It’s been a very good 2021 for Alabama, which one month after winning another national championship in football is poised to capture the program’s first regular-season conference championship in men’s basketball since 2002 and one of the top eight seeds in next month’s NCAA Tournament.

Success in the former (football) is less surprising than in the latter (basketball). Long a football powerhouse, Alabama basketball has been solid by SEC standards — third in league history in wins, for example — but far from a national contender, with only one trip to the Elite Eight on its record.

Times are changing. With an unexpected surge into the top 10 of the Ferris Mowers Coaches Poll in only the team’s second year under Nate Oats, one of college coaching’s breakout stars, the Crimson Tide are in position to capitalize on Kentucky’s swoon under John Calipari and become the team to beat in the SEC.

Saturday’s 82-78 win against Vanderbilt moved Alabama to 18-5 overall and 13-1 in the SEC.

This dominance of the conference — the Tide went into Saturday up three games on second-place Arkansas — has come against a very strong SEC, even as the national perception of the league has suffered for the Wildcats’ 7-13 record.

According to the NCAA’s NET rankings, the SEC is the second-best conference in the country behind the Big Ten. The league has seven teams in the top 56 of the rankings, a key metric used by the NCAA Tournament selection committee.