Anybody remember Blake Griffin? For Michigan basketball fans, he will most likely bring back painful memories of last year’s second-round loss in the NCAA Basketball Tournament at the hands of the Oklahoma Sooners. Now Griffin is front and center on the cover of EA Sports’s latest “NCAA Basketball 10.” Time to revisit the madness — it’s college basketball fever, baby!

“NCAA Basketball 10”

PS3/Xbox 360
EA Sports

First, let’s get something out of the way. Excluding titles like “NBA Street” and “NBA Jam,” basketball, in the most classical sense, is a very difficult sport to translate into a fun video game. Constant motion offenses and zone defenses can be dizzying unless you’re a seasoned veteran of Princeton cuts, 1-3-1 traps and the like. Nonetheless, the game offers a stunning array of options. As the head coach you can make substitutions, change matchups, set game plans before each game and make moves in the post — everything short of talking to (or screaming at) the ref.

Complete with updated rosters, rankings and home-court advantages for, according to the game, some of the “toughest places to play,” “NCAA” lets you play along with this year’s season. With an Internet connection, the game actually updates rankings and rosters over the course of a season.

For many, though, online updating might be a nonfactor — choosing your own rivalry matchups, no matter the current status of the team, is always great. And for those still sore about last year’s tournament loss, pick Michigan and have junior forward Manny Harris and the boys give those Sooners a good ass-kicking at Crisler Arena. Redemption is sweet, even with Griffin in the pros.

Perhaps the biggest flaw of “NCAA Basketball 10,” as with other college basketball video games, is that one star can dominate a game so completely that the concept of a team falls by the wayside. While the game gives you the option of controlling any of your players on the floor regardless of whether they have the ball (nifty for open looks behind the arc, setting picks and making cuts), a quick drive by an overpowering forward or a three-pointer by a sharpshooting guard makes all other options seem trivial.

Game developers have yet to figure out a way to present the complicated sport of college basketball in a fun and consistently engaging way. And though running four low-motion offenses might be exciting for basketball purists, EA can bet most of its audience won’t make much use of these things. Just give the ball to Manny and watch what he does with it — you’re better off.

All complaints aside, the game looks pretty fantastic. Gameplay is generally smooth and even includes the signature graphics of CBS Sports and ESPN along with color commentary from their announcers (yes, Dick Vitale included). Play as any Division I team in any stadium in the country and feel the fans shake up the screen for added intensity toward the end of a game.

Mid-game, players’ strengths are shown underneath them (an orange “3” for good shooters behind the arc, a red hand for a good blocker, etc.), which is helpful in choosing match-ups and judging where and how to move your team. Difficulty levels ranging from “Junior Varsity” to “All-American” change the game significantly, affecting player speed, free throws (which are pretty tough on any level) and whether or not shots fall.

Aside from the exhibition mode Play Now, you’ve got some options in terms of how you like your college basketball served. Those familiar with other recent EA Sports games will recognize Dynasty Mode — a multi-year coaching career for those in it for the long haul. Even better is NCAA Tournament Mode, in which up to four players can select teams and play through an entire bracket. But those searching for the fever pitch of true college basketball would be smart to ditch the controller and wait until March — there’s little madness to be found in “NCAA Basketball 10.”

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