Major League Baseball excepted, EA Sports has cornered the market on just about everything, and the behemoth no doubt has a monopoly on pretty. On EA's Xbox 360 version of NBA Live 06, the menu screen alone makes ugly ducklings out of 2K Sports' pro and college basketball models, but fortunately, people don't play games for the menus. There are two key differences between the EA and 2K hoop games: EA's courts are navigated vertically while 2K's are side-to-side, and EA's shooting is button-controlled while 2K uses the new "shot stick," which simulates a shooter's touch with a pull-and-release of the right analog stick. Opinions may vary on the former—though the horizontal field gives you a more consistent perspective—but the shot stick feels so intuitive that you can practically feel the ball loft off your fingertips.
Though it plays more or less like its NBA counterpart, College Hoops 2K6 amps up the atmospherics, recreating the pandemonium that fills sweatbox arenas on the road to March Madness. Enthusiasm has always distinguished the college game from the pros, and it's fun just to play for the crowd, which can vary in volume based on the size of the program. Because the amateur status of student athletes prohibits the use of their names and likenesses, the game's Legacy mode focuses on your development as a coach, starting you at the Division I bottom-feeders like Kennesaw State until you can prove yourself down the line. This means recruiting prospects from high school, nabbing junior-college transfers, and leading your motley club to the Big Dance.
Beyond the game: Made by and for NCAA basketball obsessives, College Hoops labors mightily over the look and ambience of each arena, and little touches like a full Selection Sunday show put it over the top.
Worth playing for: The AI does such a fine job of simulating individual teams that you'll know when you're playing against Duke or Gardner-Webb, and you'll have to adjust accordingly. Of course, that can also lead to…
Frustration sets in when: …match-ups that are so lopsided that you're doomed to a blowout, no matter how skilled you are. That first season in Legacy mode can be a real bloodbath.
Final judgment: There are only two college basketball games available, EA's or 2K's. The latter costs less and plays better, so the choice is pretty clear.