Going into Round 31 of the regular season, with just three games left to play for most teams, the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague faces the unprecedented situation of still having to decide seven of its eight playoff qualifiers.
At this point in the last four fully round-robin seasons, by the time more than 85% of all games were complete, at least three playoff berths had been filled. And after one more round had been played, at least five playoff teams were known.
This, too, can be a watershed week in the playoffs race, with up to four teams coming into Round 31 with 19 wins – Anadolu Efes Istanbul (19-11), AX Armani Exchange Milan (19-11), CSKA Moscow (19-10) and FC Bayern Munich (19-11) – poised to advance.
All of them will need to win first – but then, they all need help from other results, as well.
he only way in which all four can punch their tickets together is if Bayern defeats host Valencia Basket (16-14) on Thursday and Milan does the same at TD Systems Baskonia Vitoria Gasteiz (16-14) on Friday. Assuming CSKA can stop Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade (9-21) and Efes can win on the road at Panathinaikos OPAP Athens (10-18), all four 19-win teams would become playoff teams.
In the case of Efes, however, that is its only option to advance this week.
CSKA can use several more combinations to advance, all assuming its own victory comes first. If, after that, Real Madrid (17-13) loses on the road at LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne (12-17), CSKA goes through. Or if Valencia and Efes both lose. Or if Fenerbahce loses in its Friday visit to Olympiacos Piraeus (14-16) in combination with defeats by Baskonia, Efes or Zenit St Petersburg (16-13), which visits last-place Khimki Moscow Region (3-26) on Friday.
Bayern has several more combinations, too, after first getting a victory in Valencia, even if Baskonia does not lose. In that case, losses by Efes and Real work for Bayern. So too do defeats by Fenerbahce and Zenit and either Efes or Real.
Milan, assuming it can stop Baskonia on the road, holds the most cards for a playoff berth because it would need only one other team among Real, Efes, Fenerbahce or Zenit to lose this week. The only way that Milan can win and not qualify this week is if all four of those teams also win. Even then, Milan missing the playoffs after beating Baskonia would require losses in its last three games, including by 38 points or more at home in Round 34 against Efes, plus several more results from other games along the way going against it.
Last but not least, the sole qualified team to this point, FC Barcelona, can reach the next goal by clinching home-court advantage in the playoffs with its own victory at home against ALBA Berlin (11-19) in this round's final game on Friday. But if before that Milan and Efes both lose their games, Barcelona will already be guaranteed a top-four finish and won't need any more victories to host Game 1 of the playoffs at home.