SEC projections: Kentucky on top

A year ago, the SEC took its lumps -- both on and off the court. Florida carried the torch for the regular season while a talented Kentucky team underachieved until the NCAA tournament began.

Just three teams -- Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee -- went dancing in March, and the Vols barely made their way into the field.

The league will be improved this season, and not necessarily because Kentucky returns key pieces and brings in another heralded recruiting class. It will be due in large part because some of the programs toward the bottom of the league have made strides.

Bruce Pearl took over at Auburn and has already made headway in terms of upgrading the talent. Frank Martin is in his third season and should take another step forward at South Carolina. And the same goes for Rick Ray at Mississippi State. While both Vanderbilt and Missouri don't have as much talent as has been the case in the past, both have quality X's and O's coaches in Kevin Stallings and Kim Anderson, respectively, who should keep both clubs somewhat competitive.

Lock in Kentucky and Florida as high-seed NCAA tourney teams. But this season more than one other program will join them come March.