There is a sense – albeit not a consensus -- this Duke team can be pretty good.
It certainly looked that way during Friday night's Sweet 16 matchup with Purdue, as the No. 1-seeded Blue Devils corrected themselves and then pummeled the fourth-seeded Boilermakers for a 70-57 victory in a NCAA tournament South Regional game at Reliant Stadium.
"I thought for the first 17 minutes of the game (the Boilermakers) were playing -- even though we were playing hard -- they were playing harder than we were," said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. "But then the rest of the game we played as hard or as harder."
Duke received excellent play from guards Nolan Smith and Jon Scheyer along with forward Kyle Singler -- Duke's "Big Three" -- at the most opportune moments to pull away from a Purdue team that wasn't about to lay down easily.
Singler and Smith started late in the first half when both made a couple big shots in the final 40 seconds that swung a four-point deficit into a momentum-building 24-23 lead going into halftime. That carried over into the critical second half as Scheyer, Smith and Singler stopped settling for jump shots and started taking the ball to the basket.
The result was a 46-34 differential in the final 20 minutes, which has put the Blue Devils one win away from returning to what most considerable their rightful place: the Final Four. In the first half, the Boilermakers had a defender in the face of Duke's scorers the moment they caught the ball to prevent the big shots.
The Blue Devils fixed that by putting the ball on the floor and driving the lane almost at will against Purdue in the second half. Scheyer was particularly impressive as he scored 16 of his 18 points in the second half primarily on drives.
It's no coincidence Duke shot a lights out 58 percent from the floor during the final 20 minutes while Purdue managed just 43 percent shooting during that same span.
"I think in the second half, we did a better job of just attacking," Scheyer said. "We moved the ball better and we up screens better."
And did they set up screens better. More to the point, boy did 7-foot-1, 260 pound center Brian Zoubek set up screens.
Zoubek's sheer mass leveled a couple Boilermaker defenders giving chase, including a vicious screen on Purdue's top defender Chris Kramer that allowed Singler to drive through the lane to the basket. Kramer, who is set to use his fifth year of eligibility in the fall to play football for the Boilermakers, lay agonizing in pain for a few minutes at the top of the 3-point arc where Zoubek had leveled him.
The tone for the remainder of the game was set from there as a close back-and-forth contest clearly swung in the favor of the Blue Devils who went ahead 42-35 on Singler's drive to the basket off the screen.
It turns out both Singler and Scheyer understood Kramer's pain as they too have the battle scars to show from the screens Zoubek sets in practice.
"I actually have a couple of stitches on my face because of Brian," said Singler, who ended up with a game-high 24 points. "Brian's a big, physical guy. He's very valuable to our team."
That isn't limited to setting basket-driving picks. Zoubek and his backup Miles Plumlee played a huge role in giving the Blue Devils a 48-27 edge on the boards against the smaller yet more athletic Boilermakers. The two combined for 21 of the rebounds with Zoubek finishing with 14 boards and just four points.
"I really have to commend the two big guys," Krzyzewski said. "To get 21 rebounds from that position was such key factor in that ballgame."
All of which gives reason to believe the Blue Devils could be pretty good and may not be the weak link of the four No. 1 seeds as they are just one of two still standing. Just how good they are might become clearer Sunday, against a big and athletic Baylor team.
Not surprisingly, Krzyzewski wasn't talking about the surprising Bears, who will essentially be playing a home game at Reliant Stadium in Sunday's Elite Eight round that will send one of the two to the Final Four in Indianapolis next week.
"I haven't watched Baylor at all," he said. "All I know is that they're very athletic and they play a tremendous zone. They have great length."
Conventional wisdom says those all could be problems for the Blue Devils, who seem to be returning closer to their typical national prominence rather than the team sure for a season-ending meltdown year after year.
Krzyzewski not only takes exception to the word meltdown, he doesn't even recognize it.
"I don't know what a meltdown is," he said. "What is a meltdown?"
Perhaps he will find out Sunday. Then again, there is an increasingly high chance he won't.