HOUSTON - Scott Drew took on the daunting challenge of rebuilding a tattered program at Baylor nearly seven years ago with what seemed, at least to everyone else, to be an unrealistic vision.
At the only private school in the powerful Big Twelve and stifled by significant scholarship restrictions in the aftermath of a tragedy and scandal of unprecedented proportions, Drew still envisioned having an elite program. Part of his plan when he arrived was to become "the Duke of the Southwest."
Drew's hopes certainly don't seem so far-fetched now.
The third-seeded Bears (28-7) are within one victory of the Final Four. To get there, they must beat top-seeded Duke (32-5) in the South Regional final today.
"When anyone takes over any program you have to figure out, what is your niche? Where do you fit in in the grand scheme of things? Not try to be like somebody that is not in your niche, but to fully develop your own identity," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "He's done a really good job of figuring that out at Baylor, and they're very good."
This won't be the only Baylor-Duke matchup with a Final Four berth on the line.
On the women's side, Baylor and Duke are also playing in a regional final, marking the first time that two schools have met in the round of eight in both tournaments during the same season, according to Stats LLC.
The similarities between Baylor and Duke are obvious in that both are small private schools known for their academic excellence. But there has never been any comparing their success in men's basketball.
The Blue Devils are going for their 11th Final Four appearance under Coach K, though their first since 2004. They have lost only once when reaching a regional final.
Baylor has been to the Final Four only twice, in 1948 and 1950 - back when the field had only eight teams.
Even before the tragic summer of 2003, when a player was murdered by a teammate and the scandalous aftermath led to significant penalties and former coach Dave Bliss' resignation, Baylor had played in only one NCAA tournament game (1988) since its last Final Four appearance.
Baylor has already set a school record for victories this year with its third consecutive 20-win season.
"The first thing with that comes consistency," Drew said about his vision. "Our third straight 20-win season, our third straight postseason, last year having postseason success . . . those are all building blocks."