The best NCAA championship games of all time

It's an exceedingly difficult task to whittle down the most exciting championship games of this crazy competition we call March Madness. It earned that nickname for a reason, after all.

Since the tournament's inception in 1939, six title matchups have been decided in overtime, and 17 ended with a deficit of three points or fewer. Not every close game is equally exciting, of course.

Narratives build throughout the first couple weeks of the Big Dance, lending an extra layer of public interest to certain matchups. Some games are remembered for iconic moments -- whether they're a symbol of rousing success or gut-wrenching failure. And nothing gets a basketball fan's blood pumping like an old-fashioned buzzer-beater.

With that in mind, here's one fan's ranking of the five best college basketball championships of all time.

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The best photos and moments from March Madness 2017
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The best photos and moments from March Madness 2017
GREENVILLE, SC - MARCH 19: Chris Silva #30 of the South Carolina Gamecocks dunks the ball in the second half against the Duke Blue Devils during the second round of the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Bon Secours Wellness Arena on March 19, 2017 in Greenville, South Carolina. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
ORLANDO, FL - MARCH 16: Zach Johnson #5 of the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles passes the ball against Trent Forrest #3 of the Florida State Seminoles in the first half during the first round of the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Amway Center on March 16, 2017 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
GREENVILLE, SC - MARCH 17: Moses Kingsley #33 of the Arkansas Razorbacks rebounds against Angel Delgado #31 of the Seton Hall Pirates during the first round of the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Bon Secours Wellness Arena on March 17, 2017 in Greenville, South Carolina. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
SACRAMENTO, CA - MARCH 17: Jon Severe #10 of the Iona Gaels fouls Dillon Brooks #24 of the Oregon Ducks in the first half during the first round of the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Golden 1 Center on March 17, 2017 in Sacramento, California. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - MARCH 16: Gavin Skelly #44 of the Northwestern Wildcats celebrates after a play in the second half against the Vanderbilt Commodores during the first round of the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Vivint Smart Home Arena on March 16, 2017 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
BUFFALO, NY - MARCH 18: Elijah Macon #45 of the West Virginia Mountaineers dunks the ball against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the second round of the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at KeyBank Center on March 18, 2017 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
GREENVILLE, SC - MARCH 17: Jayson Tatum #0 of the Duke Blue Devils dunks against the Troy Trojans in the first half during the first round of the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Bon Secours Wellness Arena on March 17, 2017 in Greenville, South Carolina. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
TULSA, OK - MARCH 19: Josh Jackson #11 of the Kansas Jayhawks dunks the ball against the Michigan State Spartans during the second round of the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at BOK Center on March 19, 2017 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
GREENVILLE, SC - MARCH 19: Duane Notice #10 of the South Carolina Gamecocks shoots the ball against Luke Kennard #5 of the Duke Blue Devils in the second half during the second round of the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Bon Secours Wellness Arena on March 19, 2017 in Greenville, South Carolina. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
BUFFALO, NY - MARCH 18: Nigel Hayes #10 of the Wisconsin Badgers takes a shot against Josh Hart #3 of the Villanova Wildcats during the second round of the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at KeyBank Center on March 18, 2017 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MO - MARCH 23: Isaac Haas #44 of the Purdue Boilermakers battles for the ball with Carlton Bragg Jr. #15 of the Kansas Jayhawks during the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament Midwest Regional at Sprint Center on March 23, 2017 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 24: Chris Chiozza #11 of the Florida Gators shoots a game winning three point basket in overtime to defeat the Wisconsin Badgers with a score of 84 to 83 during the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament East Regional at Madison Square Garden on March 24, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MO - MARCH 25: Jordan Bell #1 of the Oregon Ducks dunks the ball in the second half against the Kansas Jayhawks during the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament Midwest Regional at Sprint Center on March 25, 2017 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
MEMPHIS, TN - MARCH 26: Luke Maye #32 of the North Carolina Tar Heels reacts after a basket late in teh second half against the Kentucky Wildcats during the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at FedExForum on March 26, 2017 in Memphis, Tennessee. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
MEMPHIS, TN - MARCH 26: Isaac Humphries #15 of the Kentucky Wildcats competes for a rebound with Theo Pinson #1, Isaiah Hicks #4 and Joel Berry II #2 of the North Carolina Tar Heels in the first half during the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at FedExForum on March 26, 2017 in Memphis, Tennessee. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 26: Chris Chiozza #11 of the Florida Gators chases the ball after Duane Notice #10 of the South Carolina Gamecocks and Justin Leon #23 of the Florida Gators lose the ball in the second half during the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament East Regional at Madison Square Garden on March 26, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 26: Head coach Frank Martin of the South Carolina Gamecocks celebrates by cutting down the net after defeating the Florida Gators with a score of 77 to 70 to win the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament East Regional at Madison Square Garden on March 26, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
MEMPHIS, TN - MARCH 24: Isaiah Briscoe #13 and Isaac Humphries #15 of the Kentucky Wildcats compete for the ball with Ike Anigbogu #13 and Gyorgy Goloman #14 of the UCLA Bruins in the first half during the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at FedExForum on March 24, 2017 in Memphis, Tennessee. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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5. 1985: Villanova 66, Georgetown 64

The lowest-seeded team to ever win it all had to take down defending national champion and No. 1 seed Georgetown to do it. The Hoyas had won their first five tourney games by an average of 15.6 points behind future NBA Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing, but No. 8 seed Villanova shocked its Big East rivals on April Fool's Day.

In the last game in Division I history contested without a shot clock, the Wildcats took their time in crafting what would come to be known as the Perfect Game. They took just 18 shots in the first half, making 13 to stake a one-point lead heading into halftime. Their offense was even more deliberate in the second half, converting 9 out of 10 shots to shoot 78.6 percent overall for the game -- a tournament record.

Harold Jensen's jumper with 2:40 left put Villanova up 55-54, and after Georgetown turned it over on the ensuing possession, the Wildcats closed out the school's first title at the free-throw line. It was a fairy tale ending for the biggest Cinderella to ever be crowned the champions of the Big Dance, but points must be taken off for an agonizing pace of play and lack of any standout classic moment.

4. 2008: Kansas 75, Memphis 68 (OT)

This game is remembered for Mario Chalmers' buzzer-beating three at the top of the key -- or as Kansas fans refer to it, Mario's Miracle. But some might not remember that shot only tied the game to send it to overtime, where the Jayhawks rode the momentum by scoring the period's first six points to take control and coast to the finish line.

It was a stunning collapse by Memphis, which led by nine with 2:12 remaining in regulation. Leading up to that comeback, freshman Derrick Rose played like the No. 1 draft pick he'd become later that summer, capping a 14-point binge in eight minutes by nailing a ridiculous fadeaway that the play-by-play announcer instantly called "the shot of the tournament."

It wasn't. The Tigers -- ranked 339th of the country's 341 teams with 59 percent free-throw shooting, according to ESPN -- sunk just 1 out of 5 free throws in the game's final 90 seconds to open the door for the true shot of the tournament, courtesy of Chalmers.

3. 1982: North Carolina 63, Georgetown 62

The 1982 championship served as a reminder that even though college basketball features some of the country's premier athletes, these players are still young guys with somewhat limited game experience. In this instance, one of the most star-studded finals of all time ended in one of the most bone-headed plays to ever decide a championship.

After 19-year-old Michael Jordan hit a jumper with 17 seconds left to give UNC a one-point lead, Georgetown guard Fred Brown got confused when Carolina's James Worthy jumped into the backcourt and delivered the ball right to him.

With no three-point line enacted at the time, that should've been all she wrote for Georgetown. But Worthy, a future Los Angeles Laker legend, inexplicably missed both free throws to give the Hoyas another shot. It was wasted when a desperation heave fell short, as the Tar Heels clinched their first title under coach Dean Smith.

Poor Patrick Ewing. His college career was bookended by crushing title-game defeats in both his freshman and senior seasons, and he never won an NBA title despite becoming an icon for the New York Knicks. At least his Hoyas claimed a championship during his junior year.

2: 1983: N.C. State 54, Houston 52

Though the 1985 Villanova Wildcats were the lowest seed to ever win the NCAA Tournament, many (myself included) consider the North Carolina State Wolfpack squad from two years earlier to be the greatest underdog story in March Madness history.

Their opponents, the Houston Wildcats, were loaded with talent in the form of Akeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, who'd combine to make 22 All-Star teams in the NBA. "Phi Slama Jama" changed the way the game was played, ushering in an era of athleticism and highlight-reel dunks.

But it was the Lorenzo Charles of the "Cardiac Pack" who thundered home the most important dunk of the tournament, a game-ending alley-oop of sorts born from Dereck Whittenburg's desperate heave from 30 feet out. That provided perhaps the most iconic moment in tournament lore, sending coach Jim Valvano on a desperate quest to find anyone who'd hug him.

Jimmy V's bunch had endured several heart-stopping games en route to the championship -- a double-overtime win over Pepperdine in the first round, and a pair of one-point triumphs over UNLV in the second round and Ralph Sampson-led Virginia in the Elite Eight -- but none were greater than their last.

1. 2016: Villanova 77, North Carolina 74

It's not just recency bias. Last year's roller coaster of a game was the best title decider in NCAA basketball history -- and the only one to end on a three-pointer at the buzzer.

To set the stage: Villanova entered having stunned No. 1 overall seed Kansas in the Elite Eight, then demoralized Oklahoma and national player of the year Buddy Hield with the biggest blowout in Final Four history, a 95-51 laugher. Meanwhile, North Carolina won both the ACC regular season title and conference tournament before running roughshod through their side of the bracket, winning all five matchups by double digits with an average margin of 16.2 points to tie a record with their 19th Final Four (which they broke this year).

Senior point guard Marcus Paige led the Tar Heels on a furious comeback that cemented his place in Carolina lore, loss or not. Villanova led by 10 with less than five minutes left, but UNC cut that down to three on a trey from Paige with 1:30 left. A minute later, he rebounded his own missed layup to bring the Heels to within one. Then, on Carolina's final possession, he knocked down a miraculous, double-clutch three-pointer to tie things up.

The Wildcats came right back at the Heels, however, unfazed by the dizzying sequence. Ryan Arcidiacono dribbled down the court and shovel passed it to Kris Jenkins, who launched from well beyond the arc as time expired.

As Villanova coach Jay Wright coolly put it: Bang.

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