Last night, fans at a sold-out Crisler Arena cheered on as their Wolverines locked up the school’s first men’s basketball conference championship since 1986. As the team exited the floor to a boisterous crowd, it almost looked like the glory days of the Fab Five, except this time, Chris Webber was in the stands – and paid for his ride.

Actually, that’s a little misleading. Crisler was packed to full capacity and Tommy Amaker didn’t have one of those “uh-oh” looks on his face, but this fantastical scene was just the product of EA Sports’ “NCAA March Madness 07,” for the Xbox 360.

The latecomer to this year’s college basketball video-game scene (behind “College Hoops 2K7” from 2K Sports), “March Madness” is EA’s first college basketball release on a next-generation console. Like many of EA’s pilot releases for next-gen, “March Madness” doesn’t have the variety of game modes that previous-generation consoles were treated to – but what the game does offer, it does fairly well.

Like EA’s “NCAA Football 07,” “March Madness” places a lot of attention on the unique atmosphere of college athletics. The game features meticulously detailed renderings of most of the major programs’ arenas. Everything from the placement of the Maize Rage in Crisler to the banners in Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium is carried over to the game.

Tied in with the detailed arenas is a new Team Intensity feature, which uses game momentum and crowd involvement to impact the play on the court. If your team is playing well, you can trigger boosts that will either raise the composure of your players or bring down your opponents. Hoarding these boosts over time can trigger an Impact Moment which acts as a sort of super-boost. The Team Intensity feature is somewhat similar to the Gamebreakers seen in the “arcadie” “NBA Street” series, but slightly less effective. The boosts may be a little overblown and unrealistic, but it does provide for more exciting games.

The game mode depth is fairly shallow with only a quick play option, tournaments, online quick play and a dynasty mode. Of all the modes, the dynasty has far and away the most to offer. Everything from recruiting to disciplining players and trying to get facility upgrades from alumni is included. The depth of the dynasty mode is comparable to that of “NCAA Football 07,” and should satisfy gamers looking for more than the occasional pickup game.

As far as the gameplay goes, “March Madness” is the best basketball game EA has released on a next-gen console, easily surpassing the lackluster “NBA Live” games. For once, playing defense is as enjoyable as playing offence thanks to the addition of the new lockdown stick. By angling the right analog stick at the ball handler, defenders can aggressively defend and pressure their man. This adds another degree of skill to the game, and a much-needed one at that.

Offensively, a deep play-calling menu is easily accessible and creating scoring chances is less about crossovers in isolation than team play. This is partly because the canned animations mapped to the right analog stick aren’t very useful, so you’re going to have to be creative to set up quality scoring chances. There’s a slight learning curve to picking up the offense, but it’s not necessarily bad, it’s just different.

For college basketball enthusiasts and EA fans who didn’t take to the recent “NBA Live” releases, “NCAA March Madness 07” should be greeted with open arms. There’s certainly room to expand the game modes and fine-tune the offense in future installments, but for its freshman outing on a next-gen console, “March Madness” is a step in the right direction.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

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