The Hoyas entered the 1984–85 season as the defending national champion, having won the title in 1984. Coached by John Thompson, the Hoyas featured center Patrick Ewing, who was named to the 1985 All-American team. The Hoyas held the number one ranking in the Associated Press Poll at the start of the season, and won their first 14 games. The team alternated the position with fellow Big East team St. John's. Georgetown lost only two games in the regular season, consecutive matchups with St. John's and Syracuse, before an 11-game winning streak prior to the NCAA Tournament that included a Big East Tournament championship. After losing their number one ranking after their pair of losses, Georgetown regained the position in the March 5 rankings and held it at the end of the regular season. The team was thought of at the time as one of the best college clubs in years. Their wins included a pair over Villanova in conference play. In the first game, held at the Spectrum in Philadelphia, Villanova's home arena, the teams battled into overtime before the Hoyas claimed a two-point victory. The repeat contest, in Washington, D.C., was also closely contested, but Georgetown again prevailed, 57–50.
Georgetown received the top seed in the East regional bracket of the 1985 NCAA Tournament, the first with 64 teams in the field, and faced Lehigh in the first round. A 68–43 victory set up a second-round matchup with eighth-seeded Temple, which the Hoyas won 63–46 to advance to the regional semifinals. There, Georgetown was matched with number four seed Loyola University Chicago; the Hoyas prevailed by 12 points and moved on to the East region's final. Against Georgia Tech, the Hoyas played in their closest game of the tournament to that point, winning 60–54 to advance to the Final Four. In an all-Big East game, Georgetown defeated St. John's 77–59, behind 20 points by Reggie Williams and 16 by Ewing, to clinch a spot in the national championship game.
Coached by Rollie Massimino, the Wildcats were coming off of a season in which they had lost to Illinois in the second round of the 1984 NCAA Tournament. The team's regular starting lineup included seniors Ed Pinckney, Dwayne McClain, and Gary McLain, along with juniors Harold Pressley and Dwight Wilbur. Villanova began the season 13–3, before a January 1985 loss at Maryland. The defeat started a slump that lasted throughout the rest of the regular season; the Wildcats had a 5–5 record in their final 10 regular season games, capped by a 23-point loss at Pittsburgh. After peaking at number 14 in the January 22 rankings, the team fell out of the Associated Press Poll by mid-February. With an 18–9 record overall entering the 1985 Big East Men's Basketball Tournament, Villanova was not assured of receiving an invitation to the NCAA Tournament. In a rematch against Pittsburgh, the team won by eight points to effectively secure their tournament berth. In the semifinals of the Big East Tournament, the Wildcats suffered a 15-point loss to St. John's, leaving their record at 19–10 going into the NCAA Tournament.
The Wildcats received the Southeast regional bracket's eighth seed and were matched in the first round against ninth-seeded Dayton, with the game held in Dayton's home arena. Despite the disadvantage of playing in what amounted to a road game, Villanova advanced after a closely contested contest; a go-ahead layup by Pressley gave the Wildcats a late lead that they held until the end. The Wildcats then won their second-round game, 59–55, over the region's top seed, Michigan, before a 46–43 victory in a rematch against Maryland (the fifth seed) that sent them to the regional final. North Carolina, their opponent, held a five-point lead at halftime before a strong performance in the second half led to a 12-point Villanova win and a spot in the Final Four. In their game against Memphis State, the Wildcats won by a 52–45 final score to gain their title game berth.
The game was played at Rupp Arena, in front of a crowd of 23,124 spectators. The Wildcats opened the scoring early in the first half. After Villanova narrowly avoided a turnover twice, Ed Pinckney passed the ball to Harold Pressley; under pressure from Ewing on defense, Pressley scored on a reverse layup to give the Wildcats a 2–0 lead. The Hoyas' David Wingate evened the score with a successful jump shot. The teams then traded baskets; a slam dunk by McClain was followed by another jump shot by Wingate. Villanova made their first four field goal attempts, but fell behind 10–8 as they committed four turnovers during the period. Georgetown played a 1–3–1 defense focused on trapping and pressuring the Wildcats' players, while Villanova used a match-up zone defense. With about 16 minutes elapsed in the first half, the Hoyas held a one-point advantage. Ewing responded by scoring on dunks on each of Georgetown's following three possessions. The Hoyas were unable to extend their lead, however, because Villanova found success on long field goal attempts. Three Wildcats players scored on long-range jumpers, including a shot by Pressley that fell after hitting the rim multiple times. The Wildcats employed a "patient" offensive strategy during the game, which was in evidence during the last two minutes of the first half as Pinckney, with two personal fouls, was not on the floor. The team employed what author Frank Fitzpatrick called "the last successful stall in college basketball history."