It wasn't Nolan Smith.
Kyrie Irving's soft bank shot with 32 seconds left gave Duke the critical three-point cushion it needed to advance to its 19th Sweet 16. The Blue Devils drained the shot clock on the possession, worked the ball to Irving, who calmly kissed the shot off the glass for what proved to be the decisive points, even though the Wolverines missed on a chance to tie at the buzzer.
"A lot has to be said about Kyrie," said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who won his 900th game. "He's had two and a half practices and he's played in these two games and, you know, we weren't in the delay at the end. They were just in their 1-3-1 zone. We've hardly ever seen that. For him to be put in that position and make that floater as soft as it can be, that's a heck of a thing for that kid."
No doubt. But the Duke doubters will wonder whether Irving's workload at point guard, where Smith shined all season, might be messing with something that doesn't need to be touched right now.
Irving, who returned Friday for the first time since a toe injury sidelined him in December, certainly hasn't eased his way back. He played 24 minutes – and scored a game-high 14 points in the laugher over Hampton on Friday. But that was Hampton. For Irving to play such a large role against Michigan – 11 points in 21 minutes – shows that the dynamics of this team are changing.
"It doesn't matter," Smith said about not having the ball in his hands as much. "Kyrie and myself have such a great relationship. We know how to play with or without the ball. We're just two guards out on the court, looking to make plays."
Duke's postseason – ACC and NCAA tournaments – had looked more impressive than any team in the nation until the final 10 minutes Sunday, when Michigan turned a 15-point deficit into a buzzer-beating scare.
And the Wolverines' rally happened when their 1-3-1 zone took Smith out of the game. The ACC's player of the year was killing Michigan. He went on a 10-0 run himself – including one step-back move that sent Michigan defender Tim Hardaway Jr. tumbling to the ground.
Smith seems to improve and gain confidence every game, and Sunday's show at Time Warner Cable Arena served as the latest step. He finished with 24 points on 8-of-13 shooting.
"Nolan is so explosive, so good off the dribble," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "He has that one-on-one ability. You can play great team defense and he was so good. We had to change defenses."
And it worked.
So if the defending national champion is in fact vulnerable when Smith is not in control, why would the Blue Devils take the ball out of his hands and give it to Irving at this time of year?
"We wouldn't be going forward if [Irving] didn't play today," Krzyzewski said.