They may share the sport's name, but otherwise the basketball played in the NBA and NCAA couldn't be more different. The professional game is a grim, 82-game slog played by mercenaries under a cloud of bad attitudes and an often grousing fan base. Conversely, each college hoops season brings with it a joyous romp through a 30-odd match schedule full of ups and downs in front of wildly enthusiastic crowds - topped by the single most riveting championship tournament ever created.
Similarly, this year's College Hoops NCAA 2K7 and NBA 2K7 share many of the same attributes - splendid on-court gameplay, deep team management modes, and the best online options anywhere - but the schoolbound edition throws some campus-style goodies into the recipe. While the differences are slim between this season and last, it's still likely to please demanding console coaches.
For starters, virtually every Division 1A team is available to play. Sure, anyone can win with Duke or Florida, but it takes a man's man to turn Rider or Stony Brook into big-time programs. What's even more astounding is that something resembling each of these obscure schools' home buildings are represented, scaled to the size of the institution. Mighty fine indeed.
On the court, the action remains traditionally solid, if mostly borrowed from the excellent NBA 2K7. NCAA teams are rarely peppered with superstar-type dominators, so the emphasis is more on the fundamentals of passing, hitting open shots and playing solid defense as opposed to throwing down loads of boom-tastic dunks. As before, we had a little trouble mastering the pull-and-release shooting mechanic of the Shot Stick, but it really is the key to success, especially down low in the paint. Adjusting shots left or right via the Stick is your only hope when a 7-foot tree is standing between you and the hoop, and the X button doesn't allow for such maneuvering. Thankfully, a Practice mode is around so you can polish up your shooting skills.
The legacy mode is deeper than ever (too much for some?), what with all sorts of recruiting, practice, and coaching options to take care of before you ever hit the hardwood. As you've come to expect, 2K Sports' sublime online options return, featuring leagues, tournaments, stat tracking, and professional-grade websites to trash talk and post naughty pictures (not that we condone that sort of behavior).
The Xbox 360 version is the best of the bunch, featuring the gorgeous visuals you've come to expect. The sounds of the college buildings will fill up your room, with the school bands cranking out fight songs and the crowd reacting wildly to all the goings-on. Speaking of the fans, our favorite 360-only feature, hands down, is the Create-a-Chant. It's surprisingly easy to use, with all sorts of letters, drums, and words you can use to combine to make the strangest cheers imaginable. There's something ludicrously fun about having your home crowd scream "Brown buckets catch stink!" after you nail a three-pointer. We don't know what that really means, and it's probably in very poor taste, but it's funny as hell. We would have liked to see some of the Achievements be less ridiculous, though; one of them wants you to get nothing but great feedback from your opponents - like that would ever happen after you lay a 30-point beatdown on some poor sap.
Unless you've already got NBA 2K7 and an empty wallet, College Hoops NCAA 2K7 deserves a spot in your rotation. So go ahead - grab your books and head back to campus. You'll learn something, we guarantee.