We usually have a team out of the blue crash the Final Four. It will be a blue blood or three, then a team without much history that makes a historic run for the school.
This year, with the big brand names struggling, we ended up with a fun Final Four with teams we don't always see on the final weekend of the season. Gonzaga is in just its second Final Four and has never won it all. Baylor is in its first Final Four since 1950. Houston has never won it all, despite a few great teams and five Final Four appearances before this season. The Cougars haven't been to the Final Four since 1984. UCLA is one of the most historic programs in the sport, but it's a unique story for the Bruins coming from the First Four to make the Final Four as a No. 11 seed.
Here are the picks for Saturday's Final Four games. Odds are from BetMGM, and tip times are Eastern.
No. 1 Baylor (-5) vs. No. 2 Houston, 5:14 p.m.
The strangest part of Houston's memorable season is that the Cougars have somehow avoided playing any great opponent. Texas Tech is clearly Houston's best win, and No. 2 is far behind (Memphis? Rutgers? Syracuse?). Houston is the first team ever to beat four double-digit seeds to make a Final Four. You can be a good team without having great quality wins, but it's odd.
Houston's strange path makes it hard to know how they'll react to facing Baylor. The Bears are the second-best team in college basketball. Baylor has been up there all season, a no-doubt No. 1 seed from wire-to-wire.
If there's one issue with Baylor it's that the Bears are a guard-oriented team without a ton of size. Houston will like that. The Cougars took over in their Elite Eight win against Oregon State by creating extra possessions on offensive rebounds. Baylor is 273rd in the nation at allowing offensive rebounds, according to KenPom. It's one of the few things Baylor doesn't do well. Houston is first in the nation in offensive rebound percentage.
I like Baylor and the way the Bears have been playing, but I also look at the number first. I get why Baylor is -5 but it is a little high. I respect Houston enough to take the points.
Pick: Houston +5
No. 1 Gonzaga (-14) vs. No. 11 UCLA, 8:34 p.m.
Through four rounds, Gonzaga hasn't come close to being tested.
The Bulldogs have been the biggest favorite in each of the four rounds of the NCAA men's tournament and they've covered every game. Three of the four games were easy covers, with a second-round game against Oklahoma the only close call against the spread. They Bulldogs are the biggest favorite in the national semifinal, and they'll be favored in the championship game, too, unless UCLA pulls off a historic upset.
It's no surprise that undefeated Gonzaga is giving this many points, but we don't see point spreads like this in the Final Four. According to Matt Eisenberg's tournament guide, the only two national semifinal double-digit spreads since 2012 were North Carolina -10 vs. Syracuse in 2016, and Louisville -10 vs. Wichita State in 2013.
It's hard to know what to do with a spread this high in the Final Four. UCLA isn't an incapable team, having beat Alabama and Michigan in back-to-back games. The spread is clearly pumped up a couple points, anticipating more Gonzaga money coming in. UCLA likes to play at a slower pace, which could help the Bruins cover a big spread. It hurts to see a team getting 14 points in a national semifinal game and not feel confident enough to take them, but it's just too hard to go against Gonzaga. At least in this round.
Pick: Gonzaga -14
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