Indiana State's Larry Bird has a bad thumb and Michigan State's Jay Vincent a bad foot. But the injury that could have the biggest effect on who will be the next NCAA basketball champion could be the one to the left knee of De Paul star Curtis Watkins.
Watkins was given the okay today by De Paul's team doctor, Robert Hamilton, to play against top-ranked and undefeated Indidana State in the naoional semifinals Saturday at the University of Utah Special Events Center (WRC-TV-4, 2:45 p.m.), but how effective he will be is uncertain.
Michigan State, favored to win it all, plays Penn in the other semifinal, to begin 30 minutes after completion of the first game. It also will be televised.
The winners will meet for the national championship Monday night.
Watkins strained ligamets in his knee in De Paul's West Regional final victory over UCLA last Saturday and has not practiced this week.
"We'll start with Curtis and go as far as we can with him," De Paul Coach Ray Meyer said. "If he can't go, Dennis McGuire will replace him."
Watkins is a key to De Paul's game. He is its best inside player, the man Meyer wants to try to contain Bird.
Michigan State and its "Magic" show is led by ball-handling wizard Earvin Johnson and dunking machine Gregory Kelser. The Spartans are calm and cool and, as Johnson said, "I don't suggest any team try and run with us. No way, 'cause once I get the ball in the middle and I knew Greg is on the wing, I get it to him and he puts it home."
Kelser destroyed Notre Dame with 34 points in the Mideast Regional final and he scored many of those points off crunching dunks.
Penn will play a match-up zone defense with Tony Price going up against Kelser.
"I'll just Keep in front of him and try to make him shoot the jump shot," Price said. "I don't plan to have anyone dunk like he did against Notre Dame on me on TV."
Penn Coach Bob Weinhauer said half in jest that, "We're going to put three guys on Johnson and two on Kelser and leave the other three alone.
"One thing I know for sure, though, is that we can't be intimidated by Michigan State and its dunks."
The only thing not going Michigan State's way lately has been a foot injury to starting center Vincent. He has played in only one tournemnt game and that was only briefly.
Michigan State Coach Jud Heathcote said Vincent would be available but would not start. His place will be taken by 6-foot-7 Ron Charles, another slam-dunking artist.
What makes Michigan State so tough is Johnson controlling the ball, the game and the fans and Kelser getting the points. It is a two-star system and the Spartans operate well within it.
"We have two superstars and the rest are support players," Heathcote said. "Our support players complement our superstars and right now our support are playing very well."
Indiana State is another star-oriented tram and there is no doubt that the Sycamores' star is the irrepressible Bird, the college player of the year.
"We're the kind of team that knows it has to help Larry," said second-leading scorer Carl Nicks. "I'm willing to make any sacrifice to that end. If we have to go to Larry 85 percent of the game to win, we'll do it.
"All we have to do to win is do what Coach (Bill) Hodges tells us to do."
"What makes Larry Bird the greatest player in the world to coach is that he does what he is told." Hodges said. "And what makes the rest of our players the greatest guys in the world to coach is that they do what they are told."
Bird, who fractured his left thumbl weeks ago and aggravated it last week, has adjusted to the injury. He said he doesn't expect it to give him much trouble Saturday.
Even though the Spartans have the worst record of the four teams in the semifinals, they are the favorites because of Johnson and Kelser and their effective 3-2 zone defense.
Heathcote feels that the Spartans may start thinking they are too good. too. That is why he brought them to Salt Lake City Wednesday, a day before the other teams arrived.
"Some writers back home were saying we don't even need to saow up because we've won it already," he said. "That's not the kind of thing I want my players to be reading right now."
After some thought, Heathcote added, "We may be coming here with the worst record of the four teams, but I do feel we're the best team here."
Indiana State (32-0) is the only No. 1 regional seed to make it to the Final Four and only the third team in NCAA history to go 32-0. No team has ever been 33-0.
The pressure seems to be on the Sycamores and in today's practices they appeared to be tighter and more serious than other teams.
Michigan State went through the drills joking, laughing and dunking at will.
Penn also was easy going while De Paul was concerned about Watkins' knee but still was loose.
Bird said, "This probably means a lot more to my teammates and school than it does to me. I thought we should have been here last year.
"It doesn't matter if we win or lose. I'll still get my money." And his points.