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Change is in the Air in Area College Basketball

As the NBA lockout continues to drag on and the prospect of losing the 2011-12 season now a very real one, the college game has attracted more attention than ever.

If you haven’t been paying attention for a while, there’s plenty to catch up on among the leading Division I men’s teams in the New York metropolitan area, where the only constant has been change.

In fact, it would take you a while to find a program whose head coach isn’t either in his first or second year in charge.

Steve Masiello brings plenty of Westchester ties to his job as head coach of  Manhattan College in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. The former standout at The Harvey School in Katonah grew up in White Plains, and played for at Archbishop Stepinac before transferring to Harvey for his final two high school season.

He spent the last six years as an assistant at Louisville under Rick Pitino. Masiello played under Pitino when Pitino coached Kentucky, where Masiello earned a walk-on spot. Masiello was a ball boy during Pitino’s two years as Knicks coach.

Masiello’s mission is simple – to restore the Jaspers as an NCAA tournament participant. Manhattan made either the NCAA or NIT in three of the four years Masiello first stint at Manhattan, where he served as an assistant, from 2001-05.

New Rochelle native and Rye High School product Liam McCabe-Moran is a senior guard for the Jaspers. He’s been selected to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Academic Honor Roll each of the last two seasons, and last year, made the MAAC All-Academic Team.

The Jaspers are off to a 2-1 start, with wins against New Jersey Tech (62-48) and Brown (54-52) and a loss to Syracuse (92-56).

MAAC coaches think it will take Masiello more than a year to restore the Jaspers as a postseason competitor. They picked Manhattan, which went 6-25 last season, to finish eighth out of 10 teams in the preseason poll.

Iona College was picked to finish first. Tim Cluess is coming off an impressive debut season as head coach in which he led the Gaels to a 25-12 record.

Former White Plains High School standout Ra’Shad James is a junior guard for the Gaels. James was not a part of last year’s success though. Under NCAA rules, he had to sit out the season after transferring from St. Thomas Aquinas College.

Iona has split its first two games in the 5-hour Energy Puerto Tipoff Tournament, losing to Purdue 91-90 and then beating Western Michigan 84-88. The Gaels are scheduled to play Maryland Sunday at 2 p.m. in a game that will be broadcast on ESPNU.

Joe Lombardi’s look at sports of all sorts in Westchester appears Sundays.

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