After a year's absence, the NCAA Tournament officially gets underway Thursday with four games as First Four action starts. We'll have eight teams battling for four spots to earn a spot in the first round of March Madness. The quadruple slate features an interesting mix of programs as Michigan State, UCLA, Wichita State and Drake all headline this year's slate.

These games are reserved for the teams who were the "last four in" to this year's field, but do not discount their potency as bracket-busters. Four teams since the NCAA Tournament field expanded to 68 teams in 2011 have advanced from First Four games to at least the Sweet 16. And at least one team each year except for one has won a game in the main bracket. We even had one team start their Final Four run from this position when VCU used its First Four position as a launchpad in 2011.

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Our team has picks for all the games to get you geared up for what's ahead, so stick around, take some notes and scroll away if you're planning to throw down some cheddar on the first official day of March Madness.

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(16) Texas Southern vs. (16) Mount St. Mary's 

When: 5:10 p.m. | Where: Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Indiana
TV: truTV  | Live stream: March Madness Live

The hottest team among all the First Four teams is Texas Southern. The Tigers (16-8) have won 14 of their last 15 games entering Thursday. Led by former Oklahoma State guard Michael Weathers, they have a high-major talent who can keep up with Mount St. Mary's and anyone it throws his way on defense combined with a nice balance of bigs in John Walker III and Joirdan Nicholas who can hold their own. The Mountaineers have the goods to keep this one interesting, but I trust in Texas Southern's length and ability to get to the rim so I'm laying the points with the Tigers.. Prediction: Texas Southern 71, Mount St. Mary's 67 -- Kyle Boone

(11) Drake vs. (11) Wichita State

When: 6:27 p.m. | Where: Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Indiana
TV: TBS | Live stream: March Madness Live

The Shockers should be plenty motivated to make their NCAA Tournament journey last after a frustrating loss to Cincinnati in the AAC Tournament nearly wrecked what's been a storybook season. Drake star ShanQuan Hemphill is supposed to return after missing more than a month due to a broken foot, but the Bulldogs are still without starting point guard Roman Penn. It's also fair to wonder how much Hemphill will be able to help in his first game back. Look for Wichita State to win a close one. Prediction: Wichita State 68, Drake 65 -- David Cobb

(16) Appalachian State vs. (16) Norfolk State

When: 8:40 p.m. | Where: Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Indiana
TV: truTV  | Live stream: March Madness Live

Appalachian State enters riding the momentum of a four-game run through the Sun Belt Tournament. The confidence gained last week should translate to a game against a Norfolk State squad that only had to win two games in the MEAC Tournament. Apparently, the Mountaineers and their deep group of veteran guards thrive under the pressure of the postseason spotlight. Look for App State to get it done before its magical run reaches an inevitable end against Gonzaga. Prediction: Appalachian State 81, Norfolk State 77 -- David Cobb

(11) UCLA vs. (11) Michigan State

When: 9:57 p.m. | Where: Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Indiana  
TV: TBS  | Live stream: March Madness Live

This Tom Izzo-coached Michigan State team narrowly made the field, and yet it undoubtedly has the mettle and makeup to make a run in March. The Spartans play physical, defend at a high level and can muck games up to throw teams off their rhythm. Just ask No. 1 seed Illinois or No. 1 seed Michigan or No. 2 seed Ohio State -- of which they beat in the last month -- how big a chore it is to face them. So I like Sparty in this spot to win and I'll just lay the points. In Mr. March I trust. Prediction: Michigan State 76, UCLA 70. -- Kyle Boone