Reading Rutgers' Mood Still A Mystery

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Rutgers will play for the first time in a week when it meets No. 17 Syracuse at the Carrier Dome on Saturday. The time off allowed Rutgers to re-charge mentally and physically after weeks of close games, a big upset and then a loss to Seton Hall. But trying to figure out the mood of the Scarlet Knights is difficult, even for coach Mike Rice.

PISCATAWAY, N.J. – Rutgers followed its highly emotional week of upsetting Villanova and losing to Seton Hall with a week of practice with a few days off spliced in.

The Scarlet Knights practiced Tuesday, were off Wednesday and returned to the court Thursday as preparation for Saturday's game at No. 17 Syracuse (4 p.m.) began.

But trying to gauge the mindset, even with just five regular season games remaining, remains difficult.

"What's the mood of the team? Not sure," Rutgers coach Mike Rice said. "I think it varies. I wish my upperclassmen would turn it up a little bit as far as sense of urgency goes."

Even fifth-year senior and leading scorer Jonathan Mitchell didn't have a good read on the team after Thursday's practice.

"I don't know. It's kind of hard to read this team sometimes," he said. "I think it was pretty much upbeat. I don't think guys were down, or didn't want to be here. It's this time of the year, with five games left, we're in that awkward stage of trying to play for a postseason (berth) and stuff like that.

"We have to come out and try to go 3-2 and hopefully that will be enough, and hopefully go into the Big East tournament with a lot of confidence and hopefully we can steal a game or two."

Rutgers (13-12, 4-9) needs to win three of its remaining five game to ensure a winning season, and be in position for a possible NIT invitation, and it begins against the Orange at the Carrier Dome, where Rutgers is 0-12.

Furthermore, the Scarlet Knights are 1-21 at Syracuse and have lost 10 straight in the series.

The failure to sustain intensity in practice is something Rice has talked about throughout the season, and in returning to the practice court is again was an issue.

"It was just ok," Rice said. "I wouldn't call it the worst practice, I would call it the best. It was just ok."

Mitchell said one of the reasons is the lack of depth, which is forcing four of Rutgers' five starters to play more than 30 minutes a game in conference play.

Point guard James Beatty is averaging 33.2 minutes, followed by guard Mike Coburn (31.9), Mitchell (31.2) and Dane Miller (30.5).

"Guys are playing a lot of minutes, trying to do everything (Rice) asks, and we have short numbers," Mitchell said. "I think now it's just more mental and preparation."

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