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TBT: Before March Madness: 1919 Gophers National Champions

When you combine the national player of the year, two other All Americans, and a World War I vet, you get one of the most baller teams in the history of Gopher Basketball.

U of M National CHAMPS!
U of M National CHAMPS!
U of M

The 1919 Gopher basketball team is regarded as the most dominant University of Minnesota hoops squad of all time. Featuring the best player of the era, Erling Platou, a World War I veteran in James McMillan, and led by the winningest coach in school history C.J. Cooke the 1919 cast an enormous amount of shade on their opponents. Including Erling winning national player of the year honors, Oss and Kingsley also were awarded All-American status. The squad put up 13 wins and zero losses and trailed only once all year (briefly to Purdue).

The 1918-1919 hoopty ball shooters.

C.J. Cooke had brought the team to the brink of a Big Ten Championship in 1917-1918 finishing in second place. With Captain Erling Platou, two sport (football and basketball) star Arnold Oss, and "Da Vet" McMillen in 1919 other teams didn't stand a chance, the Gophers won by double digits in all but 2 games. Averaging 35.5 points per game was second best in Big Ten history at that point.

Arnold Oss out on the football field in 1921.

Here is the schedule 1918-1919 from Cooke's 22nd season

Date Opponent W/L Score
12/17/1918 Overland Aviation W 40-18
01/02/1919 Aviation Cubs W 50-7
01/04/1919 Wisconsin-Stout W 68-4
01/11/1919 Indiana W 35-13
01/18/1919 Wisconsin W 38-23
01/27/1919 Illinois W 36-17
02/01/1919 @ Iowa W 28-18
02/08/1919 Iowa W 36-22
02/15/1919 Purdue W 36-24
02/22/1919 @ Indiana W 20-14
02/24/1919 @ Purdue W 26-21
03/01/1919 @ Wisconsin W 23-12
03/03/1919 @ Illinois W 26-9

Team photo in the 1920 yearbook. I think the basketball that Erling is holding says Big 10 Champs 1900?

Minnesota hanging 68 points on Wisconsin Stout was a Big Ten high score that would stand for years. Erling was an All-American and Helms Player of the Year, averaged 11.8 points which is remarkable when considering most games were scored in the 20s. Arnold Oss came in second in points per game at 9.4 but his best years were ahead of him as he would be an All-American in football and basketball in 1921. And Oss may not have even been the best athlete in his family as his son Arnold Jr. won a hockey gold medal in the 1952 Olympics. And then there was James McMillian who had his career shortened because of his service in World War I (I'm working on a piece about Gopher athletes who served in The Great War, it's gonna be cool).

Minnesota War Records Commission, Soldier Photographs 1914-1918. Photo of James McMillan Via MNHS.

Anyway the Gopher hoopsters of 1919 shouldn't be forgotten just because they dominated the game before the NCAA Tournament began. The Helms Foundation retroactively awarded them that years National Title but depending on your opinion of retroactive titles it may or may not count.