the second straight season, going 10-0. It included a 34-23 win at Premo-Porretta #20 Yale. Syracuse also went unbeaten, finishing 12-0 with two Premo-Porretta top 25 wins (#18 Princeton and #13 Oberlin). Wisconsin, though, went 15-0 with four wins against Premo-Porretta top 25 teams, beating #22 Illinois and #17 Chicago in home-and-homes. They also beat 11-6 Northwestern twice. Both Helms and Premo-Porretta selected Wisconsin for the national championship. While Navy and Syracuse have strong arguments, Wisconsin played a more difficult schedule than either.
GDB National Champions: Wisconsin
The 1915 national title stayed in the Western Conference, but moved from Madison, Wisconsin to Champaign, Illinois. Illinois went 15-0, surviving a scare against 11-4 Milliken and beating Premo-Porretta’s #7 and #13 teams (Chicago and Wisconsin) twice each. Virginia also posted an unbeaten tally, going 17-0, but none of their opponents were ranked in Premo-Porretta and two their wins were by a point each. Undefeated Texas won the Southwest Conference and handed 8-1 Rice their only loss. But the Longhorns played a very weak schedule, leaving Illinois as the clear choice for the national championship.
GDB National Champions: Illinois
Texas, North Dakota State, Carleton, and Roanoke all had unbeaten seasons, but none played a tough schedule. While Illinois did not repeat as national champions (nor Western Conference Champions), the national championship came to the state of Illinois in 1916. The national AAU Championship was held there, and Utah (who entered the tournament as 8-0 after playing a schedule of Utah-based schools and two non-collegiate teams) walked away as the national AAU Champions after beating Columbia Athletic Club, Olympic Athletic Club, and Illinois Athletic Club to take the title. But while Utah’s status as national amateur champions was assured, their place as college basketball’s king was not. Wisconsin, 20-1 overall, overcame a rigorous collegiate schedule, beating five Premo-Porretta top 25 teams, including the reigning national champions, #4 Illinois, by 20. Their only loss was by 7 at Illinois. The bigger accomplishment is in the eyes of the beholder. Wisconsin was better versus collegiate competition, while Utah proved themselves to be a national champion against non-collegiate teams.
GDB Co-National Champions: Utah & Wisconsin
In the Western Conference, 17-2 Minnesota split four games with Illinois and Wisconsin. While Wisconsin also dropped game to Chicago, the Gophers and Illini split the league title at 10-2 in conference play. But another two-loss squad, Wabash, won a two-point contest at Illinois and made claim to being the best collegiate team in the Midwest. Other than losing to AAU National Champion Illinois Athletic Club, their only loss was by one at the Michigan Aggies (Michigan State). Still, a win over #4 Illinois was Wabash’s only victory against a Premo-Porretta ranked team. Washington State claimed the Helms and Premo-Porretta selections after a 25-1 campaign that featured a road-heavy slate. Washington State proved their mettle with four victories over Washington and a road win at Oregon State, but their only win versus a Premo-Porretta ranked opponent was by three in Berkeley over #10 Cal after dropping the first game, 28-20. It was Cal’s only loss in a 15-1 season, but Washington State was a little more convincing in games against common opponents and Washington State never got to play Cal at home. Navy was almost an opposite of Washington State, playing only 11 games, all at home. But in those 11 games, Navy beat EIBL Champion Yale (Premo-Porretta #11) and #9 CCNY. They also beat 8-4 Georgetown, 6-5 Catholic, 7-5 Virginia, and 11-8 St John’s. Washington & Lee were also dominant this season, going 13-0 against a moderately difficult schedule, but only that featured no Premo-Porretta ranked opponents. When adding it all up, Wabash, Washington State, and Navy are the three schools with the best cases. Wabash and Washington State both have an elite road win and only one loss to a college, but at Cal is more excusable than losing to the Michigan Aggies. While Washington State had 14 more wins than Navy and were true road warriors, Navy had a much more difficult average opponent. If you compare the six most difficult wins to achieve for each team, they are pretty similar. Navy had slightly better opponents, but those games were also all at home. Navy really needed to be unbeaten to have any kind of a claim, but they accomplished that. Despite the dearth of games, and particularly road games, Navy is worthy of a share with Washington State.
GDB Co-National Champions: Navy & Washington State
The United States was fully engulfed in”the Great War” during the 1917-18 season. But nevertheless, plenty of basketball was being played. Many teams put together sterling records from coast to coast, including Oregon State, Creighton, Stevens Tech, Missouri, and North Dakota. But the toughest schedules were being played by elite Mid-Atlantic schools. Penn State had an exceptional year, best powerful Navy and finishing with just one loss. But Penn State lost 34-24 to Syracuse, who themselves had a great season. In 17 games, Syracuse lost only once, falling 17-16 at home in their season finale to Premo-Porretta #3 Penn (18-2 overall), who won the EIL Championship. But despite the loss, Syracuse still managed to split the season series with Penn. In a four-game stretch, Syracuse beat three Premo-Porretta top ten teams, which included a 27-13 win at home over Princeton to go with the wins over Penn State and Penn. While Syracuse finished with just one loss, in addition to losing to Syracuse, Penn also lost at Princeton. But the Quakers went 5-2 against Premo-Porretta ranked foes, including a victory over 2-loss Navy. Like Syracuse, they also handled Princeton at home. In comparing like games (same opponent and game location), Syracuse held a slight edge of +8 points over seven games (so about 1-pt per game better). With the season split, Penn playing a more difficult schedule, Syracuse having one less loss, and Penn ending Syracuse’s season with a road win, both teams deserve the national title.
GDB Co-National Champions: Penn & Syracuse
The 1919 season was affected by both World War I and the Spanish flu pandemic, but there were still plenty of games. Helms selected 13-0 Minnesota as the national champion, but they did not play a Premo-Porretta ranked team and none of their Western Conference opponents had a winning record in league play (avoiding Chicago, Michigan, and Northeastern). Navy went undefeated once again (at 16-0), earning the Premo-Porretta national title selection. Navy beat two Premo-Porretta ranked squads in the process, at #4 Georgetown by 9 and home over #22 CCNY, 28-14. Navy also beat Crescent Athletic Club, a non-collegiate team. Penn once again dominated in EIL action, going 7-1 against conference opponents and winning all 8 of their other games. The Quakers played another strong schedule, going 4-1 against the Premo-Porretta top 10 (with the wins by an average of over 14 points per game), and also tallying a win over #22 CCNY. Their only loss came by four to #9 Yale, who they beat on the road. While there were some other strong records nationally, Navy and Penn set themselves apart from the rest by playing and beating strong competition.
GDB Co-National Champions: Navy & Penn