By John Rammas/ firstname.lastname@example.org
In 2016, the EuroLeague decided to change the competition format and introduce a full round-robin league where, for the first time, all the teams would play against all the others, at home and away, in a regular season of 30 rounds (now 34 with the increase in teams) before the playoffs and the Final Four. The venture was (more) fair and it was also bold since the unknown is always scary. It turned out to be the right decision.
Over the last five seasons, the EuroLeague has become more and more exciting. This season is the highlight.
Through Round 32 only one team, FC Barcelona (24-9), had secured qualification for the playoffs. One round later, before the last in the regular season, five more teams were added to the list: CSKA Moscow (22-10), Anadolu Efes Istanbul (22-11), AX Armani Exchange Milan (20-13), Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul (20-13) and FC Bayern Munich (20-13) – while another four are still battling it out for the last two places in the postseason. By the end of the regular season, two of these four teams will have been eliminated despite having a winning record.
Only once before – in the first season of the current format (2016-17) – had a team with a winning record been eliminated. Then it was only one. In fact, Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade had lost its qualification on a tiebreaker.
8. Darussafaka Tekfen Istanbul 16-14 (2-0)
9. Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade 16-14 (0-2)
The following season (2017-18), all of the eliminated teams had losing records (from 13-17 to 7-23), while the next season (2018-19) the record of the ninth-placed teams was not a winning one, but not a losing one either. In fact, that season there was a three-way tie for the final playoff berths.
Never before, however, had there been a season with two teams having a winning record and not going on to the postseason.
In previous seasons, except for last season which was not completed (canceled after Round 28 due to the COVID-19 pandemic), it had gotten to the point where qualifying for the playoffs required up to 53.3% winning percentage (16-14), even in a regular season with 16 teams and 30 rounds. This season, with two more teams and four more rounds, that minimum will reach 55.8% (19 wins), while the top eight may close at 58.8% (20 wins for Real Madrid and/ or Zenit St Petersburg).
Just as interesting is the path of those four teams that are fighting to stay in the race despite their winning record.
Real Madrid (19-14), which is seventh, has been in the top eight consistently since Round 8. Eighth-placed Zenit (18-14) has only been out for a total of five instances. TD Systems Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz (18-15) had even fallen down to 13th place before winning 9 of 11 games to move up to ninth, while 10th-placed Valencia Basket (18-15) has been consistently out of the playoff zone since Round 19, but never lower than 11th place.
Now, everything will be decided by four games:
- Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul – Real Madrid 8/4 (R34)
- Valencia Basket – TD Systems Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz 8/4 (R34)
- Zenit St Petersburg – Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv 9/4 (R34)
- Zenit St Petersburg – Panathinaikos OPAP Athens 12/4 (R25)
And while it is uncertain which two teams will be the last to qualify for the playoffs, it is quite certain that this season’s EuroLeague is the most exciting in recent years.