Which Alabama basketball team will show up in NOLA?

Head coach Anthony Grant calls plays. The Crimson Tide defeated the Tigers 55-49 Feb. 29.

Alabama basketball is not on the bubble of the NCAA tournament – for now.

Many pundits (or bracketologists, as they’re also called) have the Crimson Tide penciled in somewhere between the eight and ten-seed range. That sounds about right, considering its current resume.

But this weekend, when Alabama travels to New Orleans for the Southeastern Conference tournament, is a weekend that could significantly improve or cripple the Tide’s shot at the postseason.

First, and potentially last, up for Alabama is the South Carolina Gamecocks. The Gamecocks are easily the worst team in the SEC and carry an RPI of 193 (out of a total of 344 NCAA teams).

Piece of cake, right? Not so fast.

This is the same South Carolina team that embarrassed Alabama 56-54 in Columbia when the Tide had a full team – before the suspensions of Tony Mitchell and others.

Yes, Alabama is a different team than it was at the time. Head coach Anthony Grant’s team has been through more since that game than many teams in the country have all season, and it looks to be much better off for it. Count me as one of the people who thought the Tide had genuinely turned a corner and was ready to contend in the postseason.

It started with the win over Tennessee, a convincing result over a team that is much better than its records indicate. The thrashings of Arkansas and Mississippi State, two worthy opponents by SEC standards, only increased the hype around the team.

But then came Ole Miss this past weekend.

Just when it looked like the Tide had moved on and begun a push for its best season under Grant, the team was suddenly back to square one.

The offense looked like the Alabama offense of old. It only shot 34.5 percent from the floor and at times looked even worse than the numbers would indicate. The only thing keeping the Tide in the game was the Rebels’ complete ineptitude from the free-throw line.

So as the Tide heads into the SEC tournament, the questions are back. Is this Alabama team finally ready to make noise in the postseason?

It all boils down to one question, the question that is undoubtedly on every Alabama fans mind: which Alabama team will show up on Thursday afternoon?

Will it be the team that showed so much promise against Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi State? Or will it be the frustrating team that lost to South Carolina and Ole Miss? The answer could go a long way in determining Alabama’s fate in the postseason.

The Tide looks to be a lock for the NCAA tournament and deservedly so. But it’s called March Madness for a reason, and if a few teams make a run in their conference tournaments and steal a bid from a bubble team, anything becomes possible.

Beating South Carolina is paramount. For that to happen, Alabama needs the right team to show up come game time.