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I think that how Ubuntu does it is to disable the root account. You can use the passwd command to do it. "sudo passwd -l root" to lock out root, and "sudo passwd -u root" to unlock it. The effect will be to add a "!" character in front of the /etc/shadow encrypted password field.
You will want to make sure that you can log into single mode, or using a rescue disk, in case this causes problems and you need to be root to change back. I tested this with a dummy user account but not with the root account while composing this post.
Also, edit your /etc/sudoers file using "visudo" to grant yourself permission to run root commands using sudo. Making yourself a member of the "wheel" group and uncommenting the line for %wheel in visudo is the way it usually is done. ( You probably have already done this. )
The sshd_config tip is a good one, and I would do it anyway, in case you decide to use it in the future and enable sshd temporarily. I would also recommend adding your user name to "AllowUsers" and uncommenting that entry. This way, a hacker would only be successful by guessing both your username and password.