TSX: Reasons for Optimism

North Carolina State's fate in the 2009-10 season may have been determined over the summer when top recruit Lorenzo Brown did not pass academic muster and headed off to prep school instead.

It's not likely he would have made the 'Pack a contender in his first season, but he was projected as a potential starter in the backcourt ... or at least someone who could provide quality depth on a thin club.

Considering how close things were in the league, he may have made the 'Pack a contender for a spot in the upper half of the standings.

Lorenzo Brown re-signed with the 'Pack in November and will join another five-star recruit in guard Ryan Harrow to give coach Sidney Lowe more options in 2010-11.

But the newcomers aren't the only reasons for optimism.

By the time the season came to an end, the 'Pack was playing its best basketball of the year, winning six of its last nine games, including two in the ACC tournament and one on the road in the NIT.

Lowe said his players' performance down the stretch was an indication of just how much they have grown.

"I think it tells you the character of this team ... just how hard they play and how they just never feel that they are out of a ball game," Lowe said. "They understand there are more ways to win a game when your offense isn't going by playing defense and just playing hard and getting some opportunities."

Tracy Smith emerged as a scoring threat inside in his junior season, and Javier Gonzalez, though still bothered by turnovers and questionable decisions at times, began to show the leadership at point guard the 'Pack needs.

They both will be back, along with guard Scott Wood, who was the team's leading 3-point shooter.

Lowe does have to contend with the loss of forward Dennis Horner, who had a nice senior season, averaging in double figures. Guard Farnold Degand, another starter departs.

20-16, 5-11, tied for 9th in the ACC.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: The Wolfpack showed some resiliency throughout the year, bouncing back from a loss at home to Northwestern to win at Marquette early in the season, and coming back from a home loss to Virginia to win on the road at Florida State early in conference play. The biggest win was a 14-point victory over Duke, the Blue Devils' worst loss of the season.

The 'Pack's most consistent play of the season came at the beginning, when it started off 8-1, and at the end, when it finished 6-3, winning two games in the ACC tournament to reach the semifinals. The 'Pack then grabbed an NIT win over South Florida before losing at UAB.

WHAT WENT WRONG: The 'Pack had trouble holding onto leads throughout the year and didn't capitalize on the momentum gained with the win over Duke, losing its next seven conference games. The 'Pack shot only 40 percent in ACC games in the regular season, a league worst, while allowing opponents to shoot 45.1 percent. Only Boston College (45.9) was more generous.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We've got a lot of these guys coming back next year, and that's a great thing because they all know what it's all about, and they're going to show it to the new guys coming in. No question about it. We have grown in a lot of areas." -- Coach Sidney Lowe, on N.C. State's progress.

Tracy Smith, the team's leading scorer (16.5) and rebounder (7.3), returns along with veteran PG Javier Gonzalez and starter Scott Wood. An outstanding recruiting class includes five-star prospects Ryan Harrow, a point guard out of Marietta, Ga. and Lorenzo Brown, a shooting guard who spent the season at Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va.

The solid play down the stretch is something to build on, and the prognosis looks good for a Wolfpack resurgence.

THE BAD NEWS: This isn't the first time the 'Pack has had an impressive run in the ACC tournament under coach Sidney Lowe, and good things didn't follow the next season in the first instance.

The 'Pack reached the championship game of the tourney in 2007, Lowe's first year, but went only 15-16 the next year, finishing 4-12 in the conference. Departing senior Dennis Horner came up big down the stretch for the 'Pack, and his role will have to be filled by a newcomer.

KEY RETURNEES: Forward Tracy Smith averaged 16.5 points and 7.3 rebounds, finishing in the top 10 in the league in both categories.

Point guard Javier Gonzalez still has troubles with turnovers but shot 37.0 percent from 3-point range and averaged 9.5 points. He had 19 to lead a comeback win at Miami late in the year.

Guard Scott Wood shot 37.3 percent from behind the arc in his freshman year and showed what he is capable of with a 31-point outburst in a road win at Florida State.

Sophomore guard C.J. Williams and freshman forward Richard Howell also came on strong at the end of the year.

-- PF C.J. Leslie from Word of God Christian Academy in Raleigh, the same school that produced Kentucky G John Wall, lists N.C. State among his potential choices. He made a early commitment to the Wolfpack but later opened the way for other schools. Scout.com rates him a five-star prospect.

--F Dennis Horner finished his career with an 11.7 scoring average in his senior season, more than five points over his average as a junior. He scored nearly as many points in his senior season (420) than in his previous three years combined (442).

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