Indiana State, 29-0 and top ranked in the final regular-season polls but with its player of the year hurt, begins its quest for the national collegiate basketball championship Sunday against Virginia Tech.
Larry Bird, State's 6-foot-9 forward, will play despite fracturing his left thumb last Saturday against New Mexico State in the final of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. But how effective he will be in the nationally televised game (1 p.m., WRC-TV-4, WBAL-TV-4) is uncertain.
"The injury is serious," said Indiana State Coach Bill Hodges. "It will inhibit him, but to what degree we don't know. I do know that we definitely won't give him a Novocain or a painkilling shot of any kind. We won't do anything that could endanger his career.
"All we can do is put a soft rubber protection on it and tape it. I don't think it will affect his offense much, but it could hurt him defensively and affect his rebounding."
The Sycamores, seeded No. 1 in the Midwest Regional, had a bye in the first round of the tournament.
Virginia Tech, the Metro Conference champion, beat Jacksonville, 70-53, in Friday night's first-round game at Allen Fieldhouse.
The Gobblers played badly in the first half of that game and trailed, 27-21.But they got their running game in gear after intermission and raced by the outmanned Dolphins.
Freshman center Dale Solomon, scored 18 of his 24 points in the second half as Virginia Tech won its ninth straight.
"We've never played a No. 1-ranked team before and we're looking forward to it," said Tech Coach Charles Moir. "It's a great opportunity for Virginia Tech."
The man expected to guard Bird is 6-9 1/2, 230-pound junior Wayne Robinson.
"I'm looking forward to it," Robinson
"I'm looking forward to it," Robinson said. "No one has stopped Bird yet and I'm not cocky enough to say that I will. But Bird will know he's been in a game with me."
Hodges said his team would not do anything different because of Bird's injury.
"All we ever wanted was the chance to play in the NCAA tournament," he said. "Now that we have it, we are going to go out and play hard. I don't know how well we'll play, but we'll do the best we can and let the chips fall where they may."
Southwest Conference champion Arkansas, 23-4, winner of 12 straight and second-seeded in the Midwest, opens against Weber State, an 81-78 overtime winner over New Mexico State in Friday's first round. That game will follow the State-Tech contest.
The Razorbacks are led by 6-4 guard Sydney Moncrief, who many feel is the second-best all-around player in the country behind Bird.
Bird is averaging 28.9 points and 15 rebounds while Moncrief, an excellent leaper, is scoring 21.9 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. He also leads his team in steals and assists, is shooting 56 percent and making 84 percent of his free throws.
"Just like Indiana State did, we took one great player (Moncrief) and we built a team around him," Arkansas Coach Eddie Sutton said. "What made us good is that everyone understood his role and carried out his assignment.
Arkansas beat Weber by 21 points in the NCAA tournament last year.
Sunday's winners will advance to the Western Regional semifinals next Thursday at Cincinnati.