Basketball enthusiasts and the office pool pros that abound this time of year aren't the only ones feeling a little March Madness.
For investors, March has been as maddening as anything that will happen on the hardwood over the next couple of weeks as the nation's top collegiate teams battle to see who's the best in the land.
On Wall Street, the market is watching as employment squares off against the weather, emerging markets try to overcome a reduction in Federal Reserve stimulus and the flow of money into markets seeks to trump the volatility that has arisen due to .
Jeffrey Kleintop, chief market strategist at LPL Financial, has summed it all up pretty neatly in some big-business bracketology that helps explain the stakes:
From Kleintop's view, the home team—the market—will be the last man standing once the Sweet 16 morphs into the Elite Eight, the Final Four and ultimately a crowned champion.
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Investors have been making early bets along the same lines, pushing money back into mutual and exchange-traded funds over the past month and a half after heading to the sidelines in January. The $1.7 trillion ETF industry, which is primarily seen as a venue for traders, has witnessed $21.8 billion in inflows over the past four weeks alone, according to ConvergEx.
But it's not an entirely wide-eyed view: Kleintop expects some tough matchups along the way and advises investors to bet with their heads, not over them.
"The key message for investors in considering these factors is: do not be too confident in any particular outcome," Kleintop said. "It is a time to nibble at opportunities as they emerge; it is not a time to jump in with both feet, or for indiscriminate selling."
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Traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.Jin Lee | Bloomberg | Getty Images
The main opponents—spoilers, if you will, also in keeping with the sports metaphor—are weather and geopolitical tensions.
He probably left a few out in his analysis, such as the potential disruptions from global central bank policies and an economic recovery that looks squishy at times.
But the general point is that the basketball tournament rarely goes as predicted, nor do the markets.
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"The markets rarely offer perfect clarity on their direction because they are driven by these factors as well as many others. Even this week's NCAA March Madness can be seen as a reminder of how it can be notoriously hard to predict winners," Kleintop said. "There will likely be some upsets that result in volatility and pullbacks as these factors face off against each other.
"In the end, we expect positive fundamentals and economic growth to win out and a potentially rewarding year for investors."
—By CNBC's Jeff Cox. Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxCNBCcom.