ESPN College Hoops includes a number of extra modes and unlockables. Using points you earn while playing, you can go to the campus store and purchase mascot teams, fantasy courts, like a farm or space station, alternate jerseys, and classic teams, like the 1993 "Fab Five" Michigan squad, Larry Bird's 1979 Indiana State team, or Pete Newell's 1959 Cal championship team. There's also an "ESPN Slam Session," which is basically a dunk contest with a few different modes. Though it's amusing at first, the Slam Session modes get old quickly because they basically boil down to pressing different button combinations in quick succession to execute the different dunks.
ESPN College Hoops' legacy mode is extremely involving. Not only can you create and customize playing schedules for your team, but you'll be responsible for hiring and working with assistant coaches, who have their own attributes and strengths in categories like offensive/defensive strategy, game planning, recruiting, loyalty, and more. You interact with your assistants while they recruit players, and you also interact with them before games as they give you tips on the opposing team's strengths and weaknesses.
What's somewhat overwhelming is that recruiting is reflected as a yearlong process (as it is in real life). You'll be able to scout high school players, attend (and play) their high school games, invite them to visit your school, and make scholarship offers all during your own regular season. You won't have many action points to spend during the season, so you'll need to be judicious about which recruits you focus on. However, if you wait until the off-season to handle most of your recruiting, you'll find that many of the plum picks are already committed or leaning heavily toward another school. The fact that you are more or less forced to participate in the early-season recruiting process can slow down your progress through the regular season, as you must necessitate dealing with these extra responsibilities.
As far as managing your team, you can manually play as many or as few games as you wish. For those more interested in simulating games, there are numerous coaching sliders to reflect playing style. There's half-court versus fast break, fundamental versus flashy, finesse versus physical, and more. The regular season is a great time to play with the sliders and learn the strengths and weaknesses of your team as you head into the year-end conference and national tournaments.
As you'd expect from a Sega Sports game, College Hoops' graphics are very good. The developers have done a great job of modeling the various major arenas across the country. As you play the game, you'll see a lot of nice touches, including cutaway shots of fans who are cheering or groaning based on the fortunes of their home teams. Mascots will interact with coaches and players. You'll also see the crowd performing card stunts or waving "Brick!" and/or "Choke!" signs at opposing free-throw shooters. The player models themselves don't seem quite as detailed as in ESPN NBA, and the animations seem a bit rougher (for some reason), but they still hold up very well. The Xbox version of the game is a bit cleaner and more vibrant-looking than its PS2 counterpart, but, otherwise, there aren't any glaring differences.
College Hoops fares even better in the sound department. As mentioned earlier, the game includes many authentic fight songs, and the crowd interaction with the game is dynamic and realistic. They'll roar as the home team performs well, or they'll die down into silence if they're getting beaten. The crowd also has an impressive number of different chants to urge on the home team. Announcing is handled by ESPN's Mike Patrick and Jay Bilas. They do a great job overall, but if there's any criticism to make, it's that they might talk a little too much. Bilas is certainly a knowledgeable college basketball analyst, but the color commentary he adds to the game sometimes gets a little long-winded and trails the actual gameplay.
The online features for both the PS2 and Xbox are similar to ESPN NBA Basketball's offerings. You can play matches on a ranked leaderboard, and on the PS2 you can participate in tournaments. Gameplay over Xbox Live seems smooth and responsive, for the most part, with all of the features you've come to expect from Xbox Live-enabled games.
Though the similarities between ESPN NBA Basketball and College Hoops are readily apparent, there are definite differences in the gameplay that reflect the contrasts between the pro and college games. The developers have done a great job with College Hoops' presentation in establishing a proper college ambience, and, with the online play, unlockables, legacy mode, and other extras, College Hoops comes together as a great overall game for college basketball fans.