Asked point blank if the Scarlet Knights were ready for Big East play, first-year coach Mike Rice didn't try to avoid the issue.
"No. They're not practicing like it," he told ScarletReport.com. "I think they have bad practice habits, very inconsistent practice habits, and they don't understand how you practice comes out in the games."
Although the Scarlet Knights (9-3) enter Big East play after a solid preseason schedule, Rice has been displeased with their effort in the last few games, and he traces it back to how they've been practicing.
"Just from watching practices, we're not as consistent as we should be with everything -- effort, details, skill -- and that will come out in Big East play," Rice said. "Until we learn that practices are the most important and games are a direct result of how well you're practicing, how well you're improving, they will not be successful."
Sophomore wing Dane Miller, who scored eight points on 3 of 12 shooting and committed a team-leading five turnovers against North Carolina, said a hangover from Tuesday's disappointing loss remained when the team practiced Thursday.
From the outset, the Tar Heels dominated, and led by double digits early in the first half and were never challenged. Given the performance was on national television and Rice viewed it as a measuring stick game, a frustrating night has spilled into a few disappointing days.
"We definitely felt like we could beat them," Miller said. "I felt like we prepared to play them, went over the scouts and everything, and we had a few things we couldn't control in the game, and I think North Carolina just had us by the throats the whole time.
"They made some adjustments we couldn't adjust to, and when we made some adjustments and we did get a little momentum, they adjusted to it."
In past seasons, Rutgers got off to strong starts in non-conference play, but was man-handled once Big East play began in January. The Scarlet Knights began last season 9-3, but finished 15-17. In 2008-09, they were 9-4, but finished 11-21.
Rice spent time talking about that with the Scarlet Knights earlier this month, and the discussions are likely to continue.
"This is a league of Hall of Fame coaches and most teams have at least two NBA players, so it's a grind," Miller said. "You have to be ready. I think right now everybody, and not just the players, is still a little down about what happened at the Garden. We still have to keep going."
However, Rice is trying to find the right motivation to make his words sink in, especially since his biggest leveraging chip is out of play because of the low number of scholarship players on the roster.
"Usually, (the message gets across) by benching them," Rice said. "It's awfully difficult, when you only have eight players, to do that.
"So, it's either fear or not playing, or fear of getting killed in practice, fear of having pain in practice, and it's getting to the point where we're going to stop practicing basketball and just going to worry about making sure they have the proper motivation to play hard."
It is a challenging situation as Rice attempts to turn around the mentality of the program.
"What I try to do is find ways to motivate these individuals, to teach them their poor practice habits are a direct (correlation) to their lack of success," he said. "So, I will try everything to get this team to understand to be successful in the Big East, you must be incredible at practice. You must improve every single day, as a team and individually.
"After the first 20 practices this team has turned off …some drills are good, and some drills, they're just not understanding some teams don't do that."