Real Madrid aims to break the top-seed curse

2024-04-09T15:00:23+00:00 2024-04-09T17:22:40+00:00.

Nikola Miloradovic

09/Apr/24 15:00

Having the top spot in the regular season so far doesn’t mean you will also win the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague

By Aris Barkas /

Having a stellar regular season in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague is impressive, but doesn’t necessarily translate to a Final Four triumph. So while all the other teams in the last round are still fighting for their final seeding in the playoffs or the Play-In Showdown, Real Madrid has other things in mind.

The competition’s history is filled with examples of teams dominating the regular season but failing in the end to stay on top. Since the change of the format and the abolition of the Top 16 phase back in the 2016-17 season, the top team in the standings at the end of the regular season has never won the trophy.

This season, Real Madrid locked the top spot early, so the “curse” must have crossed the minds of Los Blancos by now. After all, last year they managed to win the trophy against top-seeded Olympiacos (24-10) despite ending the regular season in the third place (23-11).

It isn’t the first time that has happened. In fact, the next regular-season winner who also becomes the champion will be a first. Here’s the list of the EuroLeague winners and the teams that finished on top of the regular season standings since the last change of the EuroLeague format, with Real Madrid having already experienced the curse once but also taking advantage of it twice.

Top seed: Real Madrid (23-7)
Champion: Fenerbahce (5th place, 18-12)

Top seed: CSKA Moscow (24-6)
Champion: Real Madrid (5th place, 19-11)

Top seed: Fenerbahce (25-5)
Champion: CSKA Moscow (2nd place, 24-6)

Top seed: Barcelona (24-10)
Champion: Anadolu Efes (3rd place, 22-12)

Top seed: Barcelona (21-7)
Champion: Anadolu Efes (6th place, 16-12)

Top seed: Olympiacos (24-10)
Champion: Real Madrid (3rd place, 23-11)

There was no champion in the 2019-20 season due to the COVID pandemic. In the past, when the format included the Top 16 phase, the eventual champion had always finished on top of one of the two or four groups, with four exceptions: Panathinaikos (2011) and Olympiacos (2012, 2013), who finished second in their groups, and Maccabi (2014), which was third.

From the past, the cautionary tale was CSKA Moscow’s 2004-05 season. On the pinnacle of a three-year plan under legendary coach Dusan Ivkovic, CSKA Moscow was unbeaten in the regular season group (14-0), then lost one game in the Top 16 (5-1) getting the top seed of their group, only to lose in the semifinal of the Moscow Final Four in Moscow to Tau Ceramica, which had barely qualified it to the Top 16 with a 6-8 record in the regular season and had a 4-2 record in the Top 16 for a total of 10-10 balance before the semifinal game. Tau would lose, however, to defending champion Maccabi Tel Aviv in the title game.

On the other hand, whatever team has finished first in the regular season lately has never missed the Final Four, and that’s an emphatic proof that the weekend that decides the EuroLeague title is always a very different animal than the rest of the competition.