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With Paine Out, What Are Auburn's Options?

Anytime an athlete requires the employment of Dr. James Andrews, he or she is probably going to be on the sidelines for a while.

Auburn small forward Allen Payne, who has been playing well lately and is coming off the best game of his career, underwent surgery on Tuesday to repair his torn left lateral meniscus. Should Varez Ward and Chris Denson still be suspended for Wednesday night's game against Alabama, Auburn will be missing four major contributors. (Remember, Josh Langford is still suffering symptoms from his concussion nearly a month ago.) So, who will fill in for the missing four horsemen?

Josh Wallace and Frankie Sullivan at guard, and Kenny Gabriel and Adrian Forbes at forward will certainly start and play as close to 40 minutes as possible. We saw the toll that took in Auburn's loss to Arkansas on Saturday. Auburn suffered from late-game fatigue as the lead slowly slipped away in the second half.

Off the bench, Auburn has Tony Neysmith, T.J. Rice, Noel Johnson and Dylan Spencer available to play at guard. In SEC play, Johnson is averaging 9.5 minutes, 1.5 points and 0.8 rebounds per game. Neysmith is averaging seven minutes, 0.7 points and zero rebounds. Rice and Spencer have yet to play in an SEC game this season. At forward, the Tigers have Jake Drum who hasn't played at all this season.

Injuries even plague the bench. Cedric McAfee, also a guard, played early in non-conference games but has not played since Christmas due to an injury. Another option for forward, Bernard Morena, is currently in a cast.
Obviously, Auburn is going into the Alabama game as short-handed as it's ever been under head coach Tony Barbee. What will Auburn look like on Wednesday night? Wallace, Sullivan, Gabriel and Forbes will hold down the guard and forward spots, and Rob Chubb will start at center. Willy Kouassi will probably set a season-high in minutes splitting time at center and power forward to give Chubb and Forbes as much rest as possible. Johnson and Neysmith will almost certainly set career-highs in minutes to give Wallace and Sullivan some time off. With their size, Johnson and Neysmith will probably rotate into the forward positions, too. If Gabriel doesn't get into foul trouble and plays any fewer than 38 minutes, we'll be stunned.

It's certainly going to be tough sledding at Coleman Coliseum. As thin as the Tigers are, they can't afford to have any foul trouble. It's going to take big nights from Chubb, Forbes and Kouassi on the inside and some hot shooting from Gabriel and Sullivan to stay in the game. If Auburn can get those things and some solid minutes from inexperienced players, the Tigers will have a chance against the Tide. If not, the game will be over almost immediately.

Like it or not, that's the hand Auburn has been dealt. Let's hope Barbee can make the best of the cards he has.