The national perception of Duke entering this year's NCAA tournament was of a deserving but vulnerable No. 1 seed likely to continue its string of early March exits.
The Blue Devils are one win from changing that.
Although Friday's 70-57 victory over fourth-seeded Purdue landed Duke its first Elite Eight berth since 2004, the Devils still haven't beaten a team with the combination of physical big men and slashing wings that gave them fits the past few years. They'll have that chance on Sunday in the South Regional Final against a Baylor team with a formidable front line and a back court as quick as any Duke has faced this season.
Whereas Purdue-Duke might have been a Final Four-caliber match-up as recently as a month ago, a season-ending injury to Robbie Hummel left the Boilermakers without enough offensive weapons to truly threaten the Devils. E'Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson combined for 41 of Purdue's 57 points and the Boilers played their usual rugged defense, but the supporting cast shot just 3 of 19 from the field and no third scorer emerged to replace Hummel.
Duke's solid defense and ability to withstand Purdue's physicality were promising signs, but not until Sunday will we get a true measure of how much the Devils have improved since Villanova ousted them in the Sweet 16 last year.
Baylor has 28 wins, two high-scoring athletic guards, a multi-talented front court and serious home-court advantage in Houston.
A loss would extend Duke's streak of losing to lower-seeded teams in the NCAA tournament to seven years in a row. A win would finally give the Devils the ammunition they need to silence those who claim they no longer have an elite program.