The Washington Times - December 21, 2008, 10:08PM

This early in the college basketball season, it’s tough to come to a consensus on much.

But the top four teams below are probably the top four teams in reality, in some order or another. So far North Carolina, Connecticut and Oklahoma have shown as much as anyone, and Pittsburgh probably will when afforded an opportunity.

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This week could mark a time for two college-turned-NBA-turned-college coaches are turned out of the top 25. It’s really hard to to make cases for either Louisville or Memphis at this point.

I’m as guilty as anyone in thinking Rick Pitino’s Cardinals were the best hope of KO’ing North Carolina in March. There’s still a lot to like, but the losses to Western Kentucky and Minnesota and the sluggish play in victories (like against Austin Peay) does not denote the body of work of a top 25 team.

Meanwhile, John Calipari’s crew in Memphis is learning a tough nonconference schedule should come with the warning “point guard not optional.” The Tigers don’t have one – that much was clear when they lost to Georgetown at Verizon Center last weekend and Chris Wright controlled a very choppy game. Now that Memphis has lost to Syracuse, its chances of a signature victory at fast diminishing.

The Tigers better win at Tennessee or Gonzaga, because the upside of a team with losses to their superb nonconference opponents and plenty of league victories over bad teams is probably a No. 6 or 7 seed – at best – come March.

Perception still plays a slight role in the rankings at this stage; that explains why Louisville and Memphis are still mentioned. But neither has shown it is a top 25, and it would be little surprise if voters acted accordingly this week.

Anyway, here’s the top 45 for the week, with the caveat that this task got a whole lot harder this week after about No. 20 or so:

1. North Carolina (11-0)
2. Connecticut (10-0)
3. Pittsburgh (12-0)
4. Oklahoma (11-0)
5. Duke (10-1)
6. Ohio State (8-0)
7. Wake Forest (10-0)
8. Purdue (9-2)
9. Gonzaga (8-2)
10. Syracuse (11-1)
11. Georgetown (8-1)
12. Notre Dame (8-2)
13. Michigan State (8-2)
14. Texas (9-2)
15. Clemson (11-0)
16. Villanova (10-1)
17. UCLA (8-2)
18. Xavier (9-1)
19. Tennessee (8-2)
20. Baylor (9-1)
21. Arizona State (9-1)
22. Saint Mary’s (9-1)
23. Wisconsin (9-2)
24. Missouri (9-1)
25. Brigham Young (10-1)

26. Davidson (8-2)
27. Marquette (9-2)
28. Memphis (6-3)
29. Florida (8-2)
30. Stanford (7-0)
31. Minnesota (10-0)
32. Louisville (7-2)
33. Maryland (7-2)
34. Illinois (10-1)
35. Michigan (8-2)
36. Illinois State (11-0)
37. Butler (9-1)
38. Miami (7-3)
39. California (8-2)
40. UNLV (10-2)
41. Creighton (8-2)
42. Texas A&M (10-1)
43. Dayton (10-1)
44. West Virginia (8-2)
45. Kansas (8-2)

Patrick Stevens