As unlikely as the Illini record has unfolded this season, so have the reasons why last year's win total has already been eclipsed by this year's Illini.
Sophomores Mike Davis, Mike Tisdale, and Demetri McCamey have all stepped up, each contributing more than 11 points a game. However, perhaps the reason the Illini have quickly surged to 14 victories is the seventh leading scorer on the team, Chester Frazier.
Frazier, a senior, has used his experience and leadership on the court to guide this team. Averaging 6.2 assists per game, Frazier has nearly doubled his production from last year.
What is more impressive, is that despite handling the ball more, he still has the same turnovers per game as he did in the '07-'08 season. Frazier's ball control has netted him a cool 2.8 to 1 assist to turnover ratio.
He has only played better as the season has progressed as well. Since the Big Ten season began, Frazier has 15 assists to five turnovers.
Not only has Frazier distributed the ball well, he's hauling in over rebounds a game and averaging 1.3 steals as well. And, oh yeah, he has improved his field goal percentage from 34% to 46%.
A major problem the Illini had last year was their free throw percentage. While the Illini still rank last in the Big Ten, Frazier has improved his percentage nearly 18% from last year. So far he is just a shave under 70% from the charity stripe.
Drastically improving nearly every facet of his game to steer the Illini on course, Chester Frazier took his frustration from last season and has fueled the Illini. Last year's Illini seniors did a poor job to rally their team, and Frazier's energy this year has sparked a total reversal in hustle and results.
Bruce Weber recognizes the effort and strength that Frazier brings to the Illini. Mid-season last year he gave quite a compliment to the then-junior. "If everyone cared like Chester cared, we wouldn't have four losses."
The big story before the Illini started rattling off wins this year was Frazier getting rid of the cornrows and cutting his hair. "It's a new start, putting the past in the past and going forward. I think if my teammates see me change, then they'll change."
That leadership is exactly what the Illini needed for this season. A senior realizing the team was much more important than individual numbers.