While the 1910s saw an increase in quality competition across the nation, the power of collegiate basketball still rested above the Mason-Dixon line. But the 1920s saw national powerhouses emerge in every segment of the country and reputations for being basketball hotspots were starting to form.
The first season of the decade saw the emergence of Winfield, Kansas’s Southwestern College. Southwestern went 20-0 on the season, but none of their opponents finished ranked in Premo-Porretta’s top 25. Their schedule was also very regional, with all of their opponents located in Kansas or Oklahoma. Of those opponents, none were in the Missouri Valley, a more prestigious league than Southwestern’s Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference. They were dominant on the season, though, winning just two games (Ottawa and Washburn) by less than 11 points. Texas A&M also had an excellent season, winning the Southwest Conference at 16-0 in league play, and 19-0 overall. They did not play any Premo-Porretta top 25 teams, though, and all four of their games with SMU were decided by 8 points or less. Westminster (MO), North Dakota, and Montana State also had unbeaten years against weak schedules. Missouri won the Missouri Valley at 17-1, but did not play any Premo-Porretta ranked teams. Penn was strong, as always, going unbeaten against their regular season schedule. In the process, they beat Premo-Porretta #10 Navy by 13, handed 16-6 Princeton two of their losses, gave Premo-Porretta #4 Penn State their only loss, beat #9 Delaware, and even beat the Penn Alumni. In a season-ending championship series against Chicago, Penn won two games to one. NYU was also great in 1920, losing only one game (at #14 Army, 17-14). NYU also crushed #22 CCNY, 39-21, beat defending AAU National Champion Los Angeles Athletic Club, 35-22, obliterated Kansas City Athletic Club, 45-22, and crushed 11-4 Rutgers twice, the second of which was for the AAU National Championship. While Penn had a more impressive run over collegiate teams, NYU proved their championship mettle by cruising to the 1920 AAU title. Both teams are worthy national champions.
GDB Co-National Champions: Penn & NYU
Penn was again the EIL Champion in 1921, winning the conference at 9-1 in intra-league competition and earning the Helms nod for the national title. Penn beat Temple, Lafayette, Drexel, Syracuse, Muhlenberg, Swarthmore, and Catholic, all of which had winning records. Penn also beat Premo-Porretta #4 NYU, 24-11, and #6 VMI, 40-15, dealing both their only losses of the season. Their only conference loss was at 14-8 Cornell by 1, and their only non-league loss was by 2 at home to 14-2 Penn State. Penn State was ranked #5 by Premo-Porretta, but Penn State did not beat any ranked teams besides Penn and they lost to 19-5 Virginia Tech by 6 and to a 9-17 Yale team. Navy went 18-1 in another strong campaign, though all their games were once again at home. In an odd turn of events, Navy beat Delaware 67-4 early in the year before dropping a 21-19 decision to them late in the season. While Navy easily beat 18-5 Army in their season finale, their schedule was not at the level of Penn’s. Southwestern (KS) fell in the AAU Championship to Kansas City Athletic Club, but they were only 19-7 overall. For the second straight year, Missouri went 17-1, and all of their games were in Missouri Valley play. Missouri was selected by Premo-Porretta for the national championship, but four of their 18 games were against 3-win Washington Univ. (St Louis) and they avoided playing 15-3 Nebraska in conference play. Although they beat 14-5 Kansas State in three of their four matchups, they did not record any Premo-Porretta top 25 wins, whereas Penn handed two teams in the top 6 their only losses on the year. Penn had the most impressive collection of victories in the country, and they are the selection.
GDB National Champions: Penn
While Penn had been the best team in college basketball for years, the landscape of college basketball focused on the famed Border War between Kansas and Missouri in 1922. For the second straight year, the Missouri Tigers were named Premo-Porretta’s #1 after they finished the season with just one loss (at 16-1). They shared the Missouri Valley Conference championship with Phog Allen’s Kansas Jayhawks, both posting a 15-1 record in league play. Kansas earned the Helms national title after finishing 16-2 overall, losing a close 34-32 game at AAU national runner-up Kansas City Athletic Club. In conference play, the Tigers scored 1.68 points for every point their opponent scored. Kansas scored 1.58, in comparison. But the Jayhawks ended the season on a tear, winning eleven straight with 7 of the 11 on the road. While Missouri won the first matchup by 10 in Lawrence, Kansas returned the favor seven games later, winning by 10 in Columbia. Both teams played one conference opponent close with Kansas scoring a 5-point win over Drake (whose only four losses were to Kansas and Missouri) in the third game of the year while Missouri ended their season with a 4-point win over Kansas State. Both sides have legitimate claims to superiority, but neither separated from the other. While neither school can imagine a fanbase they would less like to share a national championship with, a split title is appropriate.
GDB Co-National Champions: Kansas & Missouri
Army had an excellent year in 1923, going 17-0. Premo-Porretta awarded Army the national title after beating #5 Springfield (MA) and #18 Navy. Further west, Kansas and Missouri were once again fantastic. Missouri lost only three games all season, by 10 at Kansas City Athletic Club (the AAU National Champions) and by five total points in two losses to Kansas. Missouri finished ranked third in Premo-Porretta, and Kansas’s sweep of the Tigers were their two best wins of the season. The Jayhawks finished 17-0 against collegiate competition, just like Army, but the Jayhawks fell in a close 27-23 loss at AAU National Champion Kansas City Athletic Club. Helms selected Kansas as the national champion, and that is the call here, as well. While Army had a great season, Kansas had the two best wins in college basketball, sweeping Missouri. Kansas also may have had a loss, but it was a great showing against the country’s top amateur team, falling by four points to a Kansas City Athletic Club that cruised to the AAU National Championship in a 31-18 win over the Hillyard Shine Alls. Additionally, Kansas was not seriously challenged by a college opponent other than Missouri, while Army survived 4-10 Swarthmore, 27-26. But there was another stellar team in 1923, the Franklin (Indiana) “Wonder Five.” Franklin College claims they won the national championship in 1923. While Franklin was soundly beaten by 8-7 Indiana on December 15, 1922, the Hoosiers refused to allow Franklin’s freshmen to play. As a result, Franklin does not recognize the game in its official record books. When the “Wonder Five” freshmen were available, Franklin went unbeaten. They took down #7 Butler twice, beat the professional Omars, defeated #9 DePauw, and beat 18-10 Wabash twice. The loss to Indiana is completely excusable under the circumstances, and Franklin’s claim to the national championship is legitimate. Kansas and Franklin are both worthy of the national title.
GDB Co-National Champions: Kansas & Franklin (IN)