Let’s begin today’s discussion with a short multiple-choice quiz.

Alabama is:

  • A) The basketball team that held leads against Arkansas, Tennessee and Texas A&M on their home floor, only to collapse in the final minutes;
  • B) The team that beat LSU and Auburn, pushed No. 9 Penn State and No. 10 Kentucky to the brink, and ran out to a 21-point lead on Florida in Gainesville;
  • C) Something else; or
  • D) All of the above.

It’s nearly March, and by this point in the season, you think you would have learned that when you sit down in front of an Alabama basketball game, you shouldn’t assume the outcome or try to predict which team is going to win.

Apparently, that’s a lesson we have to keep learning with Nate Oats’ basketball team.

The same goes for whether the Crimson Tide will make the NCAA Tournament. Bracketologist Joe Lunardi has the 15-12 Tide among his “Next Four Out” ahead of Tueday night’s game at Mississippi State.

Every time you start to lament that the door to Oz has been barred shut, Alabama sticks its foot in it and retains one last gasp of hope. The Tide did it a couple of weeks ago against Georgia, pulling off a stunning overtime victory on the heels of a loss to Tennessee at Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa — one that tournament selectors would not look upon favorably — and again this week, slapping Ole Miss around on its home floor after a tragic home loss to middling-but-scrappy Texas A&M.

Now will the real Alabama basketball team please stand up?

If the Crimson Tide’s season could be likened to a dating relationship, it’s been similar the girl or boy you really like but, you know, he or she is a little crazy. One minute you’re all in love, enjoying a good Red Lobster supper, and the next minute you’re screaming at each other in the parking lot of a strip mall.

I imagine that the Tide are a gambler’s nightmare because with this basketball team there’s no such thing as a sure thing.

Throughout the season, I have gone back and forth about whether Oats can elevate this basketball program beyond a the status of NIT regular. Most people I’ve talked to think he’s done a good job and believe he’s the man who will get it done, while others think he’s having a hard adjustment from the Mid-American Conference (MAC). What say you?

At some level, you have to factor in the injury to Herb Jones and the early-season eligibility ruling on Jahvon Quinerly that did not bounce in Alabama’s favor. However, every team in America has setbacks and I don’t think these particular obstacles have presented a serious detriment to this basketball season.

I thought Oats coached poorly in the aforementioned home losses but has had smatterings of brilliance across this challenging first year in Tuscaloosa. His unwillingness to call timeout during opposing teams’ runs has been the biggest head-scratcher for me, and by and large his team does not excel in little things — passing, taking care of the basketball, rebounding, breaking the press, shot selection — the converse of which are normally markings of a great coach.

If the devil is in the details, Alabama has been a bit too angelic for my taste.

There are a few things Oats’ team has done extremely well, however. Alabama has shot the ball from 3-point range better (meaning “has hit more 3s” — not necessarily in terms of shooting percentage) than any year in its history, has demonstrated an ability to put gobs and gobs of points on the board, and has tightened up defensively throughout the season.

At the very least, Oats has done a good job getting more out of Kira Lewis Jr. and John Petty Jr., who are much improved over last season. (As good as Petty has been, he’s also been plagued with inconsistency: he scored 39 against Samford — yes, I realize it’s Samford — and looked like an NBA lottery pick and then went completely in the tank during a 3-game stretch from Jan. 29 to Feb. 4. Moving forward, Petty needs to be the Petty of the Georgia game versus the one of the LSU games.)

Perhaps the most fun aspect of the Oatsian tenure has been the meteoric rise of freshman Jaden Shackelford, who’s averaging 14.8 ppg and 2.7 made 3-pointers per game. But please don’t pigeonhole “Shack” into a mere shooter. Recently, he’s been more aggressive off the bounce and has demonstrated the ability to get to the cup or pull up and drain the short bank shot. Overall, he’s has been one of the Tide’s supernovas among regular stars.

These three players — Lewis, Petty, and Shackelford — account for 57% of Alabama’s offense, and swingman Herb Jones, who has been playing with one hand (he fractured it on Jan. 29 against LSU), is the aorta of the team’s collective heart.

To win consistently, though, Oats will have to get the most out of his role players. Hopefully forward Alex Reese can overcome the frustration of his recent offensive digression and James “Beetle” Bolden can find the happy medium of controlled offensive bliss versus the player who goes on fouling sprees and forces unnecessary runners amid the sequoias of the paint. No one tries harder than postmen Galin Smith and Javian Davis, but both need to shed the bull-in-the-china-shop motif and add a bit of ballerina to their repertoire. In other words, stop fouling. Jaylen Forbes has quietly been a nice addition and should see more minutes as the season progresses.

All year long, the watchword for this basketball team has been “inconsistent.” You would hope that as March approaches, Alabama and Oats will be able to find a way to eliminate these titanic swings in performance.

Until then, fans should hold off on any bets, and pray for more Red Lobster suppers