NEW YORK -- The opening round game of the NCAA tournament will be between what the selection committee considers the two weakest teams, regardless of conference affiliation.
Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese, the chairman of the selection committee, said Wednesday that unlike in years when play-in games were needed, the conferences involved will not be identified ahead of time.
"They used to take the weakest conferences, but this year we are going to select the teams we feel are the two weakest teams," he said in a teleconference call. "As we differentiate teams that go on specific lines, we will determine teams 64 and 65."
The opening-round game is needed this year because there are 31 conferences receiving automatic bids with the return of the Western Athletic Conference and the initial eligibility of the Mountain West. The number of at-large teams cannot go below 34, according to the rules established in 1985, when the field first expanded to 64 teams.
The opening-round game will be played in Dayton, Ohio, on March 13, two days after the brackets are announced.
"It's important these two teams are treated fairly so the winner may not remain in Dayton as the 16th seed, but it will be a 16th seed that will compete in a Friday-Sunday situation," Tranghese said.
The 10-member committee will meet in Indianapolis to determine the first-ever 65-team field and as in years past, the criteria for selecting the at-large teams remains constant.
Tranghese said injuries will again be considered, just as they were last season when Arizona was without center Loren Woods for the final month because of a back injury and Cincinnati lost national player of the year Kenyon Martin to a broken leg in the Conference USA tournament.
"The difficulty with Cincinnati was that when Kenyon went down, we didn't have an opportunity to evaluate what kind of a team they were without him," said Tranghese, who is in his fifth year on the committee.
Arizona was made a No. 1 seed, while Cincinnati was a No. 2 and both lost in the second round.
The injury of impact this season has been the fractured kneecap of Iowa guard Luke Recker. Since his injury on Jan. 27, the Hawkeyes (17-8) have lost four of five games and have dropped out of the Top 25.
"The important factors for us when we're sitting around that table in March is `Has that player returned,' and `Will he be back for the tournament?"' Tranghese said.
He also said people shouldn't put too much stock into the RPI numbers, especially because the numbers available to the public aren't derived from the same formula the committee sees.
"The RPI's a tool," Tranghese said. "It's almost getting out of control with the stuff I see and hear once in a while with the RPI getting a team in or out. That's not the case. We evaluate and look at all the particulars. Part of our job is to dissect that and if we do our due diligence, we'll get the right 34 teams in the tournament."
Tranghese was asked if the committee would be affected by something like the plane crash that killed two members of the Oklahoma State basketball team on Jan. 27.
"We haven't talked about it and I don't know how to answer that," he said. "It's a question that will be raised at the committee meeting. I'm very, very sensitive personally to that kind of tragedy. I don't know if there's any history with that situation. I honestly don't know what the answer is."