DURHAM, N.C. – Duke can forget the Final Four — at least, for now.
The No. 1 seeded Blue Devils (31-5) haven't even reached the round of eight since 2004, so if they do advance, it would mark the latest measure of progress for a one-step-at-a-time senior class.
That's why they insist their focus is solely on fourth-seeded Purdue — and not their seemingly inevitable trip to Indianapolis for the Final Four — as they prepare for their South Regional semifinal Friday night in Houston. The winner faces the Saint Mary's-Baylor winner on Sunday in the regional final.
"This year, we're only thinking about this year," guard Nolan Smith said Tuesday. "We're not focused at all on the past. The fact that we have guys that went to the (round of) 16 last year and knowing that's where we lost last year, we're ready to go past that. We're doing what we've got to do, defensively and rebounding-wise, to do that."
The seniors — Jon Scheyer, Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas — have been systematic through their careers, taking incremental steps deeper into the bracket since going one-and-done as freshmen in 2007.
They won one tournament game in '08 and two last year to bring them to the spot where three Duke seasons have ended since that most recent Final Four run in 2004, their 10th march to the national semifinals under Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski.
"We want to have a chance at a Final Four (and) play for a national championship. No matter what, if it was that easy, then everybody would do it all the time," Krzyzewski said. "You've just got to keep knocking at the door. You have to keep striving to get there, and once you're there, you hope to open the door and you're allowed to come in.
"In the history of the time I've been here, the door's opened 10 times," he added. "That's a lot of times. We're hoping that we can win Friday and have an opportunity to play Sunday and hopefully knock the door down."
The day the field of 65 was revealed, some said the Blue Devils were given the easiest path to Indy of any of the No. 1 seeds. Then, the road was cleared with a second-round upset loss by second-seeded Villanova, which beat Duke in last year's round of 16.
But Duke isn't solely going up against that manageable road through the bracket. Perhaps more importantly, the present-day Blue Devils also are fighting recent history that predates their arrival in Durham.
They were knocked out in the round of 16 in consecutive years by eventual national semifinalists. They went down to Michigan State in 2005 and LSU in '06, in the last game in the Duke blue and white for J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams. Then last year, it was Villanova's turn to beat Duke and eventually reach the Final Four.
"After we won last year against Texas (in the second round), I think a little bit of us might have been a little satisfied or felt like we were supposed to win," Scheyer said. "But this year, I think we expected to be in this position, and we know we have a bunch more steps to take. So for us, we're still very hungry, and we feel like there's a lot left to do, so the confidence level of this team and the expectations are different."