Home » Columns » Currently Reading:

March Madness 2003 Review

August 24, 2003 Columns No Comments

Review: NCAA March Madness 2003

by Dean Austin

Title: NCAA March Madness 2003
Publisher: EA Sports
Platform: Playstation 2
Score (out of 10): 7

Help support Hoopville. Click to purchase through Amazon.com

In many ways the sport of college basketball has been an after thought in the very successful business of sports video and computer games. Other than the heyday of Sega Sports circa 93-96 most college basketball games give the impression that they are their NBA’s poorer cousin. And in all candor this is also true of EA’s latest entry NCAA March Madness 2003. However the seeds of a great game have been planted and the 2003 version has a lot to recommend it.

Part of the problem is the rest of the EA Sports lineup. It’s very difficult to look at any of the EA sports franchises without comparing them to their brethren. The recent NCAA College Football for example is even better than the venerable Madden Football. In March Madness 2003 echoes of the college football product start to peak through. This is a good thing.

First up of all things is a little piece of chrome; college students chanting EA’s slogan of “if it’s in the game; it’s in the game.” One particularly funny one is from Indiana where the guy appears to be channeling Carrot Top. Sure it’s not going to make you decide to buy the product, or not if you loathe Carrot Top, but little touches are what add that something extra to a solid product.

The seeds of a great game have been planted and the 2003 version has a lot to recommend it.

Jumping straight into a game, March Madness is very easy to get into. An appropriately named Play Now brings up a select screen with a match up of two of the 160+ schools that are in the game. It’s here that the first uneasiness pops in. A nifty feature allows you to pick a team and select their rival. The problem is that some of the rivals are a little questionable. I at least understand the logic, even if I disagree, of Arizona’s basketball rival being listed as UCLA over Arizona State, but Boise State having a rival of Alabama strikes me as more than a little odd. Charleston with Sacramento State and Ohio State with Ohio also seem peculiar.

There are a number of different options that can be set including the skill level, half length and the camera view. The latter is surprisingly important as the comfort level of the playing view is crucial to steals and blocks. The nice thing about these levels is that most players should be able to win the NCAA Championship on the lower levels and then have the challenge of winning at the All-American skill setting.

For all of us that hate looking at manuals the basic controls are highlighted during the opening screen. At least in the beginning the important ones to note are pass, shoot and turbo on offense and steal, rebound/block and calling of formations on defense. My own personal preference is for a 2-3 zone with a big center playing for the block. Sure you can get killed from the outside if a team is on fire, but it’s pretty effective otherwise.

Graphically March Madness can be quite beautiful at times. The courts are works of art, the University of San Francisco with its Golden Gate Bridge in particular and the crowd animations really add to the atmosphere. The player animations are adequate but one area where a few more for diversity wouldn’t hurt. Control is easy and intuitive. Pretty quickly you’ll be knocking down the trey, turbo bursting into a huge slam dunk, calling the pick and roll and playing tough defense.

The now traditional cross hairs for a free throw are implemented flawlessly. The horizontal and vertical sliders move more quickly if you are a poor free throw shooter making it harder to hit the sweet spot. I didn’t notice a difference in the sliders depending on the time of the game, the fatigue of the player or whether it was a clutch situation. It would be nice to see that nuance added.

Dickie V and Brad Nessler provide the commentary. No one conveys the excitement of the college game like Vitale and here he’s full of quips and one-liners as you would expect. It would be nice if the voice AI was a little smarter. “Another rejection! What is this, the high school prom?” is very funny but not when it’s the first blocked shot of the game. It can’t be all that hard to put filters in place to make sure that this doesn’t happen. Nessler compliments the V-ster very well. It’s a nice combination and a little more work in the studio with scripts will make this feature a home run, or at least a three point play.

The heart of the game is the dynasty mode. This is what gets the blood flowing. Can you take an also ran and turn it into a national power? For the purpose of my dynasty I chose the Chippewas of Central Michigan. Not exactly chopped liver, as Creighton found out this past March, but far enough out of the mainstream that building them into a contender would be a challenge.

No one conveys the excitement of the college game like Vitale.

I started off 12-0 beating the likes of Notre Dame and Syracuse on the way to a MAC Championship and a 26-6 record prior to the NCAA Tournament. The bad news was that I was still only ranked 88th in the country. The team’s original rating had been so low that even with the constant winning, the Chippewas were unable to climb high in the polls. Worse still at the end of the year four of my players were All-Americans including the player of the year, my junior center who then didn’t go pro. This seems wrong. I understand that a team from the mid majors even with a gaudy record will not get overwhelming respect but a 13th seed in the NCAA Tournament and 88th overall for the 26-6 MAC Champion seems more than a little bizarre.

At the end of the season the best part of the dynasty mode kicks in. Now you get to play the recruiting game. To the best of my knowledge this was first pioneered by Jerry Albright some years ago in an obscure GTE college basketball title but it remains basically the same today. You have a certain number of recruiting points and can expend it on whichever players that you want. Obviously players who want to play for you or want to stay and play locally are better bets than the blue chip recruit from across the country but you get to make the decision. Be careful, even with a couple of shooting guards on the roster I used surplus points during recruiting on a couple of local guys that were interested and ended up with a couple of players I didn’t need. Lesson learned.

EA’s March Madness is a good game, you might even say a very good game, but it isn’t a great game. At each stage of this review you see it. This feature is good but . . . Or that really rocks but . . . It’s awfully close to getting there but is not quite there. However as I said at the beginning, the seeds have been planted for such greatness. Another year of work, especially using the superb NCAA College Football as a template could turn this franchise from a “nice title to pick up” to “I need this the first day it comes out!” Either way, if you are a college basketball fan (and if not what the heck are you doing here?) and a video game enthusiast, this is one for you.

EA’s NCAA March Madness 2003 gets a Hoopville 7 out of 10.


Comment on this Article:

Subscribe to Hoopville

Enter your email address to subscribe to Hoopville


Hoopville Archives

College Basketball Tonight

We hope you enjoyed COLLEGE BASKETBALL TONIGHT during the 2016 NCAA Tournament. COLLEGE BASKETBALL TONIGHT is a comprehensive look at the NCAA Tournament hosted by veteran college basketball broadcaster Ted Sarandis, along with co-hosts Mike Jarvis and Terry O'Connor, both former Division I coaches. It also included many great guests, including Hoopville's own Phil Kasiecki.

The show aired on AM 710 WOR in New York City on Sunday evenings starting with Selection Sunday and running through the NCAA Tournament.

Here are links to the shows:

March 13, 2016 - First hour | Second hour

March 20, 2016 - First hour | Second hour

March 27, 2016 - First hour | Second hour

April 3, 2016 - First hour | Second hour

Everybody Needs a Head Coach

Former college basketball coach Mike Jarvis has a new book out, Everybody Needs a Head Coach.

"As you read this book, I hope that Coach Jarvis' experiences inspire you to find your purpose in life."
-Patrick Ewing, NBA Hall of Fame center

"Mike Jarvis' is one of my special friends. I am so pleased that he has taken the time to write this fabulous book."
-Mike Krzyzewski, Five-time NCAA championship head coach, Duke Blue Devils

"In reading this book, I can see that Mike hasn't lost his edge or his purpose. Readers should take a look at what he has to say."
-Jim Calhoun, Three-time NCAA champion, UConn Men's basketball

Review on Hoopville coming soon!

Coaching Changes

The coaching carousel is moving. Keep track of the latest coaching changes right here on Hoopville.

Hoopville Podcasts

Talking Hoops With Ted Sarandis – February 22, 2018

February 22, 2018 by

In our latest podcast, we start with floor issues in the Big East and an important NCAA ruling that was upheld. Then we go on to the Big 12, where Wednesday night had a new twist, as well as the ACC and how it shapes up along with no team going undefeated in conference play this year.

Talking Hoops With Ted Sarandis – February 7, 2018

February 7, 2018 by

In our latest podcast, we talk about a big sweep in the SEC, look back on the wild Saturday, then talk about a Big Ten showdown and some undefeated teams in conference play.

Talking Hoops With Ted Sarandis – January 31, 2018

January 31, 2018 by

In our latest podcast, we talk about a lot of what has happened in the ACC and SEC, including the Big 12/SEC Challenge, whether or not Kentucky is turning a corner, as well as the story at Michigan State.

Talking Hoops With Ted Sarandis – January 26, 2018

January 26, 2018 by

In our latest podcast, we talk about a wild night in the Big Ten, adversity and a quiet leader in the ACC, what to make of Kentucky and look ahead to the Big 12/SEC Challenge.

Talking Hoops With Ted Sarandis – January 18, 2018

January 18, 2018 by

In our latest podcast, we talk about big road wins for a few teams, including a couple of bluebloods that looked destined for losses, as well as an unsettled Big Ten beyond one team, an SEC where you shouldn’t pay attention to bracketologists, and the problems with a proposed earlier start to the college basketball season.

Phil Kasiecki on Twitter

Recruiting Coverage

Lincoln captures Hamilton Park title

August 15, 2017 by

For the first time, a public school won the Hamilton Park Summer League, and they were led by a big effort from a junior point guard in the title game.

Notes from a day at the 2017 Boston Shootout

June 12, 2017 by

Some news and notes coming from the second and final day of action at the 2017 Boston Shootout, where the host program provided plenty of talent, but so did a program that produced a team that beat them.

Notes from a day at the 2017 Northeast Hoops Festival

April 11, 2017 by

The Northeast Hoops Festival helped bring in the new spring travel season in New England, and we have notes from some of Saturday’s action.

2016 Boston Back to School Showcase notes

September 12, 2016 by

We look back at the 2016 Boston Back to School Showcase, where a couple of Boston City League teams were among the most impressive on the day.

2016 Hoopville Spring Finale championship recap

June 28, 2016 by

We look back at the championship games of the 2016 Hoopville Spring Finale, which had a big local flavor as one might have expected.