The Washington Times - December 24, 2008, 05:14PM

Trying to rank the teams in a conference before conference play is a tough task.

But after six weeks and about a third of the schedule complete, there is enough information out there to to hazard an educated guess at how things would play out if everything remains static.

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It won’t, of course, but it’s what we have to go by at this point:

1. North Carolina: No reason to overthink this one.

2. Duke: The victories over Xavier (neutral) and Purdue (road) look good. Not sure if this really is a Final Four-caliber team, but the Blue Devils are better at this stage than in recent years.

3. Wake Forest: Really kind of a toss-up, since it’s hard to say how good the Demon Deacons really are. They did beat Baylor, but a Downy-soft schedule makes me rely more on a high opinion of Wake’s deep, talented rotation than I’d prefer.

4. Clemson: Victories at Illinois and Miami and a neutral-court defeat of Temple look nice. Sure, the Tigers start strong nearly every year, but they’ve already started building a solid NCAA tournament resume.

5. Maryland: The defeats of Michigan and Michigan State should remain valuable throughout the season. Barring either a stupid home loss in the next two weeks or a rash of upsets in conference tournaments, this season might take on the characteristics of blackjack for the Terps – 21 victories might just be a winner for an extended March.

6. Miami: None of the losses (Connecticut, Ohio State and Clemson) are bad, though only the victory at Kentucky will help down the road. Maybe a little overhyped (guilty as charged), but the Hurricanes are still capable.

7. Florida State: Not sure the Seminoles will keep it up, but the victories over California and Florida stand out. A neutral-floor defeat of Western Kentucky on Sunday would actually help a great deal.

8. Virginia Tech: Four losses by a combined eight points? What did Seth Greenberg do to anger the basketball gods so? The Hokies’ best win is probably against Fairfield, and that means they might need 10 defeats of ACC opponents to begin thinking about the NCAA tournament.

9. Boston College: The dropoff occurs after the Eagles, who have a great point guard in Tyrese Rice and a versatile big in the form of Joe Trapani. The neutral-floor defeat of UAB will help; the loss at Saint Louis will not.

10. N.C. State: Earns this nod by default. The Wolfpack have beaten no one of substance, but their two close losses (Davidson and Marquette) don’t prompt questions, either. The injuries keep coming for State, and at some point there will be  a string of good opponents. It’s anyone’s guess if the Wolfpack can climb higher.

11. Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets will be better when Moe Miller returns from his broken nose, and Gani Lawal has generally played well (his clunker at Southern Cal on Monday excluded). But depth is an issue, and Tech already lost two home games (Penn State and Illinois-Chicago) it shouldn’t have.

12. Virginia: It’s not a good sign that the Cavaliers’ most promising result is a close loss at Syracuse. That would change if they can upend Georgia Tech on Sunday, if only because the league standings will look friendly for a couple weeks.

Patrick Stevens