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Returning Player Refresher: Shaq Thomas

The multi-faceted Thomas enters his senior season with a defined role, one that he has carved out over the past two years and excels in, as do-it-all player for Mick Cronin.

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Its time for me to come clean. I have never been, nor will I likely ever be, a college basketball coach. I know, you're stunned. Despite this earth-shattering revelation, I think I can say with some certainty that all coaches like to have players they can rely on to do multiple things on the floor.  Mick Cronin is definitely one of those coaches, or at least that is what his recruiting resume has shown. Shaq Thomas is one of those players and although he has never really lived up to his four-star recruit ranking, he has proven to be a strong cog in Cronin's engine, littering the stat sheet and buying into the defense first, second, third, fourth and fifth system.

Thomas did not play a whole lot in his freshman season, but he really worked himself into the rotation as a sophomore and junior. His burgeoning part as role player for the Cincinnati ensemble was painted with steady production in those years, as his production looked pretty much identical between those two seasons. As a sophomore, he averaged 6.8 points and 2.8 rebounds per game, while sinking 45.4 percent of his shots from the floor. As a junior, his scoring dropped slightly (6.4), while he did better on the boards (3.1). In addition, he was a fraction more efficient in terms of shooting (.457).

Now, those numbers certainly aren't going to blow anybody out of the water. You're not reading those and salivating about scoring titles at the next level. But, for a guy that makes spot starts and did more work off the bench last season, having a steady presence is just what you want. Plus, if you can throw down a few highlight reel dunks every now and then, people will certainly keep an eye on you.

Boom! Now that is a player I want on my team.

Now it's time to get to the more nitty gritty. The part of the game that doesn't get as much attention and doesn't have as many fun Vines to stretch this post out and make it seem like I wrote more, er, I mean, entertain you folks. That's right, I'm talking about defense. To be fair, if you follow Cincinnati, and I can only assume you do if you've read this far, you probably appreciate defense more than most.

Well, Thomas can hit shots when he has to, but is ability to mesh with the rest of the team on defense is much more critical. He can spell multiple players and be plugged in at just about every spot, including the three, four and even the two. He posted his third straight defensive rating below 100 last season (96.5) and will undoubtedly make it four this coming year. He also had 1.4 defensive win shares, which isn't too bad for a non-starter.

In the same vein as defense, rebounding doesn't always get the publicity it deserves. Thomas still needs to be more consistent in this area. He showed flashes through last season, grabbing five or more boards eight times. If he can approach those numbers more consistently it could go a long way to cementing more playing time. Of course, more playing time would lead to more rebounds. Thomas proved that. After all, when given over the last three games of the season, including the NCAA Tournament, he compiled 18 rebounds while playing 30.7 minutes per game. That type of play time may not be easy to get on such a loaded roster as Cincinnati's, but it couldn't have gone unnoticed by Cronin.

We've come to know what to expect from Thomas and his consistent production and presence has been valuable. Of course, improved offensive efficiency, particularly when it comes to shot selection, and more aggressive work on the glass could vault him to star rather than role player.