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The gold jersey holds the key against OSU

It's time for Xavier's best practice player to put into action in the Muskies' biggest game of the young season.

NCAA Basketball: Tennessee Tech at Xavier
Zach Freemantle in streets, Dieonte Miles exultant. Give me this on Thursday.
Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

As I'm sure you all aware, Xavier hosts KenPom #14 OSU at Thursday (6:30pm on FS1; check your local listings). Ohio State has charged out to a 3-0 record with a series of performances about on par with Xavier's so far this year. Neither fanbase is brimming with confidence in light of how things have gone on the young season.

Despite not having lit the world on fire to this point, the Buckeyes boast the 9th-best offense in the nation according to Pomeroy. They're led by the frontcourt combination of sophomore Zed Key and junior and KenPom POY leader EJ Liddell. Those two alone account for over 34 of the 80 points OSU is averaging per game, plus 13 boards and almost 4 assists for good measure. They're a formidable pairing, and they're currently carrying a Buckeyes squad that doesn't have a guard averaging more than 8 PPG.

Clearly, slowing down OSU's bigs is priority 1 for Xavier's defense. You'd assume the starting frontcourt of Jack Nunge and Jerome Hunter will get first crack at it. That's not a bad combination, and Nunge is posting a block rate of 10.2% and a DReb% of 26.5%. Hunter is just behind with a DReb% of 24.4%, and his 4.1% steal rate is the kind of number you usually see from a ball-hawking guard.

There are questions though. Hunter gives away 30 pounds to Liddell and 35 to Key. Nunge is bigger than either, but Liddell is shooting almost 35% from deep in almost 100 attempts over the last two years, and it's not clear Nunge is suited to chasing at the arc.

Enter Dieonte Miles.

Miles is currently sporting the gold jersey awarded to Xavier's best performer over a week of practices; this is the second time this season he has earned it. At 6'11", 231, he has the size and length to disrupt either OSU big in the paint. We saw in his defense of Kent State guard Sincere Carry last time out that he has the defensive mobility to harry opponents out to and indeed well beyond the arc when called upon.

Jack Nunge is averaging a cool 13 and 4 in three games against OSU on his career. Hunter averaged 8 PPG against OSU in his three games against them at Indiana. Those were different versions of these players competing against different iterations of the Buckeyes, but I suspect most X fans would take a combined 20 and 8 from those two on Thursday.

That leaves Dieonte Miles and his 20 or so minutes per game as the wild card.

With Paul Scruggs and Colby Jones performing at high levels early on, Xavier figures to have the advantage in backcourt play. If the frontcourts battle to a stalemate, the game is there for the taking for the home team.

Dieonte Miles has put in the work to develop from a project into an important rotation player. He has proven himself with all the measurables the coaching staff tracks in practice. The next step is for him to swing a game when the spotlight shines on him. Against the superlative front line of Ohio State, he'll have a chance to do just that. Xavier's hopes may hinge on how he rises to the challenge.